By GEORGE COLLIGAN
ONE OF THE THINGS I’VE NOTICED AS A JAZZ EDUCATOR is that many of my students lack
a ﬂuent jazz vocabulary. When they improvise, their solos are essentially
attempts at improvising
with the hopes that they will somehow be inspired “by the moment.” This is akin
to planning a trip
to Japan, not studying any Japanese, and then hoping that when you arrive
you’ll somehow become
magically conversant in the language. To be a good improviser, you need to get
ﬂuent in the language. It’s important to understand the small building blocks
of jazz lines and phrases, and will help
you invent your own. One thing that helped me develop my own improvisational ﬂuency
was practicing the following licks in all 12 keys. To do this, one analyzes the
theory behind them as one goes.
CLICK HERE for audio examples of the lessons below, and click each sheet music thumbnail to enlarge.
.1. Triad Licks
is a typical triad-based lick. The first thing I do when analyzing a
lick is to figure out what the chord for that lick is (here it’s Bbmaj7
then assign scale
to each note in relationship to the corresponding “chord-scale,” as in
. Then I can easily transpose the lick to other keys using these
reference points, as in Ex. 1c
. You can see the lick fully transposed and notated
in new keys in Ex. 1d
. The more you do this, the faster you’ll be able to
ideas into all keys. Many young improvisers are able to play a blues in the key
, but when “I Got Rhythm” or tunes with many chord changes come up,
they stumble in unfamiliar keys and chords.
.2. Bebop Seventh Licks
The same process applies to more complex, bebop-tinged seventh licks as well.
In Ex. 2a, I figure out the correct chord for the lick at hand (C7) and once
again assign scale degrees to each note in relationship to the proper “chord-scale,”
as in Ex. 2b. Then I can once again easily transpose the lick to other
keys using these numeric reference points, as in Ex. 2c. This bebop lick is
fully transposed and notated in its new keys in Ex. 2d.
.3. ii-V7-I Progression Licks
We can utilize this same process of analysis and transposition when learning
more progression-oriented licks, like over the venerable ii-V7-I progression.
Once again, we need to decipher the correct chord for the lick at hand (Ex.
3a), assign corresponding scale degrees to each note (Ex. 3b), trans-
pose it to other keys using numerical reference points (Ex. 3c), and finally
notate it fully in its new keys (Ex. 3d).
.4. Putting It All Together
Ex. 4 demonstrates possible applications for triad, bebop seventh, and ii-V7-I
licks. A great way to develop your own material is to try different rhythmic
approaches. If your lick is in eighth-notes, try it in triplets. If it starts
on the downbeat, try starting it on the upbeat, and so on. Also try transposing
your licks up and down in whole steps, thirds, fourths, and other intervals. The
goal is to be able to insert licks and patterns into your solos at
.Baby Steps Before “Giant Steps”
“Like learning a language, you need to have a good enough reservoir of words
understanding of grammar and syntax to be ﬂuent in jazz improvisation,” says
composer, and educator George Colligan, who has worked with Cassandra Wilson,
er Williams, Ravi Coltrane, and many others. “So start small—even a two-note
can yield great results.” Colligan is also Assistant Professor in Jazz Studies
State University. Find out more at georgecolligan.com.