These Scale Exercises Are Immediately Great Jazz Licks

You want to use the things that you practice, so if your scale exercises are already solid vocabulary or solid licks then that is, of course, a lot easier. Practicing scales should not just be dry technical and boring. What you work on should really connect with what you want to play in your solos and be more than just moving your fingers. So let’s have a look at some great examples of exercises that are really just “Instant Bebop” vocabulary.

Practice Bebop Arpeggios, Not Just Chord Tones!

This is an important exercise! In my experience, the best way to practice arpeggios is as diatonic arpeggios in a scale like this.

That is of course, super useful but also in itself not that inspiring.

Let’s add two things that we love about Bebop and Jazz:

  1. Chromatic Notes to add tension and movement
  2. Interesting Rhythms to keep it grooving and alive

Let’s first work a bit with making the rhythm just a little bit more interesting.

One way to make the rhythm more energetic could be to play the arpeggio as an 8th note triplet like this:

This is something that immediately gives you licks like this:

and you can turn that into a scale exercise like this:

If you play this exercise then you can use this rhythm on all the chords and in a lot of different places, and it already starts to sound like music.

The Chromatic Leading Note

Another great way to use arpeggios that are “Instant Bebop” is combining the triplet with a chromatic leading note:

Of course, you want to work on this for all the arpeggios, so taking it through the scale gives you this:

And, besides sounding like Charlie Parker or George Benson out of the box, this means that you can make licks like this:

Here I am combining the Cmaj7 with some chromaticism, something that both Parker and Benson do all the time.

You can also put it to use on a G7:

There are a few things you want to learn from this example:

  1. The arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord is great (here it is Bø over G7)
  2. Leading notes can sound great on the downbeat like the Eb on beat 3
  3. Large intervals in a scale run sound great! (I’ll return to that later in the video)

And all you have to practice is playing the arpeggio as a triplet and add a chromatic leading note before the first note. Before we move on to a great Barry Harris Exercise then don’t forget that the descending arpeggio sounds great as well, a simple version without the leading note gives the 1st note of the arpeggio a nice accent like this:

Barry Harris Knows A Few Tricks!

The first exercise was something that I learned from Barry Harris when he was giving masterclasses at the conservatory in the Hague, this next exercise is also from those masterclasses. It is what Barry calls pivot arpeggios, and what often is also called octave displacement, but the way Barry shows the exercise really already makes it like practicing building blocks for great licks.

The concept is really simple: First, you play the arpeggio and end by going down one step in the scale.

The second part is the same melody, but now you move the phrase down an octave except for the first note.

Let’s translate this to the guitar, an easy place to play it would be F major like this:

I imagine you can already hear how this already just sounds like a short lick you are moving around, and actually, both the standard way of playing the arpeggio and the pivot version is great as a line.

here’s a II V I in F major:

And it is a solid option for an Fmaj7 line as well:

And as I mentioned, you can also use the “un-pivoted” version as a great way to frame or target a note with an arpeggio like I am targeting the 3rd of the Gm7 in this line:

And cleary Barry knows his stuff because the triplet version of this melody is also a great option:

Until now it has been about getting arpeggios to become amazing Bebop lines, but you can actually also work on this with simpler scale exercises.

Bebop Boost Your Scale Runs

This exercise is just playing the scale in diatonic 6th intervals, a really pretty sound in itself but not immediately an amazing Bebop line.

I guess this is the least obvious exercise, but as you will see it is incredibly useful!

The reason why it doesn’t sound like a lick is that you are playing so many of them next to each other, so you need to spread them out a bit and add them to something like a scale run.

And this is what I used in the previous examples like ex 3 and ex 4, the concept is pretty simple. If you have a scale melody then see if you can add an extra note when you are on a chord tone. In Example 14 that was on the root which adds an E. In example 3 it was the 3rd down to the 6th, and placing it at the end of the line makes it even more dramatic.

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