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#1940878 - 08/11/12 02:39 PM Lick Harvesting
TromboneAl Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/12/04
Posts: 798
Loc: Northern, Northern California
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:


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.

Like this:

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:


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.
- Al

My Book: Becoming a Great Sight-Reader -- or Not!
My Blog: The Year of Piano Sight-Reading

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#1940922 - 08/11/12 04:48 PM Re: Lick Harvesting [Re: TromboneAl]
Hidden son of Teddy Wilson Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 01/27/09
Posts: 150
Well, what can I say... you're doing everything right, IMO !

#1941808 - 08/13/12 07:18 AM Re: Lick Harvesting [Re: TromboneAl]
custard apple Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/09
Posts: 2313
Loc: Sydney
I agree with Hidden.
I only got into licks about 2 weeks ago.
Prior to that, I thought improv had to be completely original.

My improvs haven't been appealing in the Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Tommy Flanagan way.

Now I've been in lick mood, I can say my improvs are more melodic.

Your first lick is great and is one of the easier ones to learn for an ending.
I know it as 8th notes starting on the 6th over a G maj 7.

Do you compose ?
I've been finding it's a great way to consolidate your lick vocab.
I was personally surprised at how the licks were incorporated naturally into my vocab.
Sometimes I think it's a Bird lick, and then I hear Brownie and realise he's used it too. Everyone uses everyone else's licks and now I'm not too arrogant to think I can't use them too.


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