Jazz Patterns & Licks

How many jazz improvisers construct a completely original solo? It may be fair to say that most players rely on scales and patterns (aka licks, phrase or in more academic circles, formulae). Jazz is an ever evolving language, the established patterns and licks are borrowed, adapted and mutated into new ones. New styles of jazz sometimes dictate new harmonic structures. The great players often combine spontaneous original invention with established patterns to create new and fresh yet stylistically relevant solos. Beginners and more average players may have flashes of real invention, but usually need to fall back on use of scales and patterns just to give the brain a rest.

As well as the patterns on these pages, you can also find many more on the saxophone pages, including plenty of IIm7-V7-Is, diminished and whole tone patterns and licks. These can be easily adapted for any instrument.

A few jazz licks

Here are a few to start off with (to learn in every key of course):

Enclosures and Neighbour Notes

Jazz patterns 251 1
IIm7 V7 I with neighbour notes and enclosures

This first one is a bit involved but a very cool sounding lick. If you want to analyse it then it starts wit a suspension on to the 3rd of the Am7, then the next two notes enclose the root. You may wonder why G# on Am7? Well it works well in this enclosure situation as it is a chromatic neighbour note of the A, like a leading note that gets there via the B. From there on it’s quite straightforward with descending motif on the strong beats A to G which then leads nicely to the F# of the D7 (voice leading). The last scale run down from F# to resolve again with voice leading includes the flattened 9th for some flavour, though it could just as easily have a natural 9th.


patterns and licks 251 2

Again, with this one you might be wondering about off notes, e.g. why we have an E natural in the key of C minor. As with the previous lick it is a neighbour note to the F of the D minor 7 flat 5 so it works well a semitone lower leading into the F (like a leading note). C# on a Dm7? Yes, it’s a chromatic passing note as well as a neighbour note. Again on the descending phrase we have a b9, and then this couples with another neighbour note, the F#, to enclose the G as it all resolves nicely to the 5th of the C minor and down on to the root.

patterns lick 3

This one is quite straightforward, a scale run down from the F of D minor 7 flat 5, voice leading to the 3rd of the G7 and then again via the F to the 3rd of the C minor. The final motif uses B as a neighbour note to the root of C minor


patterns and licks 251 4

Another neighbour note as a leading note in to the root of the D minor 7 b5. It’s quite common to hear the major 7 used like this on a minor 7 chord, as long as it is functioning as a neighbour note or as a passing note.

patterns and licks 251 5

By now you will be getting the picture: E natural neighbour note on to the F. Nice voice leading from C (the 7th) to B (the 3rd of the next chord) and a scale down with the b9. On the second beat of the C minor we have another enclosure and a neighbour/leading note.



Pentatonic Sideslipping

This is a very nice pentatonic lick and is deceptively easier than it looks or sounds. It’s a bit more than just a lick really. This is in D minor and can be used over a one chord D minor groove. It slips into a G# minor pentatonic, but then lands back  nicely onto G, from where you could continue in D minor (looking nonchalantly as if you hadn’t just done something very clever!)


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