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Jazz Guitar Licks: John Coltrane

John Coltrane's career only spans 12 year between 1955, the moment he first got noticed as a sideman, and 1967, the year of his death.







Coltrane played in Miles Davis' band from 1955 to 1957. The second half of 1957 he played with Thelonious Monk, before joining Miles Davis' band again in 1958. This time he stayed till 1960 and played on 2 important Miles Davis albums : Milestones and Kind of Blue.

In that period he also recorded two influential albums of his own: Blue Train and Giant Steps.

After his time with Miles Davis John Coltrane picked up the soprano saxophone and formed a quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones, with whom he recorded spiritually driven albums like A Love Supreme.  In this period he was influenced by the modal music of Miles Davis and the music of Ravi Shankar.

In his last years Coltrane got interested in the free jazz of Ornette Coleman.


Recommended listening: A Love Supreme

John Coltrane Licks 1

There are a few key items to take away from this first John Coltrane lick:

  • The first thing to notice is the half-step approaches to the G7 chord tones in the first bar of the lick. Each chord tone, F-D, is approached by a half-step above, creating the line B-Gb-F-Eb-D, and is something that you should apply to other arpeggios on the guitar.
  • The second item is the Em7 arpeggio outlined in the second half of the G7 chord, which hits the Root, 3rd, 5th and 13th of the underlying chord along the way.


Listen & Play

John Coltrane Lick 1

John Coltrane Licks 2

In this John Coltrane inspired lick, you can see an Am7 arpeggio being used over Dm7, which produces the intervals 5-b7-9-11, or a Dm11 sound.

Playing a m7 arpeggio from the 5th of a minor chord is a great way to spice up these chords.

As well, there is a bebop scale being played in the second bar as there is an added passing tone between G and F over the G7 chord. The Bebop Scale is an important Coltrane technique to check out in order to bring a Trane vibe to your solos and lines.


Listen & Play

John Coltrane Lick 2

John Coltrane Licks 3

3 things to notice:

  • There is an ascending scale running from the E all the way to A above the staff over the first two bars of the lick.
  • The F triad used in bar 3 is something Trane liked to do, playing a second inversion of the triad, 5-R-3, instead of just running these chords tones in note order.
  • As well, playing 4-5-6-9-R, the last 5 notes of the line, are a very characteristic sounding Trane idea that you can add to your jazz guitar playing.


Listen & Play

John Coltrane Lick 3

John Coltrane Licks 4

This lick uses chromatic notes and intervals to bring a tension-release vibe.

  • The 4ths that start bar 2, D-G and G#-C#, are idiomatic to Trane’s lines as these outside notes then resolve to the A-C, 3rd interval in the second half of that bar. T
  • he Bb-Db-C enclosure in the 3rd bar of the lick is something that Trane loved to play, and is a technique you can explore further in order to expand your knowledge of enclosures in the woodshed.


Listen & Play

John Coltrane Lick 4

John Coltrane Licks 5

This lick uses several superimposed chords to bring out different colors and tensions throughout the line.

  • The first is the Bbmaj7 chord over C7, which outlines a C13sus sound in that part of the lick.
  • The second superimposed chord is the B6 chord in the second half of the 3rd bar, which is a tritone away from the underlying root chord, Fmaj7.


Listen & Play

John Coltrane Lick 5


Though not a guitarist, John Coltrane's lines can provide countless hours of study and enjoying for any picker in the practice room.



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