“The Lick”

Jazz cliches are everywhere, but I never realized how popular “The Lick” was until I saw this video below in forum moderator Mark Rhodes’ thread.









You can play The Lick over a D minor chord or a 251 in D minor, like I do in this example:


Notation and guitar tabs for The Lick


The Lick can be played over other chords as well, as you can hear in the following elevator music example. Here The Lick starts over Dm7 (Im), then goes to Bbmaj7 (bVI) and Gm7 (IVm). On the A7 I play the “Cry Me a River” lick, another jazz cliche. In the second chorus I play a little variation (sorry, couldn’t stop myself):


The Lick Elevator Version


There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to the lick:

Can you name more songs that contain The Lick? Let us know in the comments below…

  1. John BerryDec 29, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Hi Dirk,

    I just want to say how much I appreciate your lessons. Thank you very much. What would be most helpful would be some great swinging backing jazz blues tracks to play and practice our licks over. Especially in the key of Bb at about 160-180bpm and about 5 minutes long. Are you able to provide some CDs or MP3s for us to use? Thank you.

    • SaxBlaCussionIzerFeb 26, 2014 at 12:55 am

      You should check out a product called Band-In-A-Box for requests like these. It’s a great play-along product. You can pick styles, tempos, etc. and it sets up some nice backing tracks to practice against.

  2. AdeFeb 1, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Great stuff Dirk…..many thanks for all your work…best w.

  3. BillFeb 2, 2014 at 12:35 am


    Excellent stuff, I’m new to jazz guitar and listening to a lot of John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery.
    Keep on the great lessons, I’ll be following.


  4. AnFeb 3, 2014 at 12:07 am

    Muy interesante!!!

  5. AndiFeb 4, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    In a nutshell: amazing lesson! thx 😉

  6. EarlFeb 17, 2014 at 12:13 am

    Thanks Dirk…nice tunes to jam with!!!

  7. MikeMar 12, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Don’t forget the passing tones in “The Lick” :o) | D (on G) – E (on B) – F (on B) – F# (on B) – G (on B) – D# (on B)- E (on B) – C (on G) – D (on G)

  8. LarryJun 2, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Great stuff. Love the instruction and chord insights. Keep up the great work.

  9. JOEYJul 16, 2014 at 1:10 am


  10. Jimmy ToroJul 23, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Amazing stuff fellas, very straight forward, fun and enjoyable to learn, Thanks so much guys keep up it !

  11. KLDec 12, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Where can I get this as a ringtone?

  12. ManuelSep 10, 2015 at 1:37 am

    Thank you very much. I’m just beginning just because I found your page. You made me take my guitar and begin. Congratulations for your work. I have just bought the jazz blues book and before starting with it, I’m looking at the beginners lessons. Am I doing it in the wright way? Do any of you suggest me some subject to start? I’m a beginner.

  13. TavsedFeb 28, 2017 at 7:22 am


    Could you tell me why the lick in Jazz music is called the lick? The verb Lick is referred to licking such as licking an ice cream, and I wonder what is the correlation? Thank you for your explanation.


    • Dirk LaukensFeb 28, 2017 at 10:34 am

      Hey Tavsed, good question!
      The origins of the word lick used in a musical context is not entirely clear. The word has been used as early as 1920.

      2 explanations that make sense:

      1) A lick is a small amount of something. A guitar lick is a small excerpt of a solo, the ‘tasty’ part.
      2) It could also be derived from the saying “Getting your licks in”, which means “making the most of the opportunity”.

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