As mentioned before, I am classically trained and started looking into jazz (and blues) about a week ago, starting with the 2-5-1 progression and looking at other similar techniques.

I am also looking/learning and started improvising with this book "1001 jazz licks". I obviously pick what I like and transpose it up or down half steps, circle of fifth and in any way I know for variations.

However, even if this is very useful, it seems very mechanical and not very satisfying for the ear. I feel I am missing something!

Should I put what I have transposed in the chord progression of 2-5-1 or 1-2-5-1 as it happens?

In jazz, is it more satisfying, when using a lick, to use the keys that are closely related, like CM, Am, GM... and so on? Or is there no rules really?

Or maybe my ear is not used to the sound?

  • 3
    Have you spent much time listening to jazz?
    – Vector
    Sep 10, 2017 at 22:34
  • Transcribed Solos: jazzleadsheets.com/transcribed-solos.html • Transcribed Jazz Solos for Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Trumpet, Trombone, Piano, Bass, Drums, Voice.
    – Vector
    Sep 12, 2017 at 1:02

3 Answers 3


Judging from the title of your book and what reviewers have said about it, you should probably look for a different book. Contemporary jazz is built on an entire system of theory that differs significantly from the traditional system.

Jazz theory today is its own discipline - there is far more to playing good jazz than just applying "jazz licks" to a standard chord progression.

You should consider books such as:

Having said that, IMO, as an experienced musician your ears are your best guide, not theory or books - the theory is secondary. You need to listen to plenty of jazz, jazz played by the masters: Musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy... More than any theory, jazz is about feel and sound and timing - things that can't be learned from books.

Transcribing solos from such recordings is of great help in learning how it's done. You can also find transcriptions of great solo performances which you can analyze and try to play yourself - perhaps with a recording or drum machine, etc.

Also try to spend some time seeking out live jazz - preferably in clubs, where spontaneous new jazz is created on the spot, not formal jazz "concerts", a term which might even be an oxymoron.

With the sound of jazz in your ears, try improvising on familiar tunes - the traditional standards and even common every day tunes like Happy Birthday or Mary Had a Little Lamb provide great frameworks for jazz improvisation. You can find endless of good material for improvisation in a fake book, for example: The Real Book: Sixth Edition

Just play the tune and let your imagination kick in. I don't have classical training, but my understanding is that is often the most difficult aspect for those moving from classical to jazz: Learning to let your own imagination and musical instincts take charge, instead of just reading off the page and doing a bit of interpretation or following the conductor.

Although you are already a trained musician, if you're serious about playing jazz, also consider finding a good jazz teacher: Someone who will appreciate your already existing level of musicianship and help move you in the right direction for playing jazz. It doesn't have to be a lot of lessons - maybe only one or two sessions would be enough, just to "give you a push in the right direction".

You are very fortunate to be a trained musician that already has the basic tools at your disposal: Musical literacy and command over your instrument. Books certainly help, but ultimately using your ears and your innate musical talent will teach you how to use those tools to create better jazz.


It's worth bearing in mind that jazz standards treasure melody. The original melody is a gold mine for improvisation. For one thing, it already fits the chord changes. For a second thing it contains phrases/motives that you can use for sequences, or modify. If you spend some time seeing how many ways you can modify the existing melody, or indeed an existing solo, your own improvisation will have more context than a random ii V I. There is also a world of fun to be had seeing how far you can go with quoting snatches of memorable melodies and using them as sequences, or playing them starting on different scale (or non scale) tones. These snatches of familiar melodies, with their memorable rhythms, are little parcels of logic and cleverness that you can use to your advantage. When You Wish Upon a Star, Salt Peanuts, Over Hill Over Dale, All Day all Night Mary Ann, The Andy Grifiths Theme, The Untouchables TV theme, advertising jingles, themes from My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Bach inventions... the list is endless. Often they can be used to add humour, but, because they have a 'power' in themselves, these quotes can be used in a poignant way too.


Even if this is very useful, it seems very mechanical and not very satisfying for the ear.

I feel I am missing something!

Beginners run into (at least) two common problems where they feel what they are playing "doesn't sound like jazz"

  1. They start from scales but all their lines then sound like they are running a scale rather than creating a melody.
  2. They start from transcribed or preexisting lines but they don't fit them into the correct context.

It sounds like you're doing the later. Keep in mind that it's not just the melodic sequence that makes it sound like jazz but maybe even more importantly the underlying harmonic context. If you take a line that was originally played over a Dm7, it may not work when played over a different chord because they entire point of the line was that it was using or dancing around the chord tones of a Dm7.

Should I put what I have transposed in the chord progression of 2-5-1 or 1-2-5-1 as it happens?

In jazz, is it more satisfying, when using a lick, to use the keys that are closely related, like CM, Am, GM... and so on? Or is there no rules really?

This highlights what I was just saying. It sounds like you're playing a ii-V-I lick out of place. Try playing the lick over the same chords as it was written and see if it sounds better to you. Then start changing a few notes here and there.

As for what key you should play in, that's part of the art. If the changes of a particular part of the song fall into say C Major, then playing in C Major will give you the most "inside" or diatonic sound. But part of jazz is playing "outside" or specifically creating dissonance that can later be resolved (or not).

I think it really helps to think in chord tones. So over Dm7 playing D, F, A, C would give you a very inside sound. But when you start adding the extensions of a Dm7, say an E which is the 9th, then it gets a bit more flavor. A neat trick that I like is thinking about the diatonic arpeggio that is a diatonic 3rd, 5th, or 7th above the given chord because this is essentially like you're still playing a Dm7 but focusing on the extensions (an F Major 7th is like playing a Dm9 without the root).

Another way is to consider different scales or modes for different chords. So maybe under a ii-V-I you'd use Dorian over the ii but then switch to something more exotic like Lydian Dominant or the Altered scale over the V and back to Lydian or Ionian for the I chord to resolve it. That's just one example and there are all kinds of ways navigate the changes.

But don't get lost in that stuff and forget that

  1. You're supposed to be playing melodies and not scales
  2. You want to play through the chords and not over them. When focusing on each chord change as its own island it's easy to forget that how you connect between chord changes is really important. Also don't forget about sequences/themes. When you switch chords try repeating or varying a previous line within the new harmonic context (changing notes so it fits within the chord/scale you're targeting) to add some cohesion between changes.

Or maybe my ear is not used to the sound?

Knowing the idiom, or learning the vocabulary as some say, is a huge part. Some people start with classic Bebop like Charlie Parker because most jazz that came after it had its roots there. But just listen to a lot of Jazz and try to transcribe the parts that you like.

  • I have learnt the appropriate scales needed for jazz and only practise them to warm up( I am fairly experienced) I am looking at this book of licks to see "the language" used by jazz pianist(I've done a lot of classical piano). But what you're basically saying is that I should experiment with what I know? Right?
    – user33232
    Sep 10, 2017 at 19:54
  • 1
    Do both, but don't forget that a lick isn't just a lick that can moved anywhere and played over anything. The main point is how those notes relate to the changes. Also, I didn't mean to imply that scales are bad. In fact they can be really useful when mixing them up. Try playing scales and arpeggios in different variations (in 3rd, 6ths, 3rd-to-9th, etc) and you'll start to hear familiar bits that you've probably heard in real lines. Also practice things like enclosures. Try playing through a scale/arp using a scale step above the target note, half step below, then resolve to the target note.
    – user37496
    Sep 10, 2017 at 20:13

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