How To Practice Licks That Don’t Sound Like Licks: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we examined three strategies to spice up your practice sessions: 1) octave displacement, 2) rhythmic variation, and 3) sidestepping.

I’d like to suggest two more ideas: 1) playing your licks backwards and 2) utilizing inversions. We’ll use the lick from Part 1 and the previous variations discussed for both techniques.

By practicing these exercises in all 12 keys, you’ll be well on your way to expanding your harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary as an improviser.

Playing Licks Backwards

No explanation needed here. Just take your licks and play ’em backwards. It’s almost like Pig Latin, but it sounds cooler. Here’s what the four variations look like from Part 1 played backwards:

 

Inversions

An inversion involves choosing a pitch axis. From the pitch axis, where the original lick went up or down one or more intervals, you will do the exact opposite. If you’re playing a wind instrument, it’s usually safe to say you’ll need to start an octave or two up from your original lick to make this work. Also, be advised that playing the inversion of a lick that utilizes sidestepping will end up sounding more “out” than “in” harmonically.

Using the original lick and variations from Part 1, here is what all of the inversions would look like with C as the pitch axis:

 

I hope you have enjoyed this series. Be creative with your practicing and don’t be afraid to create your own musical vocabulary! For more practice ideas, continue to follow Jason’s blog, and feel free to check out thejazzdaddy.com as well!

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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How to Practice Licks That Don’t Sound Like Licks

It is my honor to introduce all of you to our guest contributor for our latest post, Mr. Justin Scoville. Justin and I first met at the University of Denver in 2004. Justin, in addition to being a fine jazz trumpeter, has recently started his own blog at The Jazz Daddy (which I highly recommend you check out). He comes from a rich heritage of Denver-based jazz instruction at CCJA, studied at the University of Denver and holds lucrative liberal arts degrees from BYU and the University of Colorado Denver. And (like many musicians these days) balances a family, day job, blogging, playing jazz, etc. 

Thanks to Jason for letting me pop in for a guest post!

The precocious and tragically short-lived trumpeter Booker Little recalled some sage advice he received from Sonny Rollins while rooming with the venerable tenor saxophonist in 1954:  “Sonny was a big help. For one thing, he cautioned me about becoming overly influenced by other players. ‘You’ve got to be you,’ he told me, ‘whether that’s good or bad.’” At the time, Little was heavily influenced by Clifford Brown. After taking Sonny’s challenge to heart, Booker went on to be one of the most unique jazz soloists during the late 50’s and early 60’s before his premature death.

Part of Little’s singular approach to improvisation was utilizing quarter tones and employing harmonic dissonance (influenced by his understanding of classical music) over traditional bebop harmonies. For an example of this, check out Booker’s solo at 4:30 on “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”:

I believe Booker is a great example for us all. He spent the time to emulate the great masters that had laid the foundation of jazz, but then infused his own musical interests into what was (at the time) common jazz vocabulary.

Booker wasn’t the first or last to do this. Charlie Parker copied Lester Young, Clifford Brown copied Fats Navarro, and so on. The question is, what are you going to do with all of the cool licks you’ve learned?

Today I’m going to share three simple techniques that will help you go beyond rote imitation and start discovering your own sound. These three techniques are 1) octave displacement2) rhythmic variation, and 3) sidestepping. 

Let’s take a lick that is fairly common in jazz, like this one:

To add a little variety and challenge to my practice session, I’ll arbitrarily decide to raise or lower certain notes by an octave, paying homage to Eric Dolphy. Here’s an example:

Next, I’ll add some rhythmic variation. Throw in some quarter note triplets, triplets, and quintuplets, and voila! You sound pretty different from all of your lick-playing buddies:

Finally, some sidestepping adds a final dash of harmonic ambiguity. Here, I raised or lowered certain notes to hint at F7 Altered Dominant. Or something like that.

Well, those are some techniques I use to spice up my licks. What have you all tried? Share your comments below.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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