Funk is a very riff-based style, where a certain motive is played repeatedly, sometimes throughout the whole song. On the piano it can be both challenging and fun to play funk in a solo setting. All parts that would otherwise be played by the bass player, the guitarist, a brass section or other instruments are now played by the piano.
Make it groove
In contrast, the funk keyboard parts in a band setting can be rather limited to a few notes or chords, but none the less rhythmically challenging!
The different instruments in a funk setting are interlocked and often play on different counting times of the groove. To achieve this effect on the piano, imagine your left hand being the bass and the right hand being the other instruments. All players will create a funky groove by throwing a musical ball at each other, but playing together only for certain accents.
Here is a little funk exercise that emulates this back and forth groove on the piano. Note that some of the attacks are played on off-beats, which creates a forward-moving groove.
It is derived from the C blues scale, but the notes are arranged in a very rhythmical manner to create a funky pattern. Note that both hands are played one octave lower than written (8vb).
The C Blues Scale
Getting funky on the keyboard
To practice this rhythmical interlocking of the hands, start by playing only a few notes from the beginning very slowly. Once you can coordinate this little section, add more notes, until you can play the whole riff. Don’t move to fast, otherwise you might get frustrated with the groove.
When you have mastered the back and forth between your left and right hands, you will be able to apply it to other funk tunes as well!