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  1. #1

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    Having a large "lick library" of licks to play from is essential to jazz improvisation. You'll notice students of jazz always clamoring for someone to teach them more licks. The good news is there is a relatively easy way (if you're a creative) to exponentially increase the size of your lick library and to keep it expanding, just like the universe, LOL. Well, maybe not as fast as the universe is expanding, but you get the point. Of course, transcription is a great way to expand your lick library, but there's also another great way that not everyone knows.

    The tools used to expand your lick library are called "fixed licks" and "variable licks". Fixed licks are the licks you tend to play pretty much the same way a lot. Everyone has some of those in their arsenal. They are actually part in parcel of what people call a player's "style", and everyone has a unique style, all their own, whether you realize it or not.

    Now to begin greatly expanding your lick library exponentially in a short time, begin looking at the licks you really like as variable licks. A variable lick is a lick that you play based off of the same musical idea, but you play it differently each time. What it requires is that you look at the hot licks you play and begin to think about how many different ways you could play that lick, or, how many different licks can you play based off of that one general concept. Do this intelligently with your hot licks, and you'll soon be generating fresh creative licks.

    Some ways to get the thinking process started are: to first just think intelligently, from a theory perspective, about what the lick is. For example, The lick climbs through a scale in 4ths up to the #9 of the V chord, and then a Maj9 arpeggio figure on the I chord followed by a Lydian motif, also on the I chord. Then start to think about the lick in creative ways. Try to play it somewhat in reverse and see how you can make that sound good. Transpose the lick to all six positions and to different places within a mode. Thinking like that tends to open up different ways of playing a lick, that you can then bring back to the first position and start the process all over again. So learn your licks in different positions and that opens up much creativity. So for every hot lick you have begin to think about and practice how many different things you can play based off that one lick. There is your assignment, Mr. Phelps. That one simple concept, applied intelligently, can supercharge your creative process and expand your lick library. If you're creative, you'll find the size and variety in your lick library increasing exponentially. How cool is that? . Yes my friends it's called being creative

    Does this sound too far-fetched to you?

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  3. #2

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    Not far-fetched at all. In fact this is sort of the jazz 101 stuff. I don't know of any jazz guitarist who has 3-4 bar long "hot licks" (like the one you describe in the 4th paragraph) that they play exactly the same way every time. Maybe some beginner blues/rock guitarists do that.

    The OP doesn't even scratch the surface of jazz line building devices/approaches. That's a life long study.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 08-17-2021 at 03:58 PM.

  4. #3

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    Here is how it looks to me. There are lots of names for these things and they each have slightly different connotations.

    motif
    This is a Classical music term, usually a breif series of relative pitches played in a particular rhythmic form that tends to be repeated in various parts of a tune, sometimes repeated by various instruments, and even repeated transposed or at different tempos in the same tune. A motif is established by composition in advance, so it is in the "played the same way each time" category.

    riff
    This is the Rock and Blues term for a motif that is used as the foundation for a particular tune, and is also in the "same way each time" category

    lick
    This is the Rock and Blues term for the elements of melodic lines and phrases. There is a bit of a "chicken and egg" thing going on with licks. You may decide to call the smallest elements the proper "licks" and note that in practice one actually plays various combinations of these smallest elements. Or, one may call the phrases one plays "licks" and consider their variations as transformations of those. Either way, the result may be either "parts the same way each time but combined to be a different whole each time" or "a different whole each time but composed of part the same way each time". I think the longer ones plays, the longer the gauge of resolution, so lines and phrases tend to be considered increasingly novel.

    vocabulary
    In Jazz, the general term for everything is vocabulary and distinctions among what you play may be categorized by degree of departure from "straight".

    - straight (no departure)
    This is the stilted square sound of Muzac, as in playing the score absolutely as written, no swing, no beat width.

    - interpretation (mild rhythmic departure)
    This is the head melody played with strict adherence to the note order and some relaxation regarding rhythm.

    - variation (mild exploratory melodic and rhythmic departure, typically by one instrument)
    This is relaxation of adherence to both the notes and rhythm. There may be less notes to give a more schematic sound, or more notes to contain enclosures, side slips, or chromatic moves. The head melody is still recognizable.

