The Key To Killer Licks

How to make your licks sound more professional.

Hey guys, Willie Myette from jazz edge, I want to welcome you to episode number six of the confident improviser podcast. In today’s podcast episode, we’re gonna be talking about the key to killer licks. All right, so I’m going to show you how to make your licks sound more professional. So I want to remind you this podcast is for my students that are taking the confident improviser. course at jazz edge. It’s designed to help you stay focused, while learning improvisation and being able to learn away from the piano kind of take it with you to go, there is a video replay of this episode. So if you want to see any of these licks being performed, or you want to get the sheet music for today’s licks, you can get all of that at jazz And it’s right in the confident improviser course, you can also learn more about the confident improviser at the confident Okay, so let’s get right into it to today’s topic. Again, the key to killer licks. So killer licks, there’s a couple of things that you want to do. And when I say killer licks, I mean, licks that you can play, and you can play well, and you could play well all of the time, and you just feel like you own them. Alright, so there’s a couple of things you need to do. Number one, is pick a simple rhythm and master it, rhythm is at the key to everything that we do with the piano. So if you really don’t have your rhythm down for a lick, that is gonna be very, very difficult for you to be able to play that lick, the rhythm that we’re using is owned by triple lead d by d by d by da. So it’s Oh, by triple lead d by d by d Play it on a note on the piano, oh, by triple lead d by d by the by


by tripod lead the by the by the bottom. Now, it could be any of the rhythms that we’ve talked about in the competent improviser could be a rhythm that you come up with. I would say though, keep it simple, meaning that it shouldn’t be too long. The nice thing about this rhythm is it goes over the measure, which we’ll see once we get to the sheet music by a couple of beats day, but it’s not so long as two measures or three or four measures long. It’s easily memorized, and manageable. So if you’re listening to to this away from the piano, I would suggest tap this bunch of a lady buddy, buddy, but you know, like tap it and try and get that rhythm in your bones before you get back to the piano. So that’s the first thing. Pick one simple rhythm, master it. Now I did not put this down. But it should go without saying as well. You also need a simple accompaniment that you have mastered for this a compliment. Today we’re going to use the component right from the exercise number six. Okay, so just that simple core note baseline, make sure that you have that memorized as well. All right, the next thing, you want to pick notes that are simple as well. For today’s example, we’re just going to use the notes of the C major five finger scale, which is C, D, E, F, and G. Do you want to make sure that you know those notes awesome. That’s pretty simple, right? Like that five finger scale, it’s only five notes. Starting right on C, make sure you haven’t memorized this shouldn’t take too long for you. Right, I would go ahead and play it up and down a few times, just to make sure that you really got it underneath your fingertips. Okay, so you’ve got that as well. Third thing, the articulation, you want to pay attention to your articulation, especially towards the end of the lick. And I’m going to show you in a second when I demonstrate these legs. So we’ll get back to this one in a second. But just think articulation, really important. dynamics number four, right? If you play with flat dynamics, it’s kind of like talking with a monotone voice. And I’m constantly talking with the same inflection and dynamics and I’m not changing at all. It sounds natural, right? Right. Sometimes you want a little bit of something, sometimes you want to get a little bit more loud, right? So you want those dynamics, because that’s what makes your lick and your improvisation sound real. Now, before we go on too far, let’s just do a quick definition of lick, right? Because we hear that a lot in jazz, you know, blues and rock and whatnot, you know, you’re going to play some licks. So a lick is just a short phrase that you use for improvisation like like, there you go. There’s a lick. A lick is usually not going to be something long like.

