Tag Archives: jazz guitar licks you must know

Cookin’ Great Jazz Licks With Basic Exercises – 5 Step Process

The Mysterious Recipe

In the beginning, Jazz improvisation can seem mysterious, but just like food, there is actually a recipe you can follow to develop your ability to improvise great lines. In this video, I’m going to give you that recipe including the secret ingredient that is left out of the process so often, and it really won’t be the same without it.

The goal is to be able to construct a lick like this:

The chord progression is a II V I which is a very common Jazz chord progression. You can play the chords like this:

I am not going to talk too much about the progression, because this is about soloing over it. I have other videos on harmony.

The Main Ingredients

Any recipe starts with some ingredients. You have the Progression, there is a scale that goes with that, in this case, that is the C major scale.

And the main ingredient is that for each of the chords in the progression, we can play these easy 1-octave arpeggios, so this exercise:

Just like a meal usually consists of several different dishes, then as I go through this recipe I will show you how each step is something you can turn each step into music and explain how.

With the arpeggios, you can already follow the chords and create a solid line like this:

Follow This Recipe

Similar to a recipe, chords, scales, and arpeggios are only ingredients and it is as important what you do with those ingredients if you want it to work.

What is the  method in this example? I am following the chords completely because  I am only using the arpeggio of each chord, so the notes are taken nailing the harmony,

but the important thing is to get this to sound like a melody and not like a bunch of random notes

The way you get that right is by playing from one chord to the next,  which means a melody on the Dm7 is moving toward a target note on the G7.

Here it is the 3rd of G7 that is the target note which is very easy to hear and works like a signal that we changed chords, but there are more things in that first example that you still need to figure out.

Adding More Flavor

There are two other “types” of notes, that you can add to your jazz licks. The first one would be the notes that are in the scale but not in the chord, it is a bit like basic seasoning, there is no food without it, and the easiest way to use scale notes is in between arpeggio notes, so this:

can become this:

It is a subtle change, but the rhythm sounds a lot better in the 2nd example.

The other type of note that you want to add, is a more radical sound, adding flavor and spice to the whole thing: The chromatic notes.

Here I am going to stick with a simple version: You can add chromatic leading notes a half-step under a chord or scale note, where the chord tones often are the easiest to use.

There are some myths about how to use chromatic notes, but I’ll get into that in a bit. You could turn that into this exercise for the arpeggios which actually breaks that rule:

The rule that I am talking about is that sometimes people will tell you that chromatic leading notes should not be on the downbeat, and in the exercise every leading note is on the downbeat.

The idea is that this:

Is wrong, and it would be better to do it like this:

I think you can hear that both could work and that it is not useful to limit yourself with rules like that, in fact, rules are rarely a thing in music.

Now you can start writing  lines like this:

Serving The Notes In The Right Way

But you need to do more than find the ingredients and cook the food. It also needs to be served in the right way, and that is where rhythm becomes important.

In the first example, I changed up the rhythm in two ways. The first one is pretty easy to use. On the Cmaj7 I play the arpeggio as am 8th note triplet

Triplets are amazing for arpeggios, and two variations of this are very useful to know. The first one is to add a leading note and then play the arpeggio:

But you can also play the arpeggio and use that to get to a target note

But there  is another rhythm that you want to explore using which is a very important part of the syncopation you hear in Jazz: Anticipating the chord on the 4&!

This is pretty simple: You want to hit the target note on the 4& instead on beat 1 when the chord changes, so instead of this:


You want to play the B on the 4& like this:

So now you can put all of this together and start writing licks like this:


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Jazz Licks on a Maj7 chord – How To Sound Like Bebop

Learning the rules of a jazz language like Bebop can be a really useful way to study and internalize that sound. In this video, I am going to use some Jazz Licks to cover some of the techniques and how you use them on a Maj7 chord. The 5 examples will show you how you can use Chromaticism, Arpeggios, trills and octave displacement on a maj7th chord.

Jazz Lick #1 – Cowboy Bebop?

When playing bebop we often think about long rows of 8th notes. But it is important to break up that flow to keep it interesting. This example starts with an 8th note triplet which is a chromatic run. This is already adding a different feel fromt the beginning.

From there it continues with a C major triad. The Triad is a great arpeggio to use on a Cmaj7 chord. Charlie Parker plays major triads all the time. From the triad the melody skips up to the 6th(A) and via a chromatic passing note ends on the 3rd(E). Notice how the line is ending on the 2&. This keeps the energy higher than ending on a beat or even a strong beat.

Jazz Lick #2 – Bensons favorite Maj7 lick

This example is build around another 8th note triplet idea. This 8th note triplet is using a Cmaj7 arpeggio. Playing arpeggios as triplets is a very common device in bebop, it really helps target and emphasize the 7th of the arpeggio which is also the top-note. From the target note the line descends in half steps down to the 5th(G)

This example is a favourite of both George Benson and Charlie Parker.

From the G the line concludes with an approach to the 3rd and skipping up to the 6th.

Jazz Lick #3 – Barry’s Recipe

A very useful way to both construct your own lines and understand lines that you have transcribed is to see them as scale melodies with added detours. Barry Harris often constructs lines in his workshops in this way.

This line is essentially a scale melody in bar 1, but with an added chromatic approach between the C and the B.

The 2nd bar is using the arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord, Em7, and adds an exciting skip from C to G, ending on 4&.

Jazz Lick #4 – Octave Displacement on a Maj7

Octave displacement is another way to break up the direction of a melody. The idea is to have a melody is moving in one direction and then move a part of the melody an octave up or down.

In this example I am using Octave Displacement to change a Cmaj7 arpeggio and in doing so create a more surprising melody in the first half of bar 1. This is also know as the Honeysuckle Rose lick, since it is in that melody.

The line continues with a descending 1st inversion Am7 arpeggio followed by a trill. Trills are another way to add embellishments to a line that breaks up the flow of 8th notes in a nice way.

In this case the trill is a part of a skip down to the lower G and from here the line concludes with an Em pentatonic melody.

Jazz Lick #5 – Putting it all together!

The final lick is making use of most of the devices discussed in the first 4 examples! Try to have a look and see if you can spot what is used where.

More Bebop lines and Bebop Embellishments?

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