“The beauty about jazz is that it is malleable. People address it to suit their own personalities – Pat Methany”


Vocabulary is everything in music, this is the first in a series of posts that outline some of my own learnings, practice routines and ideas for internalising new material and make it part of our playing. I’ve written this as a guitar player, but its relevant to all instruments.

There is a lot to learn as a guitar player from other instruments, in particular the piano! What’s particularly useful is to try to map onto the guitar the way in which piano players accompany themselves while they solo, and also to learn how players like Brad Mehldau create fascinating conversations between their left and right hands. In this post we are going to focus on the former: mixing chords and single note lines in the style of Mehldau’s epic solo on “Ode”.

Besides his own group, the Brad Mehldau Trio, he has played with other giants such as Pat Methany, Larry Grenadier, Wayne Shorter, Peter Bernstein, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Chris Potter, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Michael Brecker, Brian Blade, John Mayer and even the Louis Cole. 

Key Concepts in this Post:

  • Mixing chords with single note lines
  • Syncopation
  • Enclosures
  • Rootless Arpeggios

Table of Contents

  1. Hear The Lick
  2. Transcribe The Lick
  3. Analyse the Lick
  4. Practice the Lick
  5. Own the Lick
    • Creating a Turnaround 
    • Chords + Single Lines and Vice Versa over a Jazz Blues
    • Playing with Motifs, putting all the ideas together
    • Creating Variations

1. Hear The Lick – 02:28-02:38 on “Ode”:

2. Transcribe the Lick:  

I use Anytune to transcribe – but there are many great pieces of software that allow you to pick out sections of a tune and break them apart.  Most of these apps also allow you to slow down the music – but for the sake of ear training its always better to try and figure our small chunks of a line or lick or piece at the original tempo, then put them together at the end.  Once you have transcribed all the little chunks and put them together you can slow things down to practice them till they are perfect.  

Here’s what the lick looks like in Anytune, notice how you can create loop point and markers anywhere to keep track of what you’ve just transcribed.  [More on Anytune in a separate post coming soon!]

I’ve written out the score below using MuseScore which is a great free notation software.  I’m transcribing both Mehldau’s left and right hand ideas in treble clef:

What is sounds like using a backing track: 

3. Analyse the Lick:

This lick is in the key of A, is played in a “straight” feel, and starts on the second A Section of the solo – it is part of a larger ii-V-I-IV lick, but we are going to focus on just the first 6 bars and see what we can do with it.    

Bars 1-2

Bar 1 starts with mostly syncopated chords (played on the weak beats) that lightly outline the “guide tones” (the 3rd and 7th intervals) of B-7.   Guide tones are a “clean and simple” way to outline the underlying harmony, and serve as a great melodic device to give space either before or after a line – exactly what Mehldau does before going to the next bar.  

Bar 2:

Mehldau starts with an “enclosure” (chromatic notes above and below a target note) around the root D, of D major (see image below).  Then he plays plas a major arpeggio from the minor 3rd of B-7 – a commonly used concept, especially in bebop that outline the following intervals:

The line ends with with a little diatonic Motif in B Dorian that leads to a C#, a chromatic note that leads to the leading to the b7 of E9 in bar 3. 

Bar 3 Starting with the b7 (D) of E9, Mehldau essentially plays up and down a second inversion of E major, which ends with a little diatonic motif that serves as a “call” that will be answered in Bar 5.  

Bar 4 “diad”s built from the Root and 3rd of E Major are played in a syncopated manner for a bar.  

Bars 5-6

Bar 5 starts with another little motif, very similar to the one at the end of bar 3, but at least to my ears, serves as a “response” to it.  Finally, we end with some syncopated guide-tone chords in A major.

4. Practice the Lick:

Let’s try and practice this lick in all 12 keys to get a flavour of it!  Here is an iReal Pro Backing Track – (Ode Lick Practice File)  to help you do just that (just set the “practice mode” to go DOWN the Cycle of 4ths every 2 cycles.  

For Example, here is the lick transposed a 5th above to the key of E:

Here is what this sounds like: 

5. Own The Lick!

Now lets try and apply these ideas to a completely different tune a swung jazz blues in A.  First we’re going to “swing” the 8th notes and make these ideas swing!


Then, lets experiment with our original lick in A, now that we have it under our fingers.  First lets try to make a 4 bar 2-5-1″Turnaround” lick by mixing bars 3+4, and 5+6 to create this (also, let’s “swing” the 8th notes to give it some swing): 

Here is what it sounds like: 

We still need something for bars 1-8 of our blues form so let’s try the following:

Variation 1: 

Lets keep bars 1,3,5,7, as syncopated chords and add single note ideas from Mehldau’s lick to bars 2,4,6,8.  We will keep our turnaround the same as the previous example. 

And here is what is sounds like: 

Variation 2: 

Lets flip this concept: how about keeping bars 1,3,5,7 for single line ideas and bars 2,4,6,8 for syncopated chords.  We will keep our turnaround the same as the previous example. 

And here is what is sounds like: 

Other Variations:

Ok now your turn: Why don’t you try another variation by doing the following:

  1. make a new “turnaround” lick and tag it to the en of the blues form
  2. play around with the licks above – but only with the material we’ve transcribed – and try and see what variations you come up with – this is the best way to make more with less and internalise material that you transcribe

In Conclusion: 

There are countless ways in which this lick can be modified and used, and the more you practice it and apply it new contexts, in a bossa, a funk, a ballad, the more you’re going to be able to take it to new and exciting places.