    - improvisation (creative departure from the head by one, maybe two instruments)
    This is a departure from the head rhythm and melody with the main connection shifted away from the head melody to a strong connection to the tune's harmony changes.

    For most Jazz performance and recording, that is the most departure, but there are two additional levels of departure.

    - R & O (departure from the harmony)
    This is a departure away from the tune's harmony. If it is still related obliquely to the tune's harmony it is called reharmonization, if further disconnected and sustained it is called "outside".

    - deconstruction (complete departure, all instruments)
    This is a wide extended departure from the tune itself. All instruments become improvisational, spontaneous yet interactive, and intuitive.

    The usual form of a Jazz tune is to progress from the head through increasing departure, then work back to the head. If the band ventures into deconstruction some wonderful magical moments can emerge, but they must be very good to bring themselves back (or raise a drum solo).

  5. #4

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    along the way I developed a melodic approach to building solo material..learn melodies..rip them apart..look for scale fragments..intervals..arpeggios..and other melodic ingredients..and dont forget rhythmic variations..double some notes..increase the value of others..things like that..

    learn melodic patterns in all keys and positions..this is a very important tool to have and develop .. It has helped me in times of "getting lost" in a solo..it does require constant practice..to use in and around a fixed melody..

    and -- Very Important..LISTEN to players of other instruments Horn / Sax/Trumpet solos..there are ALOT to give you melodic/harmonic ideas..read/transcribe solos..

    a melodic exercise for me is I play the melody in each mode of the major scale and develop a solo using that scale/modes flavor..it takes time and alot of determination and practice..but well worth the effort

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    Not far-fetched at all. In fact this is sort of the jazz 101 stuff. I don't know of any jazz guitarist who has 3-4 bar long "hot licks" (like the one you describe in the 4th paragraph) that they play exactly the same way every time. Maybe some beginner blues/rock guitarists do that.

    The OP doesn't even scratch the surface of jazz line building devices/approaches. That's a life long study.
    If you listen to any great player enough, who plays a lot of improvised music, you will notice certain things they play that seem to come up, basically the same, but on different tunes. That's all I’m talking about here, not saying someone has licks that they just HAVE TO play the same way, or they'll have a nervous breakdown or something LOL. You're missing the point if you think that. And that example I used was just to make the point of starting to think intelligently about the concepts that are actually going on in your lines.

    Well, jazz line building devices was not the intention of this post, it's only to discuss how to increase the size of your lick library. Jazz line building itself is another separate whole subject, that could actually fill up an encyclopedia. Also, I would say the technique I mentioned is best for at least intermediate jazz players and more advanced level guys. I recommend that beginners should be spending a lot of time transcribing from the giants to learn how to create the language. However, this is an excellent method to turn each lick into many licks, thus expanding the size of your lick library. Think about it, if you turned all your licks that you already know into just two different licks, instead of just one, BOOM you've just doubled the size of your lick library.

    Oh, and heck yes I have licks I've practiced in my vocab that are 4, 5 or 6 measures long easy. That doesn't mean I always play that lick in the same situation, but It's available for me to use. I can think of several right off the top of my head. AND FRANKLY, how the heck would you know if a player had rehearsed the lick you hear on a record previously unless you could ask him about each lick he played? Think about it.
    Last edited by James Haze; 08-17-2021 at 06:04 PM.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    Here is how it looks to me. There are lots of names for these things and they each have slightly different connotations.

    motif
    This is a Classical music term, usually a breif series of relative pitches played in a particular rhythmic form that tends to be repeated in various parts of a tune, sometimes repeated by various instruments, and even repeated transposed or at different tempos in the same tune. A motif is established by composition in advance, so it is in the "played the same way each time" category.

    riff
    This is the Rock and Blues term for a motif that is used as the foundation for a particular tune, and is also in the "same way each time" category

    lick
    This is the Rock and Blues term for the elements of melodic lines and phrases. There is a bit of a "chicken and egg" thing going on with licks. You may decide to call the smallest elements the proper "licks" and note that in practice one actually plays various combinations of these smallest elements. Or, one may call the phrases one plays "licks" and consider their variations as transformations of those. Either way, the result may be either "parts the same way each time but combined to be a different whole each time" or "a different whole each time but composed of part the same way each time". I think the longer ones plays, the longer the gauge of resolution, so lines and phrases tend to be considered increasingly novel.

    vocabulary
    In Jazz, the general term for everything is vocabulary and distinctions among what you play may be categorized by degree of departure from "straight".

