Why Patterns Are Always Better Than Licks – Parker’s Strategy

I love Charlie Parker’s playing. To me, he really IS the Mozart of Jazz, and phrases like this clearly demonstrate that:

But while a phrase like this is mind-blowing, then, you can’t use it in a solo. It is too long and complicated, it will ruin the flow and sound unnatural, and you don’t want your solo to sound like copy/paste blocks from famous artists. I’ll show you what a Pattern is, why Patterns are much more useful than licks, and why you want to turn your licks into patterns.

For this to work, you need to be familiar with the basic chords and scales, so for a II V I in C major, you need to know the arpeggios like this:

Basic information like these chord tones is essential. You’ll see along the way!

A Pat Martino Example

A LOT is going on in the Charlie Parker example, so it is probably better to start with something a little simpler and return to Parker later. Check out this short Pat Martino phrase from How Insensitive:

This is on a Dm chord, and you have a Dm chord in the II V I as well. In this case, I want you to focus on this part of the phrase:


See how It starts on the 3rd, F, and then adds a 3-note enclosure that moves to the root, D.

It probably makes sense to move it up an octave and close to where I played the arpeggios:

As you will see, this is already useful, but it is still not a pattern. The reason that you are checking out Jazz Licks in the first place is probably because your solo lines sound something like this:

Your lines sound like this because you know the scale and the arpeggio but are limited in how you can make melodies with these tools. The short Pat Martino phrase can already improve that:


The G7 part still needs some work, though; that will come. Notice that I am using the same phrase on the Cmaj7.

That bar starts with the 3rd, followed by the enclosure leading to the root, and then continues with the arpeggio.

What Is A Pattern?

Let’s figure out what a pattern is, and turn the Pat Martino phrase into a pattern. Then you’ll see how it will help you sound better. I’ll first give you an example but then also give you another way to think about Patterns rather than just short phrases.

Right now, the Pat Martino Phrase moves from the 3rd chord down to the root and adds an enclosure to the root.

But you could take the same idea and use two other chord tones. For example, you can start on the

and it also works from the 7th of the chord:

With these, you can apply it to other chords, and you have a much more flexible piece of vocabulary that you can use to create lines that sound great without sounding like a Pat Martino clone. In the next example, I use the pattern on all the chords, but the one on the G7 is a bit cheeky because I use it to target the third of Cmaj7.

It seems like this is “just” making variations of a phrase, but you can also think of patterns as a way of playing some notes, which can be incredibly powerful for arpeggios.

Important Patterns For Arpeggios

Let’s fix a common problem: you might not be there yet, but you will be soon. At some point, you will get tired of always playing arpeggios like this:

`Arpeggios are always the same 8th note run, and it is difficult to make them interesting and fresh, but if you think of arpeggio as a set of notes that you can play in different patterns, then you could take the Cmaj7 arpeggio from the previous example and play it with a triplet and a leading note, that is what I usually call the “Bebop arpeggio”, like this:

But you can also use the 8th note triplet differently to get a pattern that can be very useful for moving from one chord to the next, You’ll see in a bit.

And finally, you have the arpeggio the way it is played in the Parker example at the beginning of the video, which is what Barry Harris called a pivot arpeggio. It is a simple recipe: Play the root and then move the rest down an octave

to get a beautiful very melodic interval skip:

Treating these as patterns that you can apply to any arpeggio means that you can now start making lines like this next example, but, of course, start by working on them one at a time, not all at once, if you are new to them.

Here you see an example of how the 2nd bebop arpeggio can help move from Dm7 to G7, and you can hear how the pivot arpeggio breaks up the line beautifully.

What Is Great About Patterns?

Why is this approach so great? I think it is easy to see that these patterns are much more flexible and easier to use in a sole than the longer licks, like the Charlie Parker example at the beginning of the video, but there is another advantage that I think is just as important.

Now, you can see that the Parker example is constructed from four short phrases, and you can use all of them as patterns. One of them is the pivot arpeggio, and the other two are enclosures. If you look at Parker’s licks like this, you will see that they are almost always constructed of building blocks like this.

A short side-note: This clearly shows how enclosures are essential to Parker or any Bop-inspired solo. Sometimes I see people dismissing them as less useful, but they are everywhere and everyone uses them, so they are worth the effort to work on! Just hang in there, it will pay off, and you get to play phrases like this:

The other advantage is that you can approach this one variation at a time and not as a huge system of rules or a sea of different options, which is often a much more efficient and practical approach to adding new things to your vocabulary.

Internalizing A Pattern

Let me show you how I would work on getting a Pattern from the Parker lick into my playing. I think this diatonic enclosure is a great option because it is a simple but strong melody:

And then you construct a phrase around that using things you already know. Here I am leading into it with a scale run and using the enclosure to get to a Bø arpeggio over the G7:

You can also go to another phrase on the G7, like this pivot arpeggio. For this one, I leave the first part unchanged.

But you want to figure out more ways to lead into it, like this: Notice that I am using a G7 line that I play quite often. Of course, you only know if you have watched other videos of mine.

The point is that you put it together with the things you play and add that pattern or melody to your playing. Then, you can take another one or a variation of this one that you like.

This process gets easier the more you work on it. And vocabulary-based practice is a bit underrated, in my opinion.

Building A Vocabulary

But if you want this to work, you need to be able to recognize what is going on in the lines. That means being familiar with some of the common melodic techniques used in Jazz, such as arpeggios, chromaticism, and enclosures. I cover that in this video, which will give you a strong foundation for building more solid lines and getting more out of the solos and phrases you analyze.

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