The lick lesson

"THE LICK" - Guitar Lesson With Exercises

"The Lick" is considered as the most famous phrase in jazz music (and also in other styles). It has been played so many times, by so many players, in so many tunes that it has become a cliche.

Although there are a significant number of common jazz lines, this one is surely the most popular, an essential part of the Bebop language. This guitar lesson with tabs, charts and theory explains what is "The Lick", how it is built and how to apply it in different harmonic contexts.

The Lick

Analysis of "The Lick"

The lick is built with only five notes. The interval pattern is 1 - 2 (9) - b3 - 4 (11) - 2(9) - b7 - 1, making it a minor (Dorian) lick. As shown in the example below, in Dm the notes would be D (root), E (second or ninth) , F (minor third), G (fourth or eleventh) and C (minor seventh).

The lick


Major Triad

It is interesting to note that "the lick contains" a descending major triad (1 - 3 - 5), C Major triad in the example (G - E - C).

Target Note & Enclosure

The last note which is actually the root (D), is approached from above and below by E and C. This is what we call a "Diatonic Enclosure".

Rhythmic Syncopation

The second half of the bar starts with a down-beat on 3 and ends on the “and of 4”.

Modal Harmony

We can consider "The Lick" taken from the second mode of the major scale, the Dorian mode (1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - b7) which is a minor mode.

Dorian mode vs ionian mode

Related Chords

Basically, "the Lick" can be employed over minor chord types (min, m7, min9, min11 and min13). Here are some common guitar shapes.

Minor guitar chord shapes

"The Lick" in Twelve Minor Keys

The guitar tab below show how to play "the lick" in 12 minor keys following the cycle of 5ths. 

The lick in twelve keys for guitar

Variations On The Lick

Here are some ideas to make evolve The Lick. There are several tools and guitar techniques that help to embellish the basic line as grace notes, passing tones, rhythmic varirations, etc.

Adding Grace Notes

Try adding one or both of these chromatic approach note using fretting hand guitar techniques as slides, hammer-on, pull-off, bends.

The lick guitar tab with hammer on

The lick guitar tab with hammer on 2

Adding Passing Tones

These two exercices contains passing tones that make the link between two notes of The Lick. In the first example, C# makes the link between C and D repectively the minor third and fourth of Am7.

The lick guitar tab with passing tones

This second example contains an extra note (G#) between G and A.

The lick guitar tab with passing tones 2

Adding Chords

Here, some chords are integrated in The Lick. The first chord is an inverted Em (third in the bass), the second chord is an Am.

The lick guitar tab with chords

Here two notes are harmonized in fourths (quartal harmony), giving a modern cool sounding to the phrase.

The lick guitar tab with chords 2

Pickup Notes

Adding a pickup note adds a little bit of dynamism to the Lick.

The lick guitar tab with pickup notes

Rhythmic Variations

Adding syncopations add rhythmic interest.

The lick guitar tab with rhythmic variations

The lick guitar tab with rhythmic variations 2

"The Lick" Over Common Chord Progressions

The following show how to play the lick in different harmonic contexts.

Modal Progression - So What Style

Here is a modal example in the style of So What (Miles Davis). The lick is played in Dm7 then in Em7, included fourth chords (Em7add11, Dm7add11 and F#m7add11).

The lick so what style modal playing

Long II V I 

Here, The lick is played over Dm7, the ii chord of C major. The ii V I progression being Dm7 G7 CMaj7.

The lick over major 2 5 1 guitar tabs


Short Minor II V I 

Here The Lick (key of Dm7) is played over the iim (Em7b5) and V7 of a short minor 2 5 1 progression.

The lick over minor 2 5 1 progression‚Äč

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music lesson jazz guitar guitar tabs the lick


  • John solis
    • 1. John solis On 2021-08-08

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