After studying loads of scales and arpeggios, I realized that they're simply frameworks and note options to draw and connect non-sistematic melodic phrases.

Now I am looking forward to build a jazz vocabulary, but I have a problem: I don't have many jazz heroes to borrow those licks from. What draws me into jazz is the concept of playing and improvising with other musicians, and I never listened to the same jazz record for too long, so I am more used to the jazz aesthetics as a genre than to melodic ideas.

Does that make sense? How should I proceed? Meet some Jazz legends? Make my own licks? Adapt licks from other genres into my jazz improvisation?

5 Answers 5


You can do all of the above. But I find it important to not overwhelm yourself with loads and loads of information. Find things that catch your ear and figure them out. Make up your own licks and shed them. They might not show up in your playing for months, or even years, but they will eventually bubble up to the surface, and will inform your concept of melody. Listen to what Brecker says about practicing and learning vocabulary in this video.

Almost forgot: Keep your ears open. Listening is an active event. And when you find yourself drawn to something, it's because it's telling you something about yourself. So when you can't stop listening to Trane play that one bad lick over and over, it's because it's informing something deep inside you. It would be wise to learn those licks, melodies, whatever, like the back of your hand.


Listen to Louis Armstrong. He often plays the melody, but never without a special touch, getting there a little early, leaving a little late. Adding a subtle filigree of ornamentation. Never overplaying.

And don't let it bother you that he is a horn player and you are not. Satchmo has been the teacher of every kind of musician - guitar players, piano players, especially singers.

Which brings up his scat singing. Pay attention to that, too.

Pops is the fountainhead for all kinds of modern music. He will get you started like nobody else can.


I think listening to and learning solos from your favourite guitarists is incredibly important. You will the form your own improvisational style as a mixture of players you really like (because you like their tone or style) and your own.

Transcribing solos is a great way to fully understand how a player is interpreting a set of changes, and shows you possibilities for what you might want to do yourself.

Metronome playing or playing along with a backing track (see the Abersold playa longs) is great to give you a canvas to practice on, and let's you experiment rhythmically and melodically without the added influence of another player's timing, feel, etc.

Finally, playing with musicians that are better than you is both inspirational and educational and you will find you progress much faster in your own capabilities when you collaborate with great players.


When you write that you've studied loads of scales and arpeggios but "I don't have many jazz heroes to borrow those licks from," it sounds to me like you are facing an obstacle faced by many young musicians today: with all the instructional material and fake books around, it is too easy to think you are learning the music without actually listening to the masters of the music play it. Incidentally, it's not exactly "borrowing the licks" that you want to do - it is learning the language in a different way - like being immersed in a foreign language and foreign culture while learning a language in another country as opposed to sitting in a library and reading books about the language's grammar.

Listen to Louis Armstrong (as another poster suggested), Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, Miles Davis Quintet, John Coltrane Quartet, Lee Morgan, Chris Potter, Sidney Bechet, Steve Lacy, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Tuck Andress, Jim Hall, Lionel Loueke, Billy Holiday, Bobby McFerrin, Lee Morgan ... the list of people worth hearing is huge. but don't listen to 2 minutes of each of them - find one you like and get deeply into their playing - so you notice everything about how they interact with their rhythm sections, know their recordings so well you can sing everything on them, etc... Also go hear live performances as often as you can, and take in what is really happening w/ people playing together, recovering from momentary "mini-crises" so quickly that the audience doesn't notice, etc...

Don't worry - your problem isn't that you will suddenly sound exactly like Sonny Rollins if you listen to him too much - it's that you are trying to play without having spent enough time "listening to how the language is spoken" by the masters. The way to become a great original voice in this music isn't to avoid hearing other people play it, but to build on what you learn from listening.

  • Good suggestions throughout. Mike Stern is an interesting player who played with Miles Davis. Frank Gambale is another who played with Chick Corea. Plenty of good music, modern and classic. Wind instrument players offer natural phrasing.
    – Kirk A
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 2:05

When I want to play a song, I listen to it again and again. And then again and again. Then I listen to some other artists playing the song. I listen to it many many times, so I can see how different everyone is playing it.

Also, what I do is to try and sing the solos. I don't care if I sing the notes 100% correct 1, just what I can catch with my ear. Mostly I care about the rhythmic part.

This way, when I try to solo over the song, I will combine ideas and licks I heard from the recordings with my own ideas and create something that will resemble some other artist, but it will include my own signature as well.

1: I don't really care about getting the solo 100% like the recording, because then when I solo I will sound like them; I don't want that.

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