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Miles Davis Licks For Guitar

Miles Davis' professional career spans 50 years during which he was on top of almost every important innovation in jazz.






He played his trumpet in a melodic and introspective way, often employing a mute.

Miles Davis impressed by his performance, recordings but also by his choice of sidemen.
Getting picked to play in a Miles Davis band was like putting a dose of steroids in your musical career. The list of guitarists who played with him speaks for itself: John Scofield, Mike Stern, John McLaughlin and Robben Ford.

Miles began playing the trumpet when he was 13 and had his first professional gig when he was 17.  He was 19 when he played in Charlie Parker's band and at 23 he made his first influential album as a bandleader: Birth of the Cool.

The list of following influential albums is simply too big to produce here.


Recommended listening: Kind of Blue

Miles Davis Licks 1

This lick is the theme of So What from the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. This first-take, unrehearsed Miles Davis session from 1959 is a true masterpiece. It was the key recording of what became modal jazz, a music free of fixed harmonies and forms.

The band itself is extraordinary (proof of Miles Davis's masterful casting skills), listing John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on saxophones, Bill Evans (or, on "Freddie Freeloader," Wynton Kelly) on piano, and the crack rhythm unit of Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.

If Kind of Blue is not part of your CD collection yet, don't hesitate and BUY IT, it's classic jazz's best selling album ever. Also a very interesting read: Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece

The Play-A-Long book and CD set Jamey Aebersold (Vol. 50) The Magic of Miles has four tunes coming out of 'Kind of Blue', including 'So What'. The Aebersold CD's are are excellent backing tracks to practice your improvisations on.

So What is based on a D dorian scale. The composition itself alternates between D and Eb minor. A chorus looks like this : 2x 8 bars D minor, 1x 8 bars of Eb minor and 1x 8 bars of D minor.


The guitar tabs for So What

Miles Davis Licks 2

This ii V I Lick in Bb uses typical Miles techniques as it snakes it’s way through the underlying chord changes. Check out these voice leading techniques that Miles used in his solos:

  • Notice the b9 drop in bar one, from the Eb down to the D, which is a characteristic of Miles playing.
  • The use of the B (#11) to start the second bar, allowing for a half-step resolution of the C in the last beat of the first bar.
  • The Eb-D movement (b7 to 3rd) that connects the last two bars.


Listen & Play

Miles Davis Lick 2

Miles Davis Licks 3

There is a typical shape to this line that you hear in many of Miles’ improvised solos.

  • The lick moves down and octave from D to Eb in the first bar,
  • then back up to that same D half way through bar two,
  • before repeating this same up and down movement one more time to finish the line.

Direction is a big part of Miles’ lines, and so it is worth looking at in your practice routine, as well as what scales, arpeggios and chromatic notes Miles used to build his licks and phrases.


Listen & Play

Miles Davis Lick 3

Miles Davis Licks 4

Here is a Dm7 lick that uses a few chromatic notes, the A# lower neighbor and C#, hinting at D Melodic Minor, to build tension during the phrase.

Also notice these two approaches that Miles liked to use in his minor 7th chord soloing ideas:

  • The use of the C triad to outline the b7-9-11 intervals over Dm7.
  • The line finishing on the 6th (B).


Listen & Play

Miles Davis Lick 4

Miles Davis Licks 5

In this Dm7 lick, you are only using the notes from the D Dorian Mode to create this snaking line over the underlying chord. Notice the three, 4-note groups in the second half of bar 2 and throughout bar 3 of the line. These three groups are all classic Miles mini-licks that are worth exploring further as you expand on this lick:

  • 4 consecutive scale tones
  • R-6-7-R
  • 2-4-3-2


Listen & Play

Miles Davis Lick 5


Though not a guitarist, studying Miles Davis' lines can take your jazz guitar soloing chops and creativity to the next level.



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