    - straight (no departure)
    This is the stilted square sound of Muzac, as in playing the score absolutely as written, no swing, no beat width.

    - interpretation (mild rhythmic departure)
    This is the head melody played with strict adherence to the note order and some relaxation regarding rhythm.

    - variation (mild exploratory melodic and rhythmic departure, typically by one instrument)
    This is relaxation of adherence to both the notes and rhythm. There may be less notes to give a more schematic sound, or more notes to contain enclosures, side slips, or chromatic moves. The head melody is still recognizable.

    - improvisation (creative departure from the head by one, maybe two instruments)
    This is a departure from the head rhythm and melody with the main connection shifted away from the head melody to a strong connection to the tune's harmony changes.

    For most Jazz performance and recording, that is the most departure, but there are two additional levels of departure.

    - R & O (departure from the harmony)
    This is a departure away from the tune's harmony. If it is still related obliquely to the tune's harmony it is called reharmonization, if further disconnected and sustained it is called "outside".

    - deconstruction (complete departure, all instruments)
    This is a wide extended departure from the tune itself. All instruments become improvisational, spontaneous yet interactive, and intuitive.

    The usual form of a Jazz tune is to progress from the head through increasing departure, then work back to the head. If the band ventures into deconstruction some wonderful magical moments can emerge, but they must be very good to bring themselves back (or raise a drum solo).
    Good stuff. That last category that you described, I would just call that free jazz or playing totally free. Yes, used sparingly it can be really effective IMO. To me though, only really advanced players have any business venturing into this realm, but ymmv.

    Yes, that stuff can be great. Like start your improv out playing more sparsely real melodic stuff with lots of space, then with each chorus play faster more complex lines, until in the last choruses of your improv your playing all double time and playing outside much more, super cool . The trick is to sound great doing all of them.

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by James Haze
    If you listen to any great player enough, who plays a lot of improvised music, you will notice certain things they play that seem to come up, basically the same, but on different tunes.
    Yes but they are usually short building blocks, ending phrases, etc. I was going by your description of what type of things you consider licks in some concrete fixed form:
    Quote Originally Posted by James Haze
    For example, The lick climbs through a scale in 4ths up to the #9 of the V chord, and then a Maj9 arpeggio figure on the I chord followed by a Lydian motif, also on the I chord. Then start to think about the lick in creative ways.

    Also I think these two quotes are contractionary:
    Quote Originally Posted by James Haze
    Well, jazz line building devices was not the intention of this post, it's only to discuss how to increase the size of your lick library.
    Quote Originally Posted by James Haze
    And that example I used was just to make the point of starting to think intelligently about the concepts that are actually going on in your lines.
    If you think concepts that make up licks (second quote) and jazz line building blocks (the first quote) are separate things, then I think you missed the point of analyzing licks in the first place.

    Or maybe you can explain, what distinction are you making between jazz line building devices and concepts extracted from licks?
    Last edited by Tal_175; 08-17-2021 at 07:12 PM.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by James Haze
    Good stuff. That last category that you described, I would just call that free jazz or playing totally free. Yes, used sparingly it can be really effective IMO. To me though, only really advanced players have any business venturing into this realm, but ymmv.

    Yes, that stuff can be great. Like start your improv out playing more sparsely real melodic stuff with lots of space, then with each chorus play faster more complex lines, until in the last choruses of your improv your playing all double time and playing outside much more, super cool . The trick is to sound great doing all of them.
    I have noticed that often when someone's solo really takes it outside, they finish it by bringing it back with something like simple blues or head melody phrases; kind of as a musical courtesy to the next soloist, so as not to hand off the chorus in "beat-up, confused, or poor condition", so to speak.

  10. #9

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    It's due to my Lick Library that no one visits anymore.

  11. #10

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    Some of my licks are long overdue for return to the library.

  12. #11
    To me the idea is to be as melodic as possible. That means creating (or borrowing) often complex ideas that don't benefit from changes, because they already perfectly express a feeling. The same goes for melodies. Some don't benefit—IMO—from large re-workings. They are already perfect. Examples might be Estate or Billies Bounce. Most of my ideas (licks) are honed and I don't change them. I might start or finish them sightly differently, but that's all for +80% of my playing. For the pro's it's probably a much smaller number.

