The 3 Bebop Licks You Need To Know

Obviously, you are not going to learn to play Bebop by just studying 3 licks, but if you want to add that sound to your playing and mix in some bebop in your solos then this is not a bad place to start. And you want to make sure that you know these if you want to play Jazz.

Bebop – Learning The Language

Having the right vocabulary for a style of music is really what determines whether you can play that music or not, and I clearly remember when I was starting out playing Jazz. I transcribed solos, practiced scales and arpeggios, and then I tried to improvise jazz solos

And I quickly became aware that even though I knew the changes and the song then my solos did not really sound like Jazz. They were just a lot of the right notes.

What helped me, and what will probably also help you is learning licks and also start to make your own licks with the same type of melodies, so studying licks is not just learning them, it is learning how to write certain types of melodies. That is what learning vocabulary is really about.

#1 Triplet Arpeggios

This first one, you probably heard me mention before, and it is really the closest thing I know to instant bebop: Playing arpeggios as triplets with a leading note.

And this way of playing arpeggios is a part of so many classic bebop licks like this Parker line:

And it works for other chords as well:

It is a great way to add a little variation to an 8th note line, and the faster notes really adds some energy or excitement to your solo.


The way you, of course, practice this is to play this pattern through the scale as diatonic arpeggios and then start writing licks with them, and there are so many things you can work on:

You can combine two arpeggios:

Here I am using Em7 and Cmaj7 over the Cmaj7 chord, both solid choices for that chord.

Another option is to follow a triplet arpeggio with some chromatic leading notes:

Small Building blocks, not massive licks

As you can tell, I am presenting these licks as building blocks, and that is really because that is how they will be most useful to you and help you develop your own language. As I mentioned in the intro, my experience is that making your own licks and getting those to sound like bebop is one of the best ways to learn to play bebop, and also pretty much how Barry Harris teaches it. I will return to this a little later in the video and also explain why I don’t like Bebop scales.

#2 Honeysuckle Rose

This lick is called honeysuckle rose because it is the main motif in the Fats Waller song Honeysuckle Rose, but it is also an extremely common way to play arpeggios in Bebop, and it is one of the most melodic ways to add large intervals to your 8th note lines which can stop your solos from sounding very very boring.

This is really just a way to play an inversion of an arpeggio, it is also called octave-displacement. You start on the root and then play the arpeggio, but after the root, you move everything down an octave which gives you a beautiful skip from the root down to the 3rd and a natural way back up through the arpeggio.

Parker, Grant Green, and George Benson do this all the time in their solos. (examples?)

And you can make so many great lines with this melody as well by adding some simple scale melodies

Or some chromatic enclosures:

In fact, the topic of octave displacement is maybe worth an entire video? Let me know in the comments if you are interested in a video on that.

Bebop is a form of composition

The most important goal with studying this or any Jazz stuff, is to be melodic, to play strong Bebop lines that really flow and avoid having strange fragments next to each other that don’t make any sense.

As you can tell, I think you will learn more about making strong bebop lines by practicing to compose lines, and that is simply because composing lines is like improvising them, except you can go back and figure out how to make the line sound even better.

In that way, you are really working on building your vocabulary of strong lines and you are also practicing putting them together in the perfect way.

By working on constructing lines and you are giving your imagination and ears time to really listen to the sound of what you are practicing and you are making sure that you can fit the different pieces together in lines with it suddenly changing because you are skipping and playing something that does not sound melodic.

#3 David Baker Lick

This phrase is probably most famous from David Baker’s books on Bebop and a symbol of people studying bebop, but it is of course also a common and useful phrase to have in your vocabulary.

This is a phrase for a V or a II chord, so I have decided to write it out as a G7 lick, not on Cmaj7.

This lick is a construction of some chromaticism and a nice interval skip that sounds very melodic. The first part is moving from the G to the F with a Gb inbetween and then it skips up to an A and down a 4th to end with E and D.

This lick is a great building block both on the G7 and on the Dm7. If you use it on the Dm7 then you get something like this:

The line starts with an Fmaj7 arpeggio, the arpeggio from the 3rd of Dm7, and then a scale run with a leading note from the Dm into the G7 and then essentially just playing the lick and adding an E that then naturally sounds like a resolution to Cmaj7.

It also works really well on the Dm7.

The first part is just the David Baker lick, followed by an enclosure to take us to the 3rd of G7. Here I play the entire Bø arpeggio and run down the scale using a chromatic passing note to resolve smoothly to the 3rd of Cmaj7.

Why I don’t Like Bebop Scales

I often get asked to make lessons on Bebop scales, and while I don’t think anybody died from checking out some Bebop scales, I do think that the way people are asked to practice and use them is really just helping them play very predictable step-wise lines that are also very boring, and to me, that is the opposite of what I think is great about Bebop and everything you don’t want to learn.

You want to learn to play great surprising lines with melodic twists and turns and practicing to play chord tones on the beat and leading notes on off beats is not what that is about. I still suspect that there was more money made with Bebop scales than there were with Bebop.

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