This article presents a straightforward method for enhancing jazz improvisation skills by memorizing beautiful, cyclical melodic phrases that can be applied in various playing contexts.


Improvisation in jazz can be viewed as the skill of composing pleasing melodies in real-time, which presents inherent challenges. First, you need to create and mentally hear the melody, and then you need to play it precisely on time. Achieving this seamlessly from the start is difficult, often leading to either the melodic component or performance artistry being compromised. Bill Evans highlighted this dilemma in one of his interviews.

There are various methods to address this problem. One approach involves writing out solos and learning them entirely, akin to classical music where notes are written down before being played. Another approach focuses on learning scales and numerous exercises, allowing the generation of musical ideas to become almost automatic, guided by muscle memory and subconscious processes. Each method has its pros and cons, and typically, a combination and gradual development of these methods help students become fluent in improvisation.

However, it's crucial that any chosen method should ideally lead to a result that the individual fully agrees with and is satisfied by, rather than settling for a series of compromises due to limitations in technique or knowledge. Mathematically speaking, the goal should be to reach the absolute maximum of what the person enjoys playing, not just a local maximum constrained by restrictions.

In the sections below, we offer an approach that can assist both beginners in the world of improvisational music and professional musicians who want to test their playing abilities and move beyond a local maximum to a higher one when needed.

Endless Minor Seventh Chord Licks

We will begin with a minor seventh chord and later expand this concept to other types of chords. Because our improvisation style might be influenced by this process, it's important to carefully select the material we use. To adhere to the "too big to fail" rule, let's start with some quotes by Charlie Parker, which have become a staple for many musicians.

Lick 1

This Gm7 lick consists of a 4-bar melody that repeats starting at bar 5. It can be looped and played continuously until it becomes part of your improvisation vocabulary. A notable aspect of this lick is that it ends with the same note it starts with and is played entirely in eighth notes, with no rhythmic variations. This characteristic makes it a perfect foundation for developing rhythmic and melodic variations in the future.

Once you've memorized this Gm7 lick, you can create a few more licks of the same kind. You can use the examples provided below or compose your own according to your taste and preferences. It's important that these licks are melodically developed and emphasize the chord's harmony, specifically highlighting the 3rd and 7th of the chord. Additionally, incorporating the 6th of the chord is beneficial, as this note is the 3rd of the corresponding dominant chord, making the lick versatile for both minor seventh and dominant chords.

Two more endless Gm7 licks are shown below.

Lick 2
Lick 3

The advantage of having a few "endless licks" at your fingertips is the ability to combine and vary them in countless ways. This means that instead of being limited to just 12 bars, you now have a vast array of melodic material that you can adapt in real-time. The next step is to become comfortable navigating across the entire range of your instrument with these indefinitely long licks, building on the three basic licks provided earlier. This will allow you to create seamless, flowing improvisations that can move effortlessly through different harmonic landscapes.

Combined Licks & Variations

Once you have memorized a few endless licks, you have everything you need to create melodic movements over a minor seventh chord on the fly, without overthinking it. As you play, you'll notice more pleasing combinations emerging. You can trust your brain and fingers to select the ones you like most. These combined licks will expand your improvisational vocabulary for minor seventh chords.

A combined lick based on the material above might look like this.

It can also be completely different depending on your preferences and how you created the first few endless licks. You don't need to worry about preparing combined licks in a cyclical form or writing them down before playing them anymore. They should already be at your fingertips. At this point, just focus on being able to play an endless lick in eighth notes over a static minor seventh chord.

Once you are comfortable playing endless licks, you can start incorporating rests and rhythm variations to make your licks more vivid and meaningful. Here’s an example how it might look like.

At this point, you can feel more freedom in improvising over minor seventh chords, as your vocabulary has been extended with material that fits your taste and has been prepared in an easily digestible form. The next step would be to extend this approach to other types of chords and different chord progressions.

Other Types of Chords

One way to extend this approach from minor seventh chords to other types of chords is to repeat the exercise of creating endless licks for dominant, major, and half-diminished chords, just as we did for the Gm7 chord. This is a valuable exercise, but there is also a shortcut to reuse the material. Notably, all the licks we created for the minor seventh chord also work well for major 2-5 chord progressions.

This observation allows us to apply the same licks to different harmonic contexts, expanding our improvisational vocabulary without needing to start from scratch. Notably, C7, Bmaj, and Em7b5 chords correspond to the same scale, sound similar without the root, and are interchangeable in most contexts. Furthermore, even the F#alt chord can be improvised over in the same way, though in many cases, one might prefer using dominant licks for this chord.

This flexibility opens up a wide range of harmonic possibilities, making our improvisational approach more versatile and efficient. The material we prepared above is also applicable to a wide range of chords and can be used in many chord progressions. This adaptability allows for a more efficient and versatile approach to improvisation, enabling you to apply the same licks across different harmonic contexts. This means that the endless licks you've learned for minor seventh chords can also be used effectively over dominant, major, half-diminished, and altered chords, as well as in various chord progressions.


An approach of playing endless licks over a fixed chord, then adding rhythm variations and extending these licks to other chords and chord progressions, can be a valuable tool for finding additional inspiration in musical solos. This method allows you to develop a flexible and expansive improvisational vocabulary, making your solos more dynamic and engaging. By practicing endless licks and exploring their application across different harmonic contexts, you can enhance your ability to create interesting and varied musical phrases in real-time.