Otis Spann Piano Lick Lesson

otis spann piano lick

In today’s lesson, you’ll learn how to play a really cool Otis Spann piano lick.

This amazing blues piano lick comes from an Otis Spann classic called “Good Morning Mr. Blues”.

The lick happens during the last four bars of his solo just before he sings again.

These last four bars where the lick happens follow a chord progression that we call a turnaround.

A turnaround is a short section with interesting chord progressions that lead nicely to the I chord of the first section of the tune.

To effectively learn and apply the lick, you need to understand first how turnarounds work. To get right to it, watch this awesome blues piano turnarounds lesson by Steve:

How to Play a Blues Piano Turnaround Video

Hear the Good Morning Mr. Blues Otis Spann Piano Lick

Now that you have a grasp of what a blues turnaround is, pay attention to this awesome blues piano lick. The lick happens right about the 02:20 mark:

As you might have heard, this lick sounds so good that it’s a great way to end a solo.

Listen to the lick a couple of times and be familiar with it. After listening to the lick, go right ahead to the next section where I’ll share with you some steps towards learning it.

Good Morning Mr. Blues Otis Spann Piano Lick Transcription

otis spann piano lickThe traditional next step towards learning a new lick is transcribing the lick yourself from the recording.

However, it’ll eat up a lot of your time. I know that from experience.

The good news is that I’ve already done it for you!

This is the time that you get your hands on this awesome piece of blues vocabulary. Here’s a transcription:

otis spann piano lick

Now that you’ve heard and seen it, it’s time to work on learning this Otis Spann piano lick for your blues turnaround.

How to Learn the Good Morning Mr. Blues Otis Spann Piano Lick

1. Get a Feel of Blues Rhythm and Time

otis spann piano lickIt’s always important to get into the groove of the music every time you try and learn a new piano lick or tune.

How do you start working that groove? Set your metronome to a slow tempo like 50 to 60 BPM while learning this blues piano lick.

Now that you have set you tempo, consider each tick of the metronome to be beats 1, 4, 7, and 10 in 12/8 time. This will help you get a feel of this blues tune.

Try this clapping exercise in 12/8:

otis spann piano lick

It is very important to take note of the accents. They are at beats 1, 4, 7, and 10. Clap louder during this beats to really get a feel of 12/8 blues time.

Once you can do this, you will know where to accent certain notes in the Otis Spann piano lick.

How to Avoid Embarrasment by Mastering Jazz and Blues Rhythm

Getting the rhythm and the feel right can be frustrating.

I know because I’ve been in that situation.

I remember one time writing a jazz tune and recording every instrument myself. Sure, I had the ideas solid. I knew I could play well so I laid out everything.

After having recorded the track, I sent it out for feedback.

What I thought was a masterpiece turned out to be mediocre because the rhythm and feel wasn’t solid enough.

I was embarrassed by my rhythmic inadequacy!

This experience led me back to the woodshed, trying my very best to master rhythm.

Fortunately, you can avoid that situation and get your rhythm solid through our Premium Elite Jazz Lessons Membership!

otis spann piano lickEvery lesson inside Premium Membership, from chord exercises to song arrangements, incorporates solid rhythmic training.

Premium Membership incorporates jam tracks with world-class professional musician feel and rhythm.

By practicing and playing along jam tracks inside Premium Membership, you get the feeling of playing with some of the best drummers in the world right in the comfort of your own space.

That is how you avoid embarrassment, get your audience moving and grooving, and have lots of fun playing blues piano.

Now, let’s get back to learning our Otis Spann piano lick.

2. Learn the Scale Used For Every Chord of the Turnaround

otis spann piano lickOne of the most interesting things about the Blues is you can use a major or minor pentatonic scale over any dominant 7th chord.

And so, the scale you’re going to use over a chord depends on the sound you want.

To keep things simple, the blues masters have developed the blues scale.

A “major” blues scale is simply a major pentatonic scale with a b3. A “minor” blues scale is a minor pentatonic scale with a b5.

In the case of this blues piano lick, Otis Spann uses a modified major blues scale that omits the 2nd and adds a b7.

The formula for the scale used goes like this:

Root – b3 – 3 – 5 – 6 – b7

If you want to learn more about the blues scale and improvising with it, check out the Breakthrough Blues course.

3. Learn this Blues Piano Lick One Bar at a Time

otis spann piano lickTo truly learn the Otis Spann piano lick, practice each measure against a metronome or a blues shuffle jam track at a slow tempo (around 50 to 60 BPM).

If you don’t have any of those jam tracks, you can get access to them via the Breakthrough Blues Method.

