Jazz Piano Improvisation: Build Great Licks

piano improvisationDo you wish you were better at jazz improvisation and jazz piano improvisation? Do you wish you could improvise over major 7th chords better than you do now?

Do you find yourself lost when major 7th chords come up in your favorite jazz and rock songs?

Well, in today’s lesson we’re going to explore some new licks and jazz improvisation piano ideas that will help you to sound better over this very common chord.

Let’s get started learning!

I suggest you watch the video first right below than scroll down for more tips, notation, and additional resources to help your jazz improvisation.

jazz improvisation (click to expand)

5 Tips To Help You Improvise Over Major 7th Chords

Lets take a look now at some ideas you should focus on from the video lesson above and some additional things you’ll definitely want to add into your playing.

1. Not Every Jazz Piano Improvisation Concept Needs To Be Hard

As you saw in the video above, sometimes just playing simple arpeggio ideas over major seventh chords can sound great.

This is especially true if you’re playing with great groove and great rhythm. If you watch the video above I only play 1 note thats outside the key.

The rest of the notes are inside the key, the scale, and even the chord (1, 3, 5, 7 ,9). Simple but effective!

2. Mix Up Your Eighth Notes With Triplets

Rhythm is the lifeblood of great jazz improvisation. Can you hear how the triplet add the top of the lick I play above adds some extra excitement to the lick and makes it more interesting?

Sometimes just mixing up your rhythms can inject incredible energy and interesting your playing.

(We explore tons of these rhythmic concepts inside the Premium Membership Course.)

3. Break Bigger Licks Into Lots Of Cool Ideas

You can take any lick and break it up into smaller pieces of jazz piano improvisation vocabulary.

By breaking them down into their most important melodic cells we can turn 1 lick into infinite amount of  licks.

I teach this very important concept all throughout my jazz improv DVD.

jazz improvisation

I like to think of jazz improvisation and jazz vocabulary as similar to a lego set. Each lick contains 4-10 individual “lego pieces”.

Just like a lego set you can reorder, change, shift, and reattach each little piece of a lick in so many different ways.

Like the concept behind the first bar of a lick but not the second? Cool. Grab just that piece and attach it to something else you already have in your playing.

Only like 2 beats of the lick in the middle? Awesome. Grab the melodic cell behind those 2 beats and attach that to other parts of major seventh licks (vocab) you’ve already learned.

Every time you learn a new lick you’re essentially adding to a “lego collection” that you already have acquired.

That’s why when you learn a great jazz lick it can really become a vehicle for really learning a lot about jazz piano improvisation as a whole.

The only limit of what you can make is you’re own creativity! 🙂

4. More Jazz Piano Improvisation Vocabulary To Learn

jazz piano improvisationNeed some more cool jazz licks to study? There are tons of them on this site.

If you’re looking for a step by step method for learning jazz improvisation you should also check out the The Jazz Masters Method. It’s a study of the improvisation styles of 9 legendary jazz piano masters.

Or, if you want to learn how to improvise over specific jazz tunes you’ll want to check out the Premium Membership Course.

Final Thoughts

Have fun learning the major seventh lick above. Always remember that every new lick you learn has the capability of being an infinite amount of new ideas.

Did you enjoy the lesson above? Please leave a comment and share. 🙂

One last thing….I tested out a new microphone on the video above. I’d love your feedback on the audio. I’m not sure if it’s better, worse, or just different. What do you think? Please leave a comment and let me know.

By the way, if you need some more licks? Check out this sample Bill Evans lick, this Charlie Parker lick, or this Clifford Brown lick.


If you’re new here don’t forget to subscribe to the free jazz lessons email list.

  • You’ll be joining the fastest growing jazz education community on the net.
  • You’ll also receive all the newest lessons right in your inbox!
  • You can subscribe on the top right of the site. It’s that easy. See you on the inside! 🙂

Steve Nixon