How To Play Great Jazz Piano Licks Starting On Any Note

artist using jazz piano licks
Parts in this series:

  • #1: Starts on the root of a minor chord.
  • #2: Starts on the 9th of a minor chord.
  • #3: Starts on the 3rd of a minor chord. (Featuring licks from Joe Pass and Harold Land).
  • #4: This one stars on the 11th (also known as the 4th)
  • #5: Starting on the 5th (Featuring a Miles Davis Lick)

Jack Lick #1: Starting on the root of a minor chord

In today’s free jazz improvisation lesson we’re going to take a look at some cool new jazz piano licks.

Now, this won’t be your normal everyday run of the mill type jazz licks lesson.  No, we’re going to approach this jazz improvisation lesson in a unique way.

We’re going to learn how to play a lick starting on any of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale.

With the power to start on any note in the chromatic scale your musical possibilities could be endless!  All notes then become “correct” if you know how use and resolve them properly.

New Jazz Piano Lick Series Starting!

Since this is such an important concept I’m actually going to turn this “start on any note” concept into a whole series. This is lesson #1 in the series so make sure you catch every one as we go forward.  These will definitely help your jazz solos!  I will teach you between 2-4 licks for each starting note.

We will start with using over minor chords. The first one that we’ll start on will be scale degree 1 or “the root” (If you need a good jazz piano voicing to use in your left hand while playing these licks check out this rootless jazz voicing lesson or this lesson on shell voicings.)

Each will lead smoothly into a dominant chord a 4th higher. This will be very useful as you’ll be able to use this over all your II-V-I’s (2-5-1). II-V-I of course is the most popular chord progression in jazz.

(If you need good voicings to use in your left hand for the dominant chords be sure to check out this dominant chord lesson and also this II-V-I-VI monster jazz piano chords lesson.)

Now, onto our licks!

#1 Starting On The Root

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#2 Starting On The Root

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#3 Starting On The Root

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Make sure you really sit down with these licks and try to digest them. There’s a lot of really nice bebop vocabulary on almost every beat.  Also, take them through several keys!

Be sure to check out the next part in the series (coming soon) where we will learn several piano licks that start on the 9th of minor chords.  Until then…happy practicing!

Jazz Lick #2: Starting on the 9th of a minor chord

jazz improvisationIn today’s jazz licks lesson we’re going to learn 3 awesome licks that start on the 9th of a minor chord.

This is the second part in our “How To Play Jazz Licks Starting On Any Note Series”.

Armed with the ability to start your jazz improvisation on any note, you’re soloing will really become much more effective. This series will hopefully prevent you from running into a “dead end” or bad notes in your jazz improvisation.

You’ll know how to navigate smoothly from any of the 12 chromatic notes by the time we’re done. All of them will be correct!

If you missed the first part (dealing with licks starting on scale degree 1 of minor chords) you can check out the previous lesson above at the top of this article.

Make sure you subscribe to our mailing list (form on the left, right, and below this article) so you don’t miss a single part in the series.

Ok, on to our jazz piano licks!

Jazz Lick #1 Starting On The 9th

Jazz Licks

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Jazz Lick #2 Starting On The 9th

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Jazz Lick #3 Starting On The 9th

bebop licks


1. Here’s a super sweet Bill Evans jazz lick that also starts on the 9th.

2. Also, check out this Bud Powell inspired lick. It also starts on the 9th. Both of these licks have full video lessons and a bunch of other jazz lesson information in them.  Enjoy!

3. Want to learn some chords that you can use over these riffs? Check out this jazz music theory and harmony lesson

Tips For Learning All These Jazz Piano Licks

1. Print out a copy of these licks for reference.

2. Practice applying these licks over your favorite jazz tunes. Not sure what tunes to learn?  Start by reading this article on the best jazz fake books to learn from. You also can check out some this learn jazz standards article.

3. Learn them in all 12 keys.  As we mentioned before II-V-I (2-5-1) is the most popular chord progressions in jazz music.  If you understand how to play over II-V-I chord progressions you’ll be able to navigate through most jazz standards.

