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John McLaughlin Licks

John McLaughlin started playing guitar when he was 11 and was initially influenced by blues and swing players.






In 1969 McLaughlin started playing with Tony Williams' band Lifetime.

John McLaughlin became famous as the guitarist of Mahavishnu Orchestra, a group that combined the power of rock with the sophisticated improvisations of jazz.

He also played on 2 classic Miles Davis albums: In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

In 1975 McLaughlin switched directions and began playing acoustic guitar and Indian music with his band Shakti.


Recommended listening: Shakti with John McLaughlin [LIVE]

John McLaughlin Licks 1

This lick uses the D minor harmonic scale. In the second bar John McLaughlin applies a sweep picking technique before resolving down to the 9th, E, and finishing the line from there.


Listen & Play

John McLaughlin Guitar Lick 1

John McLaughlin Licks 2

This McLaughlin inspired minor ii V i lick is built off of the Harmonic Minor Scale from the tonic key of A minor. Though not every note of this scale will fit over each chord individually, when navigated in the right way, as is the case with this line, you can and hear how this scale can produce just the right sounds needed for each chord in the progression.


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John McLaughlin Guitar Lick 2

John McLaughlin Licks 3

The last minor ii V i McLaughlin lick we’ll look at again uses the A Harmonic Minor Scale to outline the changes in this progression.

You can see how:

  1. The G# in bar two helps bring out the sound of the underlying E7alt chord.
  2. The G# in bar 3 brings out the raised 7th sound (mMaj7) over the underlying Am7 chord.


Listen & Play

John McLaughlin Guitar Lick 3

John McLaughlin Licks 4

Here is a highly chromatic Am7 lick in the contemporary style of McLaughlin’s playing. Using the Dorian mode as it’s underlying sound, this lick brings in the b9 (Bb) interval as well as the C# (major 3rd) interval throughout the phrase.

While it can be difficult to use these tensions in your lines and phrases when first starting out with jazz guitar, by studying phrases such as this, you’ll be able to hear how masters like McLaughlin uses these notes in their lines, allowing you to navigate these chromatic phrases in your own jazz guitar solos over time.


Listen & Play

John McLaughlin Guitar Lick 4

John McLaughlin Licks 5

This McLaughlin style lick uses the A Harmonic Minor Scale, along with two lower neighbor notes (C# and F#) to produce a cool sounding, longer-form phrase over Am7. Though not as chromatic as the previous lick, this fairly straight-forward line is a great introduction to the minor chord approaches that McLaughlin takes in his solos.


Listen & Play

John McLaughlin Guitar Lick 5


If you are a fan of modern and fusion jazz, than John McLaughlin is one of the greatest players of these two genres to ever play the instrument, and therefore is well worth the time in the woodshed spent studying his lines.


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