Writing Jazz Licks – The Best Way To Teach Yourself Jazz Guitar

Using the things that we licks, scales and arpeggios we practice is a big challenge! The best way to get new material in to you vocabulary is to write jazz licks with it! That way we connect the new material with all the things we already know.

In this video I am going to show you how I write jazz guitar licks on a simple II V I in Bb major.

I will try to demonstrate the process and the thinking and write a few variations of the licks. This should illustrate how I apply different things in my jazz improvisation. In the process I will write 5-6 II V I jazz licks in the key of Bb with arpeggios, chromatic enclosures and altered dominants.

The II V I progression

In this lesson the II V I that I am using is a II V I in Bb as shown below.

II Chord and the arpeggio

To keep it simple let’s start with the Cm7 arpeggio. Since the line is going to be in 8th notes we have now covered half of the bar. To fill the bar it is probably better to decide where we want to go. So that would be a target note ofn the F7.  

The clearest target note on the F7 is probably the 3rd(A), so let’s go with that one.

Cm7 licks – Target notes

Now we just have to come up with a few ideas that will take us to that A.

Here’s a simle chromatic enclosure:

You can also use a small fragment from a pentatonic scale, in this case the Gm pentatonic scale:

Another option is a Bb major scale run:

Or an enclosure that contains a few more chromatic notes but also introduces a stronger pull towards the A.

If we think of these examples as exercises in using the Cm7 arpeggio then what we are doing is that we are practicing making playable melodies that move logically to the F7 and are using the Cm7 arpeggio.

The V chord – Adding the Dom7th chord.

Now we can start using one of the lines on the Cm7 and focus on the F7 line.

In this first example I am using an Am7b5 arpeggio in inversion and then the F7 arpeggio to target the 3rd(D) of Bbmaj7.

The second example is now using a motif idea on the F7. The first part of it is still the Am7(b5) inversion. That is then treated as a motif and the 2nd part of the line is a development of that melody. The development ends up being an Eb major triad and an F.

The Altered Dominant

We can also use an F7alt. In the line below I start with a small scale movement in 3rds in the F altered (or F# melodic minor) scale. From there I am using the B major triad before I resolve to the 3rd(D) of Bbmaj7.

A different altered dominant line is what I have in example 1. The Altered idea in this line is first a skip up a minor third to Db then down the scale to Ab. From Ab I use a fragment from the Ab minor or B major pentatonic scale: Ab Gb, Eb, D. Over an F7 gives us #9, b9, b7, b13 and since it is a part of a pentatonic scale it sounds a little different. It also leads directly to D which it encircles with Eb and Db. 

In the next example I am using part of the line as a motif. This allows me to be repeating the idea in a developed version in the second hald of the bar. The motif that I use is a B7 arpeggio played descending. It is the developed by moving it up a diatonic 3rd to Db. From there it becomes a descending Ebm7b5 arepggio that then neatly resolves to D on the Bb.

You can of course also use a stack of 4ths. In this case I am using the stack of 4ths that is the top part of an F7#9 chord (see diagram in the video). The arpeggio is inserted right after the A, target note on the F7. From the last note the line continues with a descending scale run to resolve to the 3rd(D) of Bbmaj7.


Hopefully  you can use the things that I went over here as an inspiration for your own writing process. As I mention in the beginning, I find that making your own lines is essential in the process of internalizing new material. I aim for this lesson to show you, not only what I use but also how I think about target notes and use different strategies to come up with melodies.

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You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

Writing Jazz Licks

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