4. Need some chords to play under these licks?  Check out this II-V-I jazz chord progression lesson.

Jazz Lick #3 Starts on the 3rd of a minor chord

Check out this lesson here. (Featuring a licks from Joe Pass and Harold Land).


Jazz Lick #4: This one stars on the 11th (also known as the 4th)

jazz piano licksNeed more licks don’t you? Well, you’ve come to the right place.

In today’s free jazz licks lesson we’re going to explore a couple licks starting on the 11th of a minor chord.

I think you’re really going to enjoy this one for a few reasons!

Not only do I have notation of the licks but I also have audio recordings, a video demonstration, and analysis included in this one as well.

Most importantly, I had just gotten back from a gig when I shot this video. So, i’m wearing a suit as you will see below.

For those of you who are new to our community please just assume I always dress like this. 😉

Ok let’s get started! Here’s the first lick in video format.

Here is the notation of the jazz licks. Be sure to check out all the additional tips and analysis below!

jazz licks on 11th

(You can print out a .pdf file of these licks. Feel free to share this page as well! The only thing I ask is that you link back to the site in return.)

Here is an audio recording of the second lick.

Tips for Lick #1

1. For the first part of the lick I’m thinking modally when I’m playing over the Gminor7th.  I am going up and down different arpeggios inside the dorian mode. (Check out this minor mode lesson for a much more in depth study of how to play and use the dorian mode.)

2. For the second bar of the V chord I use what’s called a tritone substitution.  Instead of using a full bar of C7 I substitute it for the last 2 beats with a dominant chord a tritone away. (As a reminder a tritone is 6 half steps up).

This is a very common substitution in jazz harmony. (For example, I use it in this Misty Chords lesson as well.)

3. Need more info about the chords in the video? I have a whole lesson where I teach more about the left hand chords. Watch the shell voicing lesson to learn more.

Tips for Lick #2

1. This one starts on an approach pattern. I start on the 11th but play two chromatic notes and target the 5th (the note D).

These types of approach patterns are all over jazz improv. They’re an integral part of the sound. They’re used to propel a line forward and keep it moving. This sounds great.

Check out this Red Garland transcription lesson, Charlie Parker lick, and even this sweet Wynton Kelly riff for more info on approach patterns. We also go over more rhythmic patterns in our John Coltrane article here.

2. I continue with a 4 note approach pattern targeting the 5th of C7 (the note G) on the 3rd beat.

I’m playing 2 chromatic notes below the G and then 2 chromatic notes above the G and then finally resolving to the G. Once again a different approach pattern and tons of forward motion!

4. I end it again with….wait for it…wait for it….wait for it…..another approach pattern! 🙂 Go figure! In order to target the 5th of the Fmajor 7th chord (C) on beat 1 of play 2 chromatic notes below and lead up to it.

Listen to lick #2 and play it multiple times so you can start getting a feel for how to use this important approach pattern technique.

Final Thought

Please remember to try using these licks in all your favorite tunes. By themselves they are nice pieces of vocabulary but they become true expression when you can apply them organically to your own music 🙂


Jazz Lick #5: Starting on the 5th

Check out this lesson here. (Featuring a Miles Davis Lick)


Jazz Lick #6: Starting On The 6th

jazz licksThanks for continuing to read our series where we are learning how to play jazz licks starting on every note of a scale.

In today’s lesson we’re going to learn a fun lick starting on the 6th scale degree of a minor chord. (The 6th is often times called the 13th.)

This particular lick has some very playful chromaticism leading and some cool and simple syncopation ideas. It was a ton of fun to perform and teach. I think you’ll like it too. 🙂

Now, let’s continue with our jazz improvisation lesson for today!

Video Demo

Why not take 4 minutes and watch the video below. I demonstrate how to use the lick and you get to watch my break down the music theory too. I know the jazz language can be a difficult part of learning, so I try to break down as much as I can in this article.

As we have discussed many times before on this site, jazz is an aural art form. Listening is an essential part of the learning equation!

(Plus, as an added bonus…you get to see my smiling face and a plant next to my head while I teach. Maybe the thought of that scares you? 😉 Watch and learn none the less!)


Here’s the notation of this lick. Make sure you also scroll down for extra tips to help your jazz improvisation.jazz licks

(Click to open in a new window. Feel free to share this across the internet. Please credit if you do.)

