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3 Bebop Licks Every Jazz Musician Needs

to Know
May 29
Written By Jeff Schneider

Do you feel like your improvised solos lack the legitimacy of an authentic jazz solo?
I know, that’s a heavy question. But if the answer is “yes,” then the three licks I’m
about to show you will give you the lift you need for getting that classic jazz sound
you’ve been after.

Before we get into it, a quick pep talk: If you’ve been practicing a lot and feel like
your soloing chops aren’t getting any better, remember that everyone gets into a
slump from time to time (myself included). It’s frustrating. But there is a mountain
on the other side of the valley, and you’ll be climbing again soon. Hang in there!

Alright, enough with the poetry.

Something that always helps get me groovin’ again is expanding my jazz

vocabulary i.e. studying licks.

Unfortunately, learning licks gets a bad rap.

A lot of people think improvising means spontaneously coming up with 100%

original material that no one has ever heard before, each and every time you go to
take a solo. I’ve got good news: that’s not how it works.

Here’s a helpful analogy:

When you have a conversation with someone or give an off-the-cuff toast at a

party, do you start speaking in some nonsensical gibberish language to avoid
repeating an idea or phrase that might sound familiar to your audience? Of course
not. Instead, you use the same words and syntax that have been around for
hundreds of years.

The same is true for improvising music:

1. Learn your letters (notes)

2. Put them together to make words (licks)
3. String words together to convey a message (your solo)

Yes, there are clichés and idioms that may not be the most creative choice of
words. But even a common phrase can be turned on its head, and the same is true
in music.

For example:

Here’s a classic dominant 7 line, often referred to as the “David Baker Bebop” lick.

Sing along below:

David Baker Bebop

0:07 0:07

Before we turn this thing on its head, let’s look at why this combination of notes
(letters) makes such a strong lick (word).

First of all, important chord tones are emphasized right off the bat: the 1 (G) and b7
(F) land on beats one and two, respectively. Also, that F# on the “and of one” is a
textbook example of a chromatic passing tone. (It should look familiar if you know
your dominant 7 bebop scale.)

We end the lick on yet another chord tone – the 5 (D), which is a satisfying way to
resolve the line, especially since the second-to-last note is a more dissonant 6 (E).

Is this detailed analysis necessary for you to start playing this lick in your solos?
No. But the more you analyze music, the more you can learn from it and repurpose
those lessons elsewhere.

Anyway, a handful of snobby jazz musicians might write off the “David Baker
Bebop” lick as a cliché, so let’s pump some new life into it:
David Baker Bebop (Tritone)
0:06 0:06

See what I did there? Same lick, a tritone away.

Ever heard of tritone substitution in the context of reharmonization? Well, the same
trick works for single-note lines.

Granted, there’s a dangerous amount of tension in this variation, which could result
in a wonky sounding phrase if not resolved skillfully. But music is a high risk/reward
endeavor, so let’s take a stab at “making it work.”

David Baker Bebop (Tritone Away+Resolved)
0:07 0:07

Okay, that wasn’t too hard. The truth is, you can get away with as much tension as
you want as long as you resolve it well. In the example above, I resolve the b9 (Ab)
down to the 1 (G). (Those really dissonant notes can usually be resolved by going
up or down a half step.)

Let’s try the same trick with another classic line:

Donna Lee Lick

0:06 0:07

I call this the Donna Lee lick because it shows up in measure three of… you
guessed it: Donna Lee.

Donna Lee
Charlie Parker
0:03 0:03

A quick analysis: arpeggiate up from the 3 to the 9. Notice the shorthand – I’m not
calling out each individual note: 3 5 b7 9. By grouping those four notes into a
simple chunk—“3 to 9 arpeggio”—I make it easier to internalize and recall the
information when I need it.

Two notes remain: 6 (E) and 5 (D). Looky here, it’s the same two notes at the end
of the “David Baker Bebop” lick. (Keep that in mind for later.)

Now, let’s do the tritone thingy:

Donna Lee Lick (Tritone Away)

0:07 0:07

We’re literally spelling out a Db9 chord, which is the tritone sub for G7.

And because the end of the Donna Lee lick is the same as the end of the David
Baker lick, we can resolve it the same way we did before:

Donna Lee Lick (Tritone Away+Resolution)

Or if you want something fancier:

Donna Lee Lick (Tritone Away_Resolution_Fancy)

Two licks down, one to go.

This last lick breaks outside the box. We’re going to use some “altered” notes. You
could also call them “borrowed” notes. Check out the lick below, and I’ll explain:

This feels like such a quintessential bebop lick to me. Are you diggin’ the way
those altered notes inject additional tension into the already dissonant dominant

To “chunk” this lick, all we have to do is identify the implied scale: C harmonic
minor. Technically it’s G mixolydian b2 b6, which is the fifth mode of C harmonic

(Side-note: is it becoming clear that knowing your chords, scales, and arpeggios is
essential for “chunking” i.e. memorizing music?)

Okay, back to the show. The altered notes—b13 (Eb) and b9 (Ab)—are borrowed
from that scary sounding G mixolydian b2 b6 scale. They sound hip because
they’re unexpected – they’re outside the box. But again, we “make it work” by
balancing that dissonance and tension with consonance and resolution. Those
altered-note imposters are offset by the harmonious b7 (F) and 3 (B), which land
on the strong beats (beats one and three).

Yes, this is getting wordy and super nerdy, but I promise: the better you
understand the music theory behind these licks, the easier it will be for you to
memorize them and create variations, which will ultimately allow you to string
together your favorite phrases and convey a personal, original message in every
solo you improvise.

Jeff Schneider

3 Melodic Minor Licks You NEED to Know