#Guitar Lesson: Working with Licks

Jody Fisher

Jody Fisher is the co-chair of LA Music Academy’s guitar department. Jody has written for most of the major guitar magazines, including Guitar Player, Just Jazz Guitar and Finger Style Guitar. As an educator, Jody has held the positions of Professor of Jazz and Studio Guitar at the University of Redlands, in Redlands, CA, the University of La Verne, in La Verne, CA, and the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA), in Idyllwild, CA. He has performed with Alphonso Johnson, Betty White, Big Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, Bobby Troupe, Brandon Fields, The Coasters, Dennis Miller, Don Rickles, The Drifters, Harry Connick Jr., Jan and Dean, Joe Diorio, John Abercrombie, John Williams, Mike Stern, Rosemary Clooney, The Shirelles, The Spinners, and many others. Check out www.jodyfisher.com for more information.

From Jody:

Develop your working vocabulary.

You’ve been studying music and the guitar for some time now. You’re interested in jazz and you’re finding that most of your solos sound like aimless wandering through the scales you’ve learned up to now. Improvisation, combines many skills–learning and using scales, arpeggios, melodic patterns, and yes, even licks.

Learning and playing licks always gets a bad rap. Some improvising musicians would have you believe that all of their solos consist of brilliant, spontaneous ideas only. Nothing could be further from the truth. While we all hope, and work, for as much spontaneity in our playing as possible, the truth is that much of what we play is the re-organization of ideas we’ve played before.

While learning the jazz language, it is important to learn certain musical phrases (think of them as “words” or “sentences”), that most jazz musicians tend to use. This will accelerate your growth as a jazz musician, and provides a common language to use with other musicians. All players stand on the shoulders of the artists that came before them, so it’s only natural that we would want to learn certain types of musical lines that the greatest earlier players painstakingly developed. Don’t worry, you won’t become a clone. Eventually, your own ideas will blend into the ideas of others, creating for yourself a unique musical voice that is based on the music’s history.

Our Method

Below, you will find two licks that will work over ii-V7-I progressions in the key of F.

1. Learn, and memorize one of the licks. When you can play the lick from memory 25 times in a row, without flaws, you’ve learned the lick.

2. Practice the lick the following ways:

  • Around the circle of fourths
  • Chromatically, up and down the fingerboard c. in whole steps, up and down the fingerboard d. in minor thirds, up and down the fingerboard e. around the circle of fifths
  • Start to insert the lick into songs you play while improvising.
  • Do the same thing with the second lick.
  • Learn more licks and follow the same routine.
  • Do this for the rest of your life…..

Seriously, improvising musicians are constantly “upgrading” their vocabularies. Always, learn new melodic ideas, always transpose them, and always start using them in tunes as quickly as possible. The same would apply to building your chord vocabulary, as well.-Jody, LAMA

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One response to “#Guitar Lesson: Working with Licks”

  1. Gary Lacey says :

    I play mainly blues guitar but would like to learn jazz. It’s true that many guitar licks are re-used but don’t neccessarily sound the same each time. There are a lot of commonly used licks that you can combine in a different order and change the order of the notes in each lick. You can just change the timing of the notes in a lick to give it a different feel.
    Tried your two licks and found them quite challenging. Not yet got to the stage where I can play them 25 times in a row from memory but working on it.

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