Lick mining involves analyzing a guitar solo or improvisation and extracting licks that correspond to certain chords. In language learning this is known as sentence mining and would be the extraction of sentences and phrases in order to learn chunks of vocabulary. For the musical version you’ll need a transcription of a guitar solo or improvised section of a tune; if you read music then a solo for any instrument that uses the treble clef will suffice, saxophone solos being particularly useful.
To get you on the right track we’ll do an example with the John Scofield tune Endless Summer from the fantastic Uberjam Deux album, second only to the even more fantastic original Uberjam album, which I’d highly recommend having in your collection. For the purposes of this lesson you can find Endless Summer (along with everything else under the sun) on YouTube right here:
The tune contains the following chords:
Am7, D7, Bm7, E7alt, C#m7b5, Cm7, Cm6, C#7b5, F#7, A7sus4, D7sus4, Em7
Think of the transcription as a mini lick library, for example, you may need some licks to play over a Bm7 chord. There are various instances of Bm7 in the solo, each with its respective improvised line. You can learn Scofield’s lines as they’re written if you like, or better still, juggle the notes he uses around to come up with variations, as you know they all work. Rinse and repeat with any chord in the tune. By doing this you’re building up your jazz vocabulary by (going back to the language analogy) learning words and phrases (licks) instead of conjugations (scales), which are much more usable and easier to remember; the reason for this being that you’re learning them in context rather than from some dry scales or arpeggios activity—kind of like learning a language in the country where it’s actually spoken.
You can also analyze how Scofield plays the changes and swipe the licks that go from Bm7 to E7alt for example. There’s plenty of great information in this one solo for you to be able to fill your boots with ready-made licks that work over the above chords without having to woodshed a ton of scales and modes.
I’d recommend doing this at least once a week, if not more often, as you’ll soon start to see results in your playing plus the insight you get into how the great players ply their trade is second to none. I’ve also got my eye on this book which is due out soon and could be a great tool for this kind of exercise.
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