Please learn the lick one bar at a time.

Looking at the first measure, you have an A major blue scale pattern that omits B and the b7:

otis spann piano lick

The second measure uses the same scale, this time with G as the root:

otis spann piano lick

This pattern is very evident in all of the measures of this blues piano lick. If we look at the 3rd and 4th measures, we see the same thing happening:

otis spann piano lick otis spann piano lick

For more tips on how to practice this lick effectively, check out this cool lesson on piano practice time.

Once you’ve managed to learn each measure in proper rhythm and timing, it’s time to build the entire lick.

3. Put Them All Together

otis spann piano lickLearning a tune or a lick is like building a house: You have to do it one part at a time to make it whole.

Here’s how you put the Otis Spann piano lick together:

1. Practice the first two measures together against a metronome or a jam track. Do this until you can play both measures in good time.

2. Add another measure and practice in the same way.

3. Add the last measure and repeat.

By the way, if you want to learn how to turn one lick into a thousand, check out the Jazz Masters Method.

When working on the lick, always have a jam track or a metronome playing along. You always want to integrate rhythmic training. This is very important since jazz and blues are very rhythmic musical styles.

Here’s a really great lesson how to learn jazz piano rhythm. I’m very sure this lesson will upgrade your rhythm skills significantly.

5. Use the Otis Spann Piano Lick in a Blues Tune

otis spann piano lickThe next step to getting this lick to shape is using it on an actual tune. To start, play a 12-bar blues in the key of D.

When you are on the final four bars of a blues chorus, bust out the lick. Soon you’ll realize how the lick actually works.

After that, try out a tune like “Blues Ain’t Nothing” by Bessie Smith and play the Otis Spann piano lick once you reach the turnaround.

This way, you will learn how to use this awesome blues lick in many playing situations.

How to Take the Otis Spann Piano Lick to the Next Level

Have you noticed that the blues legends treat licks as if they were words and phrases of sentences? You want to be able to do the same too!

To become really good at applying this blues piano lick to your own unique sound, look at the steps below:

1. Learn the Lick in All 12 Keys

otis spann lick lessonAny time you learn a new lick, practice it in all 12 keys. This is because you don’t want to be limited by just being able to play the piano lick in one key.

The fastest way to learn the lick in 12 keys is to simply transpose the lick you’ve just learned a half step up. At first, try learning the lick in three keys for a specific amount of time.

Once you know the lick in three keys, learn how to play them in other keys using the same process.

If you keep on working at it, you’ll learn the Otis Spann piano lick in all 12 keys.

For more tips on mastering any lick or tune in every key, we have an awesome Transposition Secrets video inside our Premium Membership course.

2. Create Your Own Variations

otis spann piano lickEveryone wants to sound unique. And so, you need to learn how to create variations of the lick. There are a number of ways to do this.

Some ways include altering the rhythms, adding or cutting out some notes, inverting the lick, and playing the lick in reverse.

Be courageous and just go ahead and experiment.

There is always that chance you can stumble upon a variation that sounds really cool.

3. Learn New Licks from the Jazz and Blues Masters

otis spann piano lickAfter picking up this awesome Otis Spann blues piano lick, the next step is to learn more licks. This is because each success comes with the desire to do more and reach greater heights.

The way to start acquiring new licks is by listening to the masters. Afterwards, transcribe interesting two- to four-bar licks off of some great jazz and blues records.

The problem is do you have the time to transcribe all of those records from decades ago?

I know that given how busy everybody is these days, you probably don’t have the time or energy.

The good news is that we have done the hard work for you.

Give yourself a headstart with the Breakthrough Bluesotis spann piano lick method.

Breakthrough Blues features Blues Hall of Famer Bruce Katz. Inside the course you’ll discover:

  • How To Play Chords Just Like Your Favorite Blues Artists.
  • How To Play Blues Chord Substitutions & Progressions Like Ray Charles, Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris, & Other Greats Jazzy Blues Artists.
  • How to add jazz “tension chords” into your blues playing that will bring elegance, sophistication, and soul into every note you play.
  • Discover classic blues licks from blues masters like Ray Charles, Otis Spann, Chuck Berry, and more.

We do hope that you’ve enjoyed this lesson on the Otis Spann piano lick from Good Morning Mr. Blues.

With this lick, you’ll certainly get closer to sounding like the blues piano legend itself.

Want to know more about getting your blues and jazz piano soloing to the next level? Feel free to ask us about you can do that by dropping a note in the comments section below. Happy practicing!

About The Author

Mark A. Galang

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at FreeJazzLessons.com. He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music.