Charlie Christian is the father of jazz guitar, one of the most important figures in jazz guitar history, and a favorite soloist of many jazz guitarists today. Though he never released an album as a bandleader, his recorded legacy stands to this day as some of the most exciting, and entertaining, in the jazz guitar library.
When learning how to play jazz guitar, studying Christian’s playing is essential for players of all musical tastes, experience levels, and backgrounds.
In this lesson, you’ll learn five classic Charlie Christian 7th-chord licks, as well as a full jazz blues solo that uses those licks in its construction. Before moving on to playing the jazz blues solo at the end of this lesson, you can learn about how each of the Christian licks is built on the fretboard.
Learning these licks is important when studying Christian’s 7th soloing concepts, but it’s the concepts that’ll allow you to expand this material in your playing. After you’ve understood how each lick is built, you can take those concepts and apply them to other chords, keys, and full tunes in your studies.
Check it out, have fun with it, and enjoy exploring the soloing concepts of one of jazz guitar’s greatest innovators.
Charlie Christian Lick 1
In this first dominant 7 lick, you’ll see how Christian liked to use the Am7b5 arpeggio to outline an F9 sound over F7 in his solos:
|Played over F7||3||5||b7||9|
When soloing over dominant 7 chords, you can play a m7b5 arpeggio from the 3rd of that chord.
Another example: if you have C7, you can play Em7b5 to generate that same Christian sound in your solo.
Charlie Christian Lick 2
This Christian lick starts with an Adim arpeggio over F7:
|Played over F7||3||5||b7|
From there, you’ll see a passing note (the E at the end of the first bar), as well as a lower neighbor tone (the E at the start of the second bar).
Christian used less chromatic notes that later jazz guitarists, but notes such as passing notes and lower neighbor notes are found throughout his solos. It’s this application of chromatic notes that elevated his solos from just outlining the changes to being musical statements.
By working these types of chromatic notes, you too can use them to create interest, energy, and engagement in your own jazz guitar solos.
Charlie Christian Lick 3
Moving on, this third lick uses a passing note (the B in bar 1), as well as a Bb7 arpeggio in the next segment of the line.
Sometimes the best approach is the most direct approach (such as the diatonic arpeggios), and Christian used this approach often in his solos.
To finish the line, and to break the arpeggio up a bit, Christian uses a C (the 9th), as the second last note in the phrase. When soloing with arpeggios, inserting one or two scale tones, such as the 9th in this line, can go a long way to making your lines sound musical and not like an exercise.
Charlie Christian Lick 4
Here is a very typical, and melodic Charlie Christian lick.
- The line starts with a 1-3-6 arpeggio, and then ends on the root note of the underlying chord (F).
- From there, Christian repeats the same first three notes, but this time ends on the b7 of the F7 chord.
By repeating the start of the lick in both sections, Christian leads the listener through his solo, but gives them variety at the end to create interest. Repetition is something Christian, and other jazz guitarists, used to great effect when creating phrases in his solos.
When blowing over jazz tunes, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself, using slight differences as Christian did to lead the listener along the way in your solos.
Charlie Christian Lick 5
This final lick uses another passing note, which you can see Christian loved to use in his solos, as well as the F blues scale to create a V7-I7 line at the end of the blues.
Notice the G# (the b3) of the F7 chord at the end of the line.
Playing the b3-3 (as you’re doing here with G#-A), was a typical sound from Christian’s era, and one that has stuck in the jazz vocabulary until this day. Because of its longevity, using this approach in your own solos is an essential sound to have under your fingers and in your ears.
Charlie Christian Blues Solo
Now that you’ve explored these 5 phrases on their own, you’re ready to combine them in a soloing study over an F blues chord progression.
Take your time when working these licks together, practicing four bars at a time until you’re ready to combine every phrase to play the entire solo over the backing track.
Most importantly, have fun with this solo, and when you’re ready, take the licks from this lesson and apply them to other tunes.