ii-V-I Licks w/ Video + TAB
Hey guys! Marc here with some easy jazz guitar licks for you that I believe every jazz guitarist should know. These licks are useful for jazz guitarists of any level and you can learn each of them in less than a few minutes.
Lucky for you, these licks are actually built from things you already know. They also do a good job of outlining the changes.
As you go through these, I invite you to learn them in different positions and different keys all over the fretboard. Try some different permutations and see what other cool sounds you can get!
Make sure you download the PDF for a full transcription of all these licks, including some of the ones not pictured on this page.
The Theory Behind the Lick(s)
In order to fully understand what we are doing here, it is important to discuss some of the basic theory of how this works.
All of the licks covered here are very common and almost cliche. The reason they are so common is because they are just that effective. All of the greats from Charlie Parker to Wes Montgomery have used this sort of material because it is simply tried and true, so don’t be shy about including this material in your vocabulary.
Each one of these licks makes use of putting important chord tones on strong beats while using the material on weaker beats as passing notes.
Beat 1 has the 3rd of the Am chord as the first note, beat 3 has the 3rd of the D7 chord and beat 1 of the following measure also lands on the 3rd of the Gmaj7 chord.
This is not to say that we must only play 3rds on strong beats. It can be 7ths, roots, or even 5ths as you will notice.
The main takeaway here, however, is that if you want to really hit the changes, it is important to hit chord tones on those strong beats. This way, you will be able to hear the changes even without any chordal accompaniment behind you.
If you want to try a little experiment so you can see for yourself, go ahead and shift the phrase over an 8th note. You will see how something just does not sound quite right.
Now that we have covered some of the theory behind these licks, let’s go ahead and get started!
Lick #1 – Descending Arpeggio to Leading Tone (3rd of D7)
This is the first lick in the video above. In this example, we are playing over a ii-V-I progression in G. In other words, that’s Am7 – D7 – Gmaj7.
To begin the lick, we are simply starting with a descending A minor arpeggio starting from the 5th of the chord (E).
Then, when we get to the A, we are going to descend in stepwise fashion down to F# which is the 3rd of the D7 (or D9) chord.
And finally, we are going to arpeggiate up the D9 and end on the 5th of the G chord (D).
Now that you know the lick, let’s go ahead and make a slight modification to make it a bit hipper. When we are ascending over the D7 chord, we’ll make the E into an Eb and voila! We have a D7b9 arpeggio. Neat, right?
Lastly, let’s move this lick to a different set of strings so you are able to play it in different keys at a moment’s notice.
We will do this one over the key of C major. In this case, that will be Dm7 – G7 – and Cmaj7.
Not so bad, huh? Let’s move on to the next lick!
Lick #2 – Descending Scale to Leading Tone (3rd of D7)
For this lick, we’ll take the first idea and make a small modification to it.
Basically, instead of using a descending A minor arpeggio, we’re going to descend in stepwise fashion starting from the 3rd of the A minor chord (C). Once we hit the F#, the rest of the lick stays the same.
And much like the first one, feel free to change that E over the D7 to an Eb to give you the b9.
Lick #3 – Descending Scale Hitting Guide Tones: All THIRDS!
In this last example, we will be using a simple scale pattern that targets important guide tones on strong beats.
Next, we will give it a twist to give it a bit of variation. When we get to the “E”, we’re going to jump up an octave and continue our stepwise motion.
I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase before. It’s very common!
There are a few more variations on this idea including some fun alterations included in the video.
Once again, if you want the tabs for these variations and more, be sure to download the PDF for a full transcription of all these licks.
Recap: Summary of 3 Ideas
In the first lick, we have a descending A minor arpeggio starting from the 5th (E) of the ii chord. That leads down to the third of the V chord (F# of D7) where it turns into an ascending D9 arpeggio starting from that F#. Once it reaches the E of D9, it goes down a whole step to end on the 5th of Gmaj7 (D).
For the second lick, the same thing is happening, only we are beginning the lick with a descending scale from the 3rd of the A minor (C).
Finally, for the last idea, we are simply using a descending major scale starting from the 3rd of the A minor (C) which will hit important chord tones on strong beats. To add some interest to this, we are using some octave displacement to break the phrase up a bit.
Jump In: Your Improv 101 Tutorial
I hope you found this lesson on easy jazz guitar licks useful. Go ahead and try applying these to tunes right away. I would recommend starting with the tune Autumn Leaves. Really, any tune with a good bit of ii V I progressions would be useful. That way, you can practice over multiple ii V I progressions in different keys at different tempos.
If you’re having trouble with any of the terminology used here, we’ve got our covered with our Improv 101 course.
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Please comment below with your questions, or if you’d like to share your favorite jazz guitar licks. See you soon!
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.