Though it lasted less than a decade, the bebop era has had a lasting influence on subsequent generations of jazz improvisers.players such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Bud Powell, and others brought fresh levels of excitement to their extended solos, ushering in a new era of jazz improvisation.
While many guitarists fall in love with the bebop sound, learning how to play in the bebop style can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. By studying classic licks, and the concepts that are used to build those lines, you’ll be able to bring a bebop vibe to your own jazz solos.
In this lesson, you’ll learn 10 bebop licks, as well as the important concepts behind each lick, so that you can build your vocabulary and expand your theory knowledge at the same time.
Bebop Lick 1 – Charlie Parker
The first bebop lick is from the Charlie Parker songbook, and is one of the most popular jazz licks of all time. This lick is so famous that if you learn just one bebop lick, it’s this one.
The lick is played over the first four bars of a jazz blues chord progression, and features scale tones plus a few chromatic notes. These chromatic notes are known as blue notes (b3 and b5) and come from the blues scale, which gives the lick it’s bluesy vibe.
Bebop Lick 2 – Dizzy Gillespie
In this Dizzy Gillespie inspired lick, you’ll see a delayed resolution over the Imaj7 chord in the third bar of the phrase. The F7 chord (specifically F7b9), is played over the first beat of the third bar, before resolving to the Bbmaj7 chord on the second beat of that bar.
As well, notice the Cm triad that outlines the first half of the first bar.
Though arpeggios are mostly used in jazz to outline chords, swing and bebop era players often used the 1-3-5 triad to outline the underlying chord. When working on soloing over bebop changes, don’t forget to spend some time on triads, they’ll come in handy as you use them over bebop tunes.
Bebop Lick 3 – Clifford Brown
Here’s a lick from Clifford Brown that outlines a ii V I progression in the key of D major.
The repetitive triplet pattern in the first two bars is characteristic of Clifford’s playing, and the bebop era in general.
As well, notice the four notes played over Dmaj7, which when combined are a popular bebop pattern in their own right. Take that last phrase (G-E-F-F#), and practice applying it to other musical situations.
Bebop Lick 4 – Clifford Brown
Another Clifford Brown lick, here you’ll see the phrygian dominant scale being used to solo over the A7alt chord.
The scale actually begins in the second half of the first bar, on the note A, and uses the fifth mode of harmonic minor to create a typical bebop run over the next 6 beats. When soloing in the bebop style, the phrygian dominant scale is a first-choice sound when blowing over V7 and V7alt chords in your lines.
Bebop Lick 5 – John Coltrane
A short ii V I lick, this phrase comes from John Coltrane, and uses diatonic notes in the bebop style.
When playing over bebop tunes, you don’t always have to use chromatic notes to outline the changes. Sometimes a carefully played diatonic run, such as this, is exactly what the tune needs at that moment in time.
Having a handful of diatonic lines in your vocabulary will ensure you’re able to mix them in comfortably with the chromatic lines in your repertoire.
Bebop Lick 6 – ii V I
Another short ii V I lick, this line has been played by countless jazz musicians over the year. Because of it’s popularity, it’s another must-know bebop lick to add to your soloing vocabulary.
- The lick starts with a leading tone (B), before running up the iim7 arpeggio.
- Then, the line ends with the same four-note pattern that you saw at the end of the Clifford Brown line. Here, the lick starts on the root of the key (Bb) and the runs chromatically up to the 7th (A).
Bebop Lick 7 – minor ii V I
Here’s a classic minor ii V I bebop lick that uses an F#dim7 arpeggio over the D7alt chord.
When playing a dim7 arpeggio from the 3rd of any 7th chord, you’ll outline the 3-5-b7-b9 intervals of that chord. This is called a 3 to 9 arpeggio, an essential learning for any bebop guitarist.
Bebop Lick 8 – Joe Pass
In this Joe Pass style bebop lick, there’s a tritone sub being used to outline the V7 chord in bar two of the phrase.
When soloing over ii V I changes in a bebop style, you can use the progression ii bII7 I to bring a tritone-sub sound into your solos.
When doing so, you’ll create some added tension to the V7 chord in your lines, tension that you’ll resolve into the next bar of the lick. Letting tension hang can cause your line to sound like a mistake, but if you resolve that tension properly, tension such as this can be an effective improvisational tool.
Bebop Licks 9 – Charlie Parker
In this Charlie Parker bebop lick, you’re outlining a iii VI ii V I chord progression in the key of F major.
- Notice the b9 being used to create tension over the D7 chord, which is a common bebop technique.
- As well, the jump from the C to A over C7 is characteristic of the bebop sound.
Larger leaps can be found in the playing of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and other great bebop soloists, and it’s something you can add to your playing as well.
Bebop Lick 10 – Minor ii V I
This final bebop lick outlines a minor ii V I chord progression.
Again, there’s an F#dim7 arpeggio outlining the V7alt chord as well as a major 7 interval leading to the tonic in the second bar.
The major 7th, either in an arpeggio or from the melodic minor scale, was a popular note choice over minor chords in the bebop era. Because of this, adding the raised 7th to your minor soloing lines can help bring out a bebop sound in your playing.
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