Ditching the pick adds a whole new set of colors to your guitar palette – and these 10 fingerstyle jazz licks will class up your playing (even if you’re not a jazz guitarist)

Arianna Powell
(Image credit: Pickup Music)

Sometimes getting those silky smooth jazz licks requires a lighter touch. Most guitarists gravitate towards a pick, but fingerstyle offers a whole new palette of dynamic colours and a warm, mellow sound. 

Even if you’re not a jazz player, there’s plenty to take away from this style. One of the most enjoyable things about guitar is learning something new and then incorporating it into your own unique style. 

We’ve got a special treat courtesy of Pickup Music – 10 tasty licks, guaranteed to get those creative juices flowing. The first seven are in C major, before we mix it up a bit at the end. 

Olivia Rodrigo guitarist Arianna Powell, one of LA’s finest, will guide you through each one in our video. We’ve also included tab so you can go at your own pace. Right, let’s ditch the pick, unfurl those fingers, and explore some cool jazz runs.

Example 1. Embellishing the tonic chord

(Image credit: Future)

We