Though not a guitarist, Thelonious Monk is one of the most commonly studied jazz musicians when guitarists begin to explore improvisational and compositional techniques on the instrument. With a strong focus on polyphonic lines, playing two or more notes at once, as well as a unique rhythmic approach to improvising, Monk’s lines are full of material that can be translated from the keyboard to the fretboard as you expand your jazz guitar soloing vocabulary.
To help you add a bit of Monk to your improvised lines and phrases, here are five classic Monk lines over major ii V I and minor ii V I progressions, as well as static dominant 7th chords that you can study, break down to their component parts and add to your jazz guitar soloing ideas today.
As well, to help bring these licks to life, there is a sample blues solo at the end of the lesson that you can use as a vehicle to begin taking these lines from the practice room to the bandstand in your own playing.
Thelonious Monk Lick 1
This first Monk lick features a nice double-stop (B-C) in the first bar that is characteristic of Monk’s playing and something that translates well to the guitar fretboard.
In the second measure, you can see the Edim7 arpeggio being used to outline a C7b9 chord in this setting.
Playing a dim7 arpeggio from the 3rd of a dominant 7th chord is something that Monk, and just about every jazz musician, uses to bring a rootless 7b9 sound to their lines and phrases.
|E Diminished Arpeggio||E||G||Bb||Db|
|Played over C7||3||5||b7||b9|
Finally, there is a #7 interval in the last bar over Fm7 (E) which implies a melodic minor sound at this point in the phrase, a commonly used sound in Monk’s lines.
Thelonious Monk Lick 2
The next idea (played over a ii V I in Eb) mixes both major and minor ii V I chords, something that you can find in Monk’s playing and soloing.
Here, there is a iim7b5 chord (Fm7b5 in bar one) followed by a Bb7 and then finishing with an Ebmaj7 in the last two bars of the phrase.
Over the Fm7b5, there is an emphasis on the 11th note in the arpeggio line, creating an Fm11b5 sound, which is then followed by a plain Bb7 arpeggio in the second bar.
Finally, the line finishes with a #5 note (B), resolving to the 6th of the chord (C), using an approach note to create tension and release at the end of the lick.
Thelonious Monk Lick 3
This ii V I line, featuring only chords from the tonic major key this time, uses two common Monk techniques in its construction.
The first is the intervallic pattern played over the Fm7 chord in bar one of the line.
Next, there is a repetitive lick in the second bar that outlines the Bb7 chord in that part of the phrase.
Thelonious Monk Lick 4
This lick is played over the first four bars of a blues in F and has a lower neighbor tone in bar one that circles around the 3rd of the F7 chord.
In bar three you can see a Dm7 arpeggio outlining the 6-1-3-5 notes of the underlying chord, before resolving to the 13th as the last note in the phrase.
Thelonious Monk Lick 5
The next lick is a double-stop idea (playing two notes at once) that outlines a four-bar F7 chord.
Notice the half-step movement between the double stops that creates Monk’s characteristic tension and release sound in this line.
Thelonious Monk Solo
To help you get started with applying these licks to a musical situation, here is a sample solo played over one chorus of a jazz blues in F that uses licks from this lesson to construct the solo as a whole.
Once you have worked out this sample solo, try writing your own solos based on the 5 licks in this lesson, over the Blues if that’s in your repertoire, or over any standard that you know or are working on.