Right, something like that. That’d be way too long for a lick. And quite frankly, that doesn’t sound very good at all. Because I’m not putting any breaks in it. No pauses, no breath. All right. So illich is usually kind of a short it might be as little as two or three notes. And it might be as long as a measure two measures, maybe even three minutes. Long. All right, and then these licks, we could put them together, and then form larger licks and then form our improvisation from there. But to be honest with you, I don’t want you to just think of improvisation as being licks, because then you can get into sounding like a lick player, which you just go from lick, to lick, to lick to lick. And it’s really not improvisation. It’s more like painting by numbers at that point, right? So true improvisation is yes, you have these ideas in your mind, you practice them, you’ve heard them, you have had them underneath your fingertips, you’ve played licks, but true improvisation is really just bringing everything that you’ve learned up to this point in time. And bringing it all together in real time. Right. So it might be a lick. It might be, you know, just kind of like playing around with something right off of, you know, your scales. All right. But the point is, that it’s all done in real time. Right. So that’s licks, okay, so and, like I said, dynamics, really important to make sure that you, you know, think about your dynamics. The last thing is range. And in range. What we’re doing is we’re saying, Okay, why don’t necessarily have to stay right over here.

Maybe I

come up here. Maybe I come up here. Okay. And we’ll talk about that as well. All right. So let’s get into the two licks that I have here. I have the sheet music for them. The sheet music is in the inspiration, sheet music. All right, it’s the second page with the inspiration sheet music. So just take a look at this first leg. Now, again, you know, it’s not necessarily going to blow the doors off of anyone’s, you know, house, they’re like, oh, wow, boy, that lick is so interesting and whatnot. No, but the thing is, it sounds rhythmically. Interesting. There’s emotion to it. The articulation is good. The dynamics are are all right. All right. So that so the lick is a good sound lick. When I talk when I listen to students play, and they’ll play the bass line, right? And they’ll be improvising in the right hand. Like even using like a rhythm, like triplets and eighth notes. I’ll hear a lot of times this kind of stuff.


Right. So the rhythm might be off. Sometimes the notes might be off, but then a lot of times the articulation is off as well. So listen to what happens. I’m going to play the lick two times for you. And I want you to listen to both times. And you tell me which one sounds more buoyant to you sounds like it lately, like it kind of has more life to it. Here’s the first one.

There’s a second one.

If you answered the second one, I would tend to agree with you the first one, I was playing pretty much dynamically flat. The rhythm also on this was kind of like, played the rhythm a little bit straight in the articulation of that last note, that quarter note, rather than playing it short and run and giving it a little bit of a bounce. I just kind of held it out. And it sounded just kind of flat. The notes were okay. But the rest of it was not. So let’s pause there for one second. The notes were okay. Meaning that the notes that I played were absolutely fine. So the bass notes, the accompaniment notes, and the right hand improvisation notes. All fine. So then you might scratch your head and say, Well, wait a second. Isn’t that it? I got the right notes. I got the right accompaniment. Isn’t that enough? Like, like, haven’t I? You know, haven’t I achieved improvisational greatness there by playing the right notes along with their compliment? And the answer is no, because you’re not shaping the notes. Remember this? Here’s a good analogy. Just because you know exactly what it is to say, you know that how you say it has a huge impact, right? If you want to, like kind of, like get people excited. And you know, you know, come around to your way of thinking. If you say something like, you know what, I think that it would be a really good idea if we were to practice more than once a week because it’s going to make the band sound a lot better. You know, I mean, you listen to that. It’s like oh, it doesn’t sound like you really convinced you sounds kind of flat. Whereas if you say, you know what I think like our bandwidth sounds so much better if we were to practice more than once a week, right? So you hear the difference, right? You can hear the excitement, the passion of the second way that I said it, right. So the way that we say things is super important. Now, when it comes to notes of the piano, the way that we shape what it is that we’re saying at the piano, is through that articulation. It’s through the dynamics, it’s through strong rhythm. So the dynamics and the articulation are really, really important. So notice that that first note. And the last look, see that last note, nice and short. nice and crisp, as well. Remember, this is why we also do our scales, because in the middle, if we get

right, if we kind of like mush them together. Right, they get kind of mushed together, they don’t sound nice and crispy.

