My 7 Best Jazz Licks with Only Four Notes

You are probably thinking 4-Note Jazz Licks! That doesn’t make any sense!

But actually, those 4-note licks are very important! They are the flexible building blocks that you put together as phrases in your solo.

Think of a solo phrase as a sentence (example 1 + text ) and these building blocks are the words, they are how you say something, and you need great building blocks for great solos and as you will see, just naming it with an arpeggio or a scale is nowhere near enough.

Let’s first look at one that is like adding instant Bebop to your solo.

Lick #1 – A Beautiful 6th Interval

This is so simple, but it sounds fantastic in a line, and it isn’t just an arpeggio or a triad.

You can at most call it a scale run with an inserted interval skip, and that is also not much of a description.

If you use it on a m7 chord you get this:

but it is equally great on a maj7 chord

With The Next One, you will see an example where it is pretty clear that just a chord name is not really a description

Lick #2 – Minor Triad With Extras

This is sort of an Am triad with an added B,







or you can think of it as a Cmaj7 shell-voicing with an added A.








It is great for altered dominants like this G7alt:

or over an F# half-diminished chord like this:

And I think you will agree that calling it an Am triad or Am(add9) is not really describing it.

An Arpeggio Is Just A Set Of Notes

So you can see how this isn’t just an arpeggio or a scale, and that is what makes it great. You can again think of these building blocks as being like words. it is not enough to have an analytical term for a set of notes like maj7 arpeggio, Diminished triad, because it is just as important what melody you make with those notes.

Similar to what word you use in a sentence there are options and they feel different even if they are sort of the same thing. The 3 examples below are all Cmaj7 arpeggios, but as you can see the melody is very different from example to example:

So you need to know what set of notes but also need to have some ideas on how you get them to sound great. Sometimes the arpeggio is enough, but you want to be more creative with your melodies than that.

Ironically, the next two examples are arpeggios and sound amazing.

Lick #3 – A Hidden Arpeggio

This arpeggio is not strictly a diatonic arpeggio in C even if the notes are all in that scale, it is an Fmaj7 with a B instead of a C

The fact that I call it a maj7(b5) arpeggio is also something that can get the comment section all fired up because some people will insist that it is a #11

But: an Fmaj7(#11) is a chord with 6 notes: F A C E G B and it seems a bit silly to call it an Fmaj7(omit5, add#11). Calling it Fmaj7(b5) makes it very clear that the arpeggio only has 4 notes and especially that there is no C in there which is important for how you use it.

Of course, there is plenty of room in the comments if this really offends you. Go right ahead!

This is a great sound for an altered dominant or a backdoor dominant like this:

You can also use this as a voicing and that sounds amazing as well.

If you have Fmaj7 here, then you create Fmaj7(b5) by moving down the 5th a half step:

And listen to this:

That sounds really great!

The next one is pretty simple but is also so good for really nailing a sound!

Lick #4 – Almost Obvious Arpeggio

So this is a basic m7b5 arpeggio, and I am starting with an Fm7(b5) here because I want to show you how great that sounds on a G7 altered, really nailing the sound and resolving so nicely!

Example 16

Before we get back to some examples that are more melodic techniques than great sounds on a chord, then I want to just show you how you find blocks like this in the solos you transcribe or analyze, because these are really the things you want to search for and try to work into your playing.

Finding the blocks


Just to give you a quick impression of how you can isolate some blocks then look at this part of Pat Martino’s solo on Just Friends.

Of course, not everything is a neat 4-note phrase, so the first phrase is a 1-bar phrase with some rhythm in there.

Then you get a pick up followed by a scale melody, a Coltrane pattern, another scale melody with a 16th note turn, descending scale, and then a Bbm triad with an added C. A different version of what I cover as the 2nd lick.

So that is how you can start to find things you want to get into your playing.

Here is another Bebop classic that you definitely need to know.

Lick #5 – The Bebop Arpeggio Melody

There is a fair chance you have heard me talk about this Bebop phrase before. Playing a maj7 arpeggio with octave displacement is a great sound for a lot of chords, and it is in so many Bebop and Hardbop solos. Here it is on a m7 chord:

This list would not be complete without a chromatic enclosure. The next one is one I took from a Michael Brecker solo

Lick #6 – A Great Enclosure

This is one that I picked up from Michael Brecker, but later I actually realized later that he probably got it from Charlie Parker.

It is like a standard enclosure with a leading note for the leading note.

But you also want some more modern sounding melodies, and the next one is one of my favourites, and one that is really underused in my opinion

Lick #7- My Secret Weapon

This Quartal arpeggio with a tritone is a great sound. It works for so many things, tonic minor, altered dominants, but also diminished scale sounds.

I have written it out so that it is the top part of a G7(#9) chord:


and you can use it in an altered line like this:

but it also works great with a diminished scale sound:

Finding Truly Great Phrases

When you start searching for blocks like this then I think the best place to do that is probably in the music that inspires you, so the solos that you think are amazing are also more likely to give you this material. This is also why I referenced Pat Martino’s solo on Just Friends. Learning solos and analyzing phrases is incredibly useful for this, and if you want to check out some of the phrases that I think are must-know vocabulary then check out this lesson:

The 3 Bebop Licks You Need To Know

The other way is to mess around with material and try out things to see if you come across something that you like. This is also a lot of fun but can be very time-consuming.


Get the PDF and GuitarPro on Patreon:

You can get the PDF and GuitarPro files on Patreon here:

Get the PDF!

You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

Get a free E-book

If you want to download a Free E-book of 15 II Valt I licks then subscribe to my newsletter:

Sign up for my newsletter – Get the II V I Ebook

Jazz Guitar Insiders Facebook Group

Join 10000+ Other Jazz Guitarists 🎸Join us in the Facebook Jazz Guitar Group Community:

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for topics then, please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Instagram, Twitter Google+, or Facebook to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts, and releases.

Leave a Reply