8 Jazz Improvisation Tips To Help You Master This Lick

1. This features all chord tones on the ‘&’s of the beat and an ascending chromatic note leading into the chord tones.

2. Often times in jazz piano licks you’ll find chord tones happening mostly on downbeats and passing notes happening on the ‘&’s. This uses the opposite technique.

For more info on this concept you should check out the major bebop scale lesson. And for more info on chord tones, checkout this article on chord tone soloing.

3. In measure 3 I’m using a syncopated rhythmic device at the end of the measure called an anticipation.

This means simply that I’m resolving to the 3rd of the Cmajor 7th chord an eighth note early (on the ‘&’ of 4 as opposed to beat 1)

4. The #1 chord progression in jazz is the II-V-I. Of all chord progressions this one is a study of a piece of jazz language over this fundamental chord progression.

5. As we talked about in the Don’t Explain jazz piano reharmonization lesson you can turn almost anything in a II-V-I if you understand the fundamentals of jazz harmony. And the 2 5 1 or ii v i is a huge component of any jazz improv!

Many jazz players use this technique. You literally see II-V-I’s and reharmonizations using II-V-I in hundreds and hundreds of jazz standards.

That’s why its’ so important for you to begin to grow your skills playing over II-V-I’s.

jazz piano lesson DVD6. If you enjoy learning how to play licks, learning about jazz improvisation, and how to create your own licks I recommend you check out the Jazz Masters DVD and online course.

In the course we explore a lot of II-V-I vocabulary and learn how to model classic jazz improvisation vocabulary from 9 legendary jazz piano players.

(Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Diana Krall, Herbie Hancock, and more.)

We also include tons of practice tips and so much more including: over 40 chord voicings, rhythmic patterns, the most common jazz chord progressions, and so much more! Purchase the course and start learning from the best today.

7. This particular one features a more vertical approach to jazz improv. This means that the improvisation is mostly chord tone based (with a few chromatic notes for fun).

8. Another approach to jazz improv is to play more horizontally over a chord progression. This means taking a more scale type approach to playing over changes.

If this type of technique interests you then you can check out the major jazz scales lesson, the minor jazz scales lesson or this lesson on dominant jazz scales. I also recommend checking out this article on the mixolydian scale that includes a free sample video from our jazz improv course. It will show you How To Turn 1 Chord Into Endless Melodies!

Your Mission And Your Next Step

This one is fun and to be quite honest it’s not very hard after a tiny bit of practice.

So, i’d like to challenge you to spend some time learning it this week. Try it over a jazz standard too.

The best way to get better at any skill is to take action. Learning jazz is no different!

Your Reward

Your growth as a jazz musician is super important to me. So, i’d like to reward you for your practice and your dedication toward your growth. Jazz improvisation and helping students get better at these skills is so much fun for me! I even created the Jazz Inner Circle Coaching Program to help students one on with these exact things.

I will happily feature anybody in a future article who records themselves using this lick or any of the other licks from this site and sends it to me.

Please upload your recording to Sound Cloud and send me a link. You can also make a Youtube recording very easily as well.

You can email me through the contact form on the top of the site.

Almost Famous?

There are currently over 21,000 unique people who visit this site very month!

I can’t deliver super rock star fame like The Rolling Stones or ummmm…Justin Bieber but you’ll definitely be heard and admired by a super cool group of jazz aficionados 🙂

What’s better than jazz aficionados right?? 🙂

So, make a quick recording this week, grow your music, and share. I look forward to hearing those recordings!


Did you enjoy today’s piano lesson? Do you have questions?  Please leave a comment below and discuss with the peanut gallery here.

A final though, remember these little gems don’t have to be just piano licks. They can be played by any instrumentalist. Keep your mind open!

Also, if you’re new to please subscribe to the email list! You can also check out our Jazz Master’s Method course here.

  • You’ll receive free piano, guitar, and other jazz lessons with a ton of my personalized notes and advice in your inbox on a regular basis.
  • You’ll also be joining a community of over 20,000 awesome jazz musicians learning this great art form just like you (you’re pretty awesome too right?).

Steve Nixon