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Jazz Improvisation

Playing With Licks.

Using licks is an ideal way for beginners to learn jazz improvisation.

The word ‘licks’ is a cool name for phrases, and in non-musical terms it can be compared to the way different people use sentences and paragraphs. As a child you pick up words that are taught to you verbally and this forms the way you speak and communicate. 

So when you start to learn how to improvise the same process happens, you pick a few simple phrases to start with and that will give you the confidence to have a go. The more experience you gain, the more complicated the licks become. Then you can start to experiment with the way they are played, mixing some together, playing them twice as fast or half as slow, until you are playing around the instrument fluently. Eventually it becomes an extension of you, like having a conversation.

An excellent way to improve your playing is to transcribe and use the licks of other accomplished jazz musicians, not just saxophonists. Find a track that you like the sound and style of, and pick out some of the licks, write them down and incorporate them in your practice. If you struggle with this, then it’s easy to download a few PDFs that have some already written down for building into your solos.

Everyone does it! Try this lick for size…

Here is a great video of the same lick that has been found in 40 different jazz solos. This shows how, in what may seem a creative and fluent solo, anyone can use a lick great effect.

Is there a difference between jazz and funk?

While you would perform a lick differently in style; e.g. swing or straight, there is no difference in the mechanism of deciding which to play where!

Here is an exercise for the intermediate standard saxophonist of a call and response video for funky licks that work on D7 for alto or G7 for tenor, 

Funky saxophone licks