    Rhythmical ideas are different. They are usually simple melodies that can be manipulated either rhythmically, or notationally. Motifs are another form of simple lick that lend themselves to on-the-fly creativity, ergo, improvisation. Linear (scalic) playing is possibly another malleable form.

    This doesn't mean playing around with licks can't or shouldn't be done. It just asks can it be done easily, and do you need to? And one answer to that might depend on your approach to playing, of which there are clearly many.

    To the question of having a large licks vocabulary, it goes without saying it is vital. And if you have a large working arsenal of unique ideas, the need to create hybrids will be less. How large will depend on each player's recall ability and retention, which develops with frequency of use. How do you acquire them? Hard graft has no short cuts. I've heard some pro's say they don't break more than a day between playing in order to keep the synaptic connections alive.

    The best analogy is language. Some of the best speakers have enormous capacity for improvisation, but many rely on hackneyed albeit eloquent stock phrases. And they are only hackneyed to the speaker because the audience is hearing them for the first time.

    Just my tuppence worth.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    Yes but they are usually short building blocks, ending phrases, etc. I was going by your description of what type of things you consider licks in some concrete fixed form:



    Also I think these two quotes are contractionary:




    If you think concepts that make up licks (second quote) and jazz line building blocks (the first quote) are separate things, then I think you missed the point of analyzing licks in the first place.

    Or maybe you can explain, what distinction are you making between jazz line building devices and concepts extracted from licks?
    Howdy. You see what I'm saying here, right? To do what I explained in my OP you already have to know how to construct burnin' jazz lines. I also explained that if you're a beginner you should be transcribing a lot so that you learn the language of jazz. Buy a book of transcriptions or get the real book and transcribe straight from records, or do both.

    Then once you have the language in your repertoire start thinking about it creatively as I explained in the OP. Every good lick you already know is a treasure trove of musical information that should inspire the creation of even more tasty licks. My original post was about how to boost creativity using the information you already know, and how that, applied intelligently and creatively, can exponentially increase the size of your lick library, for both chord work and linear Improv. Of course, if you are a beginner you should also get a good teacher, who can play his or her butt off, and take lessons.
    Last edited by James Haze; 08-19-2021 at 01:16 AM.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by James Haze
    Howdy. You see what I'm saying here, right? To do what I explained in my OP you already have to know how to construct burnin' jazz lines. I also explained that if you're a beginner you should be transcribing a lot so that you learn the language of jazz. Buy a book of transcriptions or get the real book and transcribe straight from records, or do both.

    Then once you have the language in your repertoire start thinking about it creatively as I explained in the OP. Every good lick you already know is a treasure trove of musical information that should inspire the creation of even more tasty licks. My original post was about how to boost creativity using the information you already know, and how that, applied intelligently and creatively, can exponentially increase the size of your lick library, for both chord work and linear Improv.
    one thing I really miss in the process, the ear judgemet.

    The only thing I accept the existence of pre practiced licks, is because in real time I am not fast enough to create them. I mean neither my technique not so flexible, neither my mind in the creative process to create them on the fly. However this implies, that the lick preparing process would be as similar to this as it possible,

    Mechanical factory will not play here, neither other methods, what are not *melodic* enough, it is music after all, not chess. In this slow motion creative process I have enough time to discover what I want to hear, and try to play it. I also going to trial/error by ear. Nothing fancy here. The more advanced my ear, and more advanced my inner mind melodic memory, the better results came out. Regarding my limited talent and time, I will not achive notable result :-), still in rare times I enjoy what I hear.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by James Haze
    Howdy. You see what I'm saying here, right? To do what I explained in my OP you already have to know how to construct burnin' jazz lines. I also explained that if you're a beginner you should be transcribing a lot so that you learn the language of jazz. Buy a book of transcriptions or get the real book and transcribe straight from records, or do both.

