Editor’s Note: The following is an excellent jazz lesson from guitarist Matt Warnock. You can find great lessons like these on his site MattWarnockGuitar.com. Check it out for some easy jazz licks!
Learning how to play jazz guitar can seem like a tough hill to climb for many beginner jazz guitarists. Soloing over jazz chords can often seem like complex math with all the scales and arpeggios that seem to be needed to even begin playing a jazz solo.
But, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Soloing over jazz chords doesn’t have to seem impossible, even for those just beginning their jazz guitar journey. By learning how to play easy jazz licks over popular chord progressions, you’ll give yourself the ammunition needed to solo over jazz chords with confidence.
These easy jazz licks will bring an authentic jazz sound to your solos, giving you confidence and motivation in the practice room as you build your jazz guitar soloing chops.
Check out these 5 easy jazz licks. They aren’t the end of your jazz guitar studies.
But, they’re a solid introduction to jazz soloing concepts that you can use to build upon in your jazz guitar studies.
Practicing Easy Jazz Licks
When learning jazz licks, it can be tempting to learn the line and then recite it in your guitar solos over the correct chords.
While this is a good first step, you’ll want to take things further in your practice routine so that you don’t become a “lick player.”
To help you get the most out of these easy jazz licks in your studies, here are five exercises that you can use when studying these, or any, licks in the woodshed.
- Practice the lick at various tempos with a metronome
- Solo over a backing track and use the lick when appropriate
- Personalize the lick by changing the rhythms, adding notes, and taking notes away
- Learn the lick in other keys around the fretboard
- Write a lick or two of your own over the same chords
Now that you know how to practice easy jazz licks, it’s time to get these five lines under your fingers and onto the fretboard.
The first easy jazz lick is used over the first four bars of an A blues chord progression. Here, you’re using the A major blues scale to create a four-bar phrase over these chords.
The major blues scale is a staple in the jazz soloing world, and it’s built by adding the b3 blues note to the major pentatonic scale shape.
You can slide or hammer-on the C-C# in the first and third bars. Whichever you prefer is cool; just use some sort of slur to create that slippery, jazzy sound in the lick.
Moving on, here’s a repetitive lick over the last four bars of an E blues chord progression. The lick is built by running up from the root to the b3 blues note, then chromatically to the 5th from that b3 note.
This jazz lick uses 3 chord tones, 1-3-5, as well as 3 blues scale notes, b3-4-b5.
By using these notes, you’ll outline the key center, 1-3-5. You’ll also bring a bluesy sound to the lick, b3-4-b5. This is a characteristic sound in jazz guitar soloing.
In this easy jazz lick, you’re outlining a ii V I chord progression.
The ii V I chord progression is the most popular chord progression in jazz. Because of this, learning how to solo over ii V I chords is essential for anyone exploring jazz guitar improvisation.
This ii V I lick uses the Bm7 arpeggio over that chord, followed by a descending arpeggio line that brings the b9 into the lick over E7. Using the b9 to create tension is commonly found in many jazz solos. Additionally, it’s a way to bring a sense of tension and release to your soloing.
The key to this type of line is the resolution. There’s a fine line between sounding hip and sounding wrong.
Resolving tension notes will help you create a jazz sound in your solos. While helping you avoid sounding like you’re making mistakes in your licks at the same time.
The next in this series of easy jazz licks outlines a minor ii V I chord progression. Because minor ii V I chords require three different scales to solo over each chord, they can be much harder to play over than major ii V I chords.
To help you navigate these chords in your solos, licks such as this one can be very effective improvisational tools.
Build this minor ii V I lick is by playing the F#m7b5 arpeggio with a passing note (G) over that chord. Then follow it by an F#dim7 chord over B7alt.
When soloing over minor ii V I chords, you can play iim7b5-iidim7 arpeggios over the iim7b5-V7alt chords. Doing so brings out the sound of B7b9 with no root note.
This may sound complex, but, if you know to play a iidim7 arpeggio over the V7alt chord, you’ll be on your way to nailing these chords in your solos.
One of the most popular soloists in jazz history, Charlie Parker, left us with a wealth of improvisational information to study. Use it in your playing. This final easy jazz lick uses a classic Bird line over a major ii V I chord progression.
We associate this line so closely to Parker’s playing that there are lyrics used when learning how to play this lick. The “I Love Charlie Parker” section of this line is commonly used in jazz solos. It should be taken out of this lick and used in other contexts if possible.
Have fun with this lick! It’s an easy way to bring a Charlie Parker vibe to your next jazz guitar solo.