Using that grab technique, right with our fingers, the grab technique, like really allows us to make that line nice and crisp. So make sure that when you’re practicing your scales, you’re really thinking about that grab technique and grabbing at those notes, because that’s going to translate into your licks. Alright, so articulation, super, super important. Really, the best way of practicing it is just start to think about it, right? Just start to think like, Well, you know, when I get to that quarter note, especially at the end of the phrase, my kind of given a little bit of a pop, okay? Or am I just kind of letting it fizzle out, and it’s flat there. When you record yourself, which I recommend that you do weekly, at least once a week, record yourself improvising. And then ask yourself these questions, right, go back and ask these questions. You know, was the rhythm solid? Did I pick a simple rhythm? You know, did I keep the notes together? Or was I like, kind of like going all over the place with the notes? If I’m doing a cross, like doing a scale, which I have to cross underneath the cross over with my thumb or a finger in my crossing? Well, or am I having a little bit of a hiccup there? Third thing, articulation? You know, what’s going on with my articulation? Am I using articulation at all? Or am I just focusing on playing the notes? Then thinking about your dynamics? Or the dynamics there? Does it sound like everything is just played at the same level?

Or are you playing things at different levels. And then finally, let’s talk about range. So ranges,

we’re probably not gonna play it down here. Right, that’s a little bit too low. And it’s getting conflicted with the other hand with the bass hand, right. But the point is, by moving into that range, like playing it here, we’re playing a here or playing it up here. Hey, that changes the whole vibe and feel as well. And the cool thing about that is that you can play the lick more than once, right?

Alright, so you see how I could play that lick more than once. And it doesn’t sound boring, because I’m changing the range. Alright, so now let’s move on to the second leg. So you see, I took exactly the same rhythm, why the same rhythm, because I’m really just trying to nail that rhythm and really have that rhythm deep within my soul, right? So that I could play by triple ed d by d by d by da, I could play that rhythm anytime I can apply whatever notes I want to it. And I know that I own that rhythm. Okay, so that’s why I keep playing that rhythm over and over and over again. It’s a great way to practice that. So now again, notice here, same thing I’m thinking about my dynamics, I’m thinking about my articulation, thinking about range, so sorry. Whoops, let me fix that again.

There we go.

So here’s you here, awesome, the dynamic might start loud and kind of get a little bit softer. Now one thing that we’re also have not talked about yet, which we will talk about down the road is accents. Right? You hear how sometimes I will accent one note over another. For right now, don’t worry too much about that, but just kind of put it in the back of your head. accent in notes. That’s an interesting concept as well. Right? So Okay, so now I could take both of those, let’s run them wide, one after another.

I could change the range. Okay, so by working on the articulation by working on my dynamics, but really thinking about my range and playing around with range, and really

owning the accompaniment,

the notes and the rhythm, now I create killer licks for myself, right? Now, this can be a tedious process, right? So like you got to go through and you’re gonna work through all of these different rhythms and baselines and, you know, five finger patterns and notes and whatnot. But the reality is that it goes by quite quickly. And as you do more of this work, in which you’re focusing on some specific licks, and you’re focusing on really kind of tightening up your rhythm, and notes and all of that, you’ll see that very quickly, these licks start to add on to one another. So now this rhythm, okay, we’re doing it over and over these notes, there’s nothing to say that we can do it over a blue scale. All right, and then go back to this baseline, right?

Right. So you see how I’m playing that other baseline, I’m taking playing the five finger blue scale here, but I’m using the same rhythm. So this is where as we start to practice, and we start to kind of make our practice more encompassing, we can really start to utilize some of these same concepts, from lick to lick and a component to a component scale to scale, right. So the point is, you want to really make sure that you master those rhythms because by mastering those rhythms, you can reuse them over and over and over again. Alright, so now if you have any questions on what I’ve covered here, remember every Thursday at 1pm, Eastern, we do our live q&a session for the confident improviser. Anyone who is in my confident improviser course, is welcome to attend the link for that just login to jazz And right at the top right at the top of the page where it says live training, go ahead and click there and you can get the link to to the live training. Alright, so that’s it. Thank you guys for joining me and I’ll see you in the confident improviser

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Willie Myette

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