"The Lick"

Jazz cliches are everywhere, but I never realized how popular “The Lick” was until I saw this video below in our forum. The lick is a bebop phrase that is usually played over a minor-key 2-5-1. The origins and the first recording of the lick are not very clear. It is heard in Stravinsky’s Firebird from 1910, but probably dates before that.


The Lick Guitar Tabs

You can play The Lick over a D minor chord or a minor 2 5 1 progression, as I do in this example.


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The Lick


The Lick can be played over other chords as well, as you can hear in the following 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.


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The lick smooth jazz 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…


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22 thoughts on “"The Lick"”

  1. Jack

    “E lucevan le stelle,” opens the third act in Tosca.

  2. Sean

    In the video montage of “The Lick”, in the very first example, when I heard it, I had an instant recognition of it. I’ve not only heard it in literally hundreds of songs and improvs but I’ve been playing it for years without any knowledge of “The Lick” being a cliche. I copied it when I transcribed a Santana song so long ago and I’ve used it in both my own written solos and improvised solos for over 15 years. What a great “lightbulb ” moment.

  3. Russ

    lots of possibilities in the lick

  4. Alan Lee Backer

    During this coronavirus quarantine I’ve gone back to relearning some jazz guitar. Your website is very helpful. Loved this lesson.

  5. Jim S.

    This seemingly short little lesson has had me woodshedding for days!!! The sheer number of variations one can come up with are mind boggling. Now I have to go hunt down some recordings of “the lick”.

    Thanks for another great lesson.

  6. Tavsed


    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.


    1. Dirk Laukens

      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”.

  7. Manuel

    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.

  8. Where can I get this as a ringtone?

  9. Jimmy Toro

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

  10. JOEY


  11. Larry

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

  12. Mike

    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)

  13. Earl

    Thanks Dirk…nice tunes to jam with!!!

  14. Andi

    In a nutshell: amazing lesson! thx 😉

  15. Bill


    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.


  16. Ade

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

  17. John Berry

    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.

    1. SaxBlaCussionIzer

      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.

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