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Charlie Christian Licks

Charlie Christian was the first successful electric guitarist and although he played in swing bands mostly, he was very much influenced by bebop players.

 

 

 

 

 

He was a student of Eddie Durham - a jazz guitarist who invented the amplified guitar - and was one of the first guitarist who played amplified. Electric guitar opened up a range of possibilities because guitarists could concentrate on other things besides volume.

Unfortunately Charlie Christian died at the early age of 25 after contracting tuberculosis.

 

Recommended listening: Charlie Christian: the Genius of the Electric Guitar


Full bio and more about Charlie Christian's guitar technique: The Charlie Christian Biography

Find out which guitar, amp and strings were used by Charlie Christian: Charlie's Guitar Gear

Charlie Christian Licks 1

This typical Charlie Christian lick is played over A7. The first 4 notes form a C#m7b5 chord shape, a common substitute for the A7 chord. It gives us the 3, 5, b7 and 9 of A7. Licks like these are nice to play on a B section of a rhythm changes.

 

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Charlie Christian Lick 1

Charlie Christian Licks 2

In this classic Christian sounding lick, the major blues scale is being used to outline an A7 chord, producing a bluesy, swing-sounding lick. Using the major blues scale (the major pentatonic scale with an added b3) is a great way to bring a Christian and swing sound to your lines, so feel free to explore this idea further as you take it past the context of this single lick in your practice routine.

 

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Charlie Christian Lick 2

Charlie Christian Licks 3

Here you see an enclosure over the 3rd of the underlying A7 chord, where D and C and being used to enclose the note C. This type of tension and release line (aka enclosure) is something that can be found in many of Charlie’s and other solos from the Swing era.

Enclosures have been used by just about every great jazz soloist over the past 80 or so years, and so it is an important concept to have under your fingers and in your ears as you advance your jazz guitar skills in the woodshed.

 

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Charlie Christian Lick 3

Charlie Christian Licks 4

This Charlie Christian inspired lick looks at the use of a lower neighbor tone in the first bar to highlight the large leap between the 9th (A) and the 13th (E) of the G7 chord. By landing on a chromatic note after a leap, before resolving it to a chord tone on the next note, you can bring a strong focus to both the leap and the resolution point in your lines, something that Charlie and other Swing musicians liked to do in their solos.

 

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Charlie Christian Lick 4

Charlie Christian Licks 5

This Charlie Christian lick uses an idiomatic riff that runs from the b3 to the 3 to the 5th of the underlying chord, in this case G7 and Cmaj7. Mixing the blue note (b3) with the diatonic 3rd and 5th of any chord is something that Charlie and many other Swing artists like to do in their soloing lines and phrases.

 

Listen & Play

Charlie Christian Lick 5

 

There is no bigger name in jazz guitar than Charlie Christian, and if you study the licks of only one player, Charlie's are it.

 

 


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