Guitarist Cameron Mizell

New York Guitarist & Composer

The website of New York Guitarist Cameron Mizell.

Anatomy of a Lick

For this week's lesson, we're going to analyze a common bebop lick. This is something I did back in my college improv class, and the lick is great for any instrument. I've chosen this particular lick, however, because we can apply the same basic principles to create our own licks. First, let's have a look at the lick. Click on the image for a larger, easier to read size:

[image width="640" height="" align="left" lightbox="true" caption="" title=""]http://www.cameronmizell.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Anatomy-of-a-Lick-1.jpg[/image]

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This is a ii-V-I bebop lick--something you can probably find in the Charlie Parker Omnibook. Now let's examine the anatomy of this lick, starting with a basic scale.

[image width="640" height="" align="left" lightbox="true" caption="" title=""]http://www.cameronmizell.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Anatomy-of-a-Lick-2.jpg[/image]

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Note that the scale starts on the 3rd of the Dm7 chord and lands on the 3rd of both the G7 and C chords. Additionally, these chord tones are approached by a half step. In other words, the 3rd of G7 (B) is approached by the 7th of the Dm7 (C) and the 3rd of the C (E) is approached by the 7th of the G7 (F). These half steps result in small "resolutions" from one chord to the next, and help outline the chord changes.

While the descending scale definitely outlines the chord changes, it's a little boring.

[image width="640" height="" align="left" lightbox="true" caption="" title=""]http://www.cameronmizell.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Anatomy-of-a-Lick-3.jpg[/image]

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To make it more interesting we can add an octave displacement mid scale. Now we resolve to the 3rd of the G7 chord and immediately jump up an octave before continuing the descending scale.

[image width="640" height="" align="left" lightbox="true" caption="" title=""]http://www.cameronmizell.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Anatomy-of-a-Lick-4.jpg[/image]

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Next, we can make the octave displacement even more interesting by altering a chord tone. It helps to do this on the V7 chord, to create an altered dominant effect. In this case we're lowering the A, which will make the G7 sound more like a G7(b9). At this point the lick resembles something you might find in a piece by JS Bach.

[image width="640" height="" align="left" lightbox="true" caption="" title=""]http://www.cameronmizell.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Anatomy-of-a-Lick-5.jpg[/image]

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To give this a little more bebop flavor, we're going to add a chromatic enclosure. We were already approaching the 3rd of the G7 by a half step, but a chromatic enclosure will add another half step to the lick. To my ear, this enclosure also adds some emphasis to the octave displacement. Note that we had to remove the E from the beginning of the lick as well.

Finally, we can add the E back to the lick with a little ornamental trill at the beginning.

[image width="640" height="" align="left" lightbox="true" caption="" title=""]http://www.cameronmizell.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Anatomy-of-a-Lick-6.jpg[/image]

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Here's a video to help you hear each step:

Using octave displacement, altered chord tones, enclosures, and ornaments are just some of the commonly used "tricks" to make melodic lines more interesting. What else can we do as guitarists to further adapt these licks to our instrument? How about bending notes, or sliding, or allowing open strings to ring throughout the line? How about emulating other instruments, or trying to articulate like a vocalist?

Use every opportunity you can to create your own voice as a guitarist!

If you found this post helpful, please see my other guitar and mandolin lessons on this blog. I am also available for private guitar and mandolin lessons in NYC or via Skype.