    Then once you have the language in your repertoire start thinking about it creatively as I explained in the OP. Every good lick you already know is a treasure trove of musical information that should inspire the creation of even more tasty licks. My original post was about how to boost creativity using the information you already know, and how that, applied intelligently and creatively, can exponentially increase the size of your lick library, for both chord work and linear Improv. Of course, if you are a beginner you should also get a good teacher, who can play his or her butt off, and take lessons.
    I think you misunderstand me, I'm not saying that what you describe is complex. What I'm saying is the opposite, it's pretty trivial stuff.

    It seems like you're coming from an intermediate rock blues mindset where a lick is thought of as a monolithic entity and the idea that you can play it with a different fingering (that's not called transposition BTW as you refer to it in OP) or see the arpeggios in it and alter them is a mind-blowing, and potentially far-fetched insight. That's a pretty basic way of looking at guitar for most even beginning jazz players, let alone advanced players (as you seem to think your lesson is for, lol).

    I suggest you spend a bit more time getting experience with jazz guitar before posting lessons.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 08-19-2021 at 09:17 AM.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by James Haze
    Howdy. You see what I'm saying here, right? To do what I explained in my OP you already have to know how to construct burnin' jazz lines. I also explained that if you're a beginner you should be transcribing a lot so that you learn the language of jazz.
    What you’re advocating results not in knowing “how to construct burnin’ jazz lines” - it’s just how to learn, memorize, and play those of others. This is how many of us started. But it was only a way to develop our ears and match them with muscle memory so we could develop our own chops while also learning about the theory, structure, composition and performance of jazz. The integration of these with our development as players is what lets us create our own compositions, solos, and styles.

    You don’t “learn the language” of jazz by transcribing and memorizing any more than you learn French by doing this. Language has many components and conventions. French, English, Greek, Japanese etc have some concepts, letters, words, phrases, punctuation, grammar, syntax, idioms, dialects, accents and such in common and some so different from each other that fluency in any is useless in the others. Learning to speak phrases, sentences, dialogue etc in a language without understanding it is almost entirely useless. It won’t let you communicate with anyone, you can only say what you’ve memorized, and you won’t even know if you got it wrong. When it’s verbal, it’s called a word salad. In jazz, it’s often just a boring, disconnected and illogical jumble of notes and phrases with only the key signature in common.

    The language of jazz has notes, scales, chords, timing, rhythm, forms, structure, tone, timbre, idiosyncrasies etc. The spectrum of each has to be understood and at least a fair amount of it learned, both in isolation and in context, if you want to create music. Make no mistake about it - improvisation is creating music. Solos are written on the fly, but they’re written. They’re just written in your head. They have structure and they have boundaries. Herb Pomeroy taught his students about what he called the time-intensity curve. Solos can start simple and build to a complex finish, they can build toward a peak before tapering back to a simple finish, etc. How you structure it doesn’t matter, as long as it makes sense and is not just a random string of memorized licks. Listen to Paul Desmond, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Freddie Hubbard, Wes and other greats for endless examples.

    Strings of cliches sound like strings of cliches. Listen to any Paul Desmond solo and you’ll hear a beautifully composed, structured work that’s so “together” it sounds like he wrote it out the day before and is playing it from a score - but it’s improvised. What goes into that is mastery of scales, harmony, theory (whether formalized or intuitive), etc. You have to know how your next notes will sound even though you’ve never played or heard that line over those changes before.

    Memorizing “licks” is a fine way to start, but it’s not sustainable as an approach to soloing beyond the early stages of learning.

  17. #16

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    never..

    your post hits most of the main points of being a "working" musician ..now that term -working - does not require monetary receipt..its an attitude built with self confidence .. that you can enter any musical
    environment and "work" ..using your skills acquired through study..practice..intuition and trust..

    melodic players have a mature sense and respect for the development of the melody and it relative harmonic settings..the classical masters show us this..its their main concern not an
    afterthought..

    In jazz and other forms of contemporary/ progressive music after the melody is stated..variations of it are introduced and experimented with .. the more experienced musicians will use
    as many melodic/harmonic devices to twist and turn the melody inside out and back to its original form..and hopefully not loose the listeners attention..but keep their interest in the journey.

    and yes licks..runs..riffs..are all ingredients used in many solos..now how they were chosen and in what order may remain in the mysterious world of improvisation..

    I think the solo by Getz on Girl from Ipanema is a classic (of course there are thousands) it addresses the topic well