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Charlie Parker Licks

Introduction to Jazz Blues Guitar Volume 2


Charlie Parker (or "Bird") is considered as one of the founders of Bebop. He was the master of chordal improvisation and that's the reason why he is so interesting for guitarists to study.

Even if you would leave the band out and listen to Parker playing solo, you can still hear every chord of the tune's chord progression. Outlining the chords in your improvisations is a way to make your solo's more interesting and give them more structure.

Having a look at some Parker licks can help you a great deal in accomplishing that.

Make sure you have a look at the Charlie Parker Omni book, a book with transcriptions of Parker's compositions and a great resource for every jazz improvising musician.

Recommended listening : Boss Bird (CD box with 101 of his most representative recordings)


Charlie Parker Lick 1

A lick from Charlie Parker's classic Bebop tune Donna Lee.

There are two items to pull away from this phrase, the first being the interval leaps in the first bar, followed by the b9-#9-b9 triplet motive in the second bar.

Both of these items are characteristic of Parker's soloing material, and can be studied outside of this lick so that you can apply both concepts to other tunes and progressions in your playing.


Listen & Play

Charlie Parker For Guitar : Lick 1


Charlie Parker Lick 2

The first bar starts with a Dm triad over the Dm7 chord, a common Parker improvisational choice.

In the second bar, you can see a Bdim7 arpeggio being played over G7.

When doing so, you are outlining the 3-5-b7-b9 of G7, giving it a bit of tension that is then resolved when the Ab moved to G in the line.


Bdim7 Arpeggio Over G7 B D F Ab
3 5 b7 b9


Playing a dim7 arpeggio from the 3rd of a dominant 7th chord is a popular Bebop concept, and is something you should explore furhter in your jazz guitar studies.


Listen & Play

Charlie Parker For Guitar : Lick 2


Charlie Parker Lick 3

The second bar of this major lick is played around a Cmaj7 chord shape, which you can see in the grid below.


Charlie Parker For Guitar : Lick 6


There is also a very common Bebop phrase in the first bar, F-D-D#-E, where you start a half step above your target note, then run two chromatic notes below that target note, before resolving to the target note itself, in this case E.

This phrase works very well with the target note being the 3rd or 7th of the key, as both have diatonic notes a half step above them already, though with a bit of practice you can apply this concept anywhere you choose.


Listen & Play

Charlie Parker For Guitar : Lick 3


Charlie Parker Lick 4

This is the opening lick from 'Anthropology', a standard written by Charlie 'Bird' Parker and John 'Dizzy' Gillespie.

You can see the chromatic movement from the 3rd, F#, up to the 5th, A, in the line, which was a common Bird phrase and one many jazzers use to bring a chromatic/bluesy sound to their lines.


Listen & Play

Charlie Parker For Guitar : Lick 4


Charlie Parker Lick 5

This final lick, a minor ii-V-I in Am, uses the Gdim7 arpeggio over E7alt, as well as two trills, both using F-G-F-E, which were characteristic of Parker's playing style.

While working on Parker's major key licks is essential, so to is working on his minor phrases as there is a lot to be gained from studying this side of Bird's improvisational output.


Listen & Play

Charlie Parker For Guitar : Lick 5



Though translating lines from sax to the guitar fretboard isn't always easy, stuyding legendary players such as Charlie Parker is time well spent in the woodsehd.

Getting your fingers, ears and mind around the improvisational mindset of such an important player in jazz history is essential in the development of any jazz guitarist.



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