How To Play Great Jazz Licks Starting On Any Note (Part 1)

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

Now, this won’t be your normal everyday run of the mill type jazz lick 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 you’re musical possibilites could be endless!  All notes then become “correct” if you know how use and resolve them properly.

New 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 lick 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 playing over minor chords.  The first note 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 minor jazz piano chord lesson or this lesson on shell voicings.)

Each lick 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 music.

(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!

Jazz Lick #1 Starting On The Root

jazz lick

 (click to expand this lick)

Jazz Lick #2 Starting On The Root

jazz lick

 (click to expand this lick)

Jazz Lick #3 Starting On The Root

jazz lick

 (click to expand this lick)

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 lesson in the series (coming soon) where we will learn several licks that start on the 9th of minor chords.  Until then…happy practicing!

Update: Here’s the other articles in the series so far: jazz licks from the 9th, jazz licks from the 3rd, and jazz licks from the 11th.


I hope you’ve enjoyed these free jazz licks.  If so, then please don’t be a stranger. Let us know about them by leaving a comment below!

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  • Markbraz

    I`m very happy with your free lessons!
    Thanks for sharing !
    Mark B.

    • Glad to hear Mark.  Welcome to the community here!

      • Kareem

         This is the first jazz site that I truly find so incredibly useful and amazing and self-enabling… I really hope you keep this running. 

        • Kareem.  That so cool to hear that you find the site so useful.  Jazz and websites are a passion of mine so I’ll be here a long time 🙂

  • Julie Holtzman


  • Ralph Sirvent

    Excellent lesson and a real eye opener for learning licks. These need to be transposed when used in other key signatures I presume.
                                                             Ralph Sirvent

  • Holly

    Been picking up on ideas as I see Steve demonstrate. On Lick #1 using my own trill between writtenEb & Db. Then, adding G G#A just before written A C. After written lick ends added my own slur just above middle C: D D# E. Then, my own CD. My point is-this site is helping me expand my melodic playing. Thanks, Steve.

  • Jordan Baritone

    love the sharp nine flat nine stuff man

  • Captain Ahab

    I’m new to reading music, so naturally I still tend read everything as though it’s in C. These licks are in F. OK good. They work quite well as licks for C though. Now I’ll focus on trying to hear the licks with an F root…

    • Cool Captain 🙂 This is just built from good old fashioned jazz vocab. Lots of players use this type of stuff including masters like Grant Green. Good ears!

  • Hello Sam! Glad to be of help 🙂 We got the Jazz Masters Method DVD that has details on minor ii-V-I improvisation. Check it out here:

  • Jack Loner

    Very helpful!
    Thanks a lot Steve!

  • Great help, Steve. Regarding your past example for improvising based on any one of the 12 chromatic notes: Can you give the reasoning for the structure of the improvisation. in the example that starts with the root in measure one.
    For example, are we surrounding chord tones diatonically and chromatically etc; I realize improv. is ear based, but a concept or improvisation fundamental would really help a beginner get into a spot to hear the sounds and then choose based on his/her ear. He could try SURROUNDING all notes either diatonically and/or chromatically. Are there other concepts like this one that a intermediate player can use as a base to get started improvising.

    • Hey Joseph,
      I highly recommend you dig into your copy of the Jazz Masters Method that you purchased. See how I break down all those little improv cells in there. That will answer your question 100%. It goes way deeper than this free blog post.

  • Simon Loveland

    Nice licks – Good to have some sharps in there to add the all important tension…