I wrote this for a friend's website, but it wasn't what he had in mind, so I thought I'd share it here.Lick Harvesting
Incorporating well-chosen licks into your playing is one of the best things you can do to sound more professional. Many players disparage licks, saying that you'll sound like a robot that plays a particular lick every time you come to a particular chord change. Not true if you know many different licks, or if you know how to vary the sound of individual licks. Others say “No, you should hear everything in your head before you play it!” Well, there's no reason you can't hear a lick in your head before playing it.
Using a spoken language analogy, you can think of licks as short phrases or even sentences. “It was nice to meet you!” or “What's new?” or “Good enough for government work.” are phrases that pop into our head as preformed units – we don't have to construct them from individual words. In the same way, licks can flow from our instruments effortlessly once we learn them.
Before I continue, let me show you my favorite lick. This lick is ultra simple, but I hear a lot of musicians use it, and every time I put it into a solo, I like the way it sounds. In this recording, I first play the lick by itself then use it with the bass and chords:https://www.box.com/s/a562d3eb6c4fbb418b5d
Here it is written out: Where do You Get Licks?
The best place to get a lick is from a recording you have. When I'm listening to some jazz on my iPod Touch and I hear a lick that sounds good, I do a screen capture to save the name of the tune the lick is in, and the location.
Next, I need to transcribe and learn the lick. If I can't figure out the lick immediately, I might slow it down with Transcribe, an application that helps me “steal” licks and music from recordings.
I also save the licks I've harvested in short audio files. I try to give them a name that will (hopefully) remind me of the lick. I have over 200 different licks (too many!) stored in short audio files. Here are some of them:
Here's an example of a great lick from an Eddie Higgins Trio recording of Blue Bossa, from the You Are Too Beautiful CD (3:06 into the tune). I saved it in a file named “BlueBossaEbm7MyChordArpeggio.aiff” because it is from Blue Bossa, and it outlines the rootless voicing for Ebm7 that I use (hence “MyChord”). Because my fingers are used to this voicing, it was very easy to learn. This is what it sounds like:https://www.box.com/s/b578599e432da6ed9d80
The next trick with licks, is to practice adding them to your solos. Try to play your new lick at every possible opportunity. Overdo it. Go to a gig planning to play the new lick at least five times.
But I have a huge problem with licks: I learn them, and perhaps use them for a while, and then forget them. They end up on the garbage heap of my broken dreams.
For example, last year I learned that Eddie Higgins lick (above) in several keys, and used to great effect at gigs. But today, when I happened upon it, I realized that I haven't used it for months. I can still play it, but I have forgotten to use it. I haven't found a good solution to this problem – perhaps I just need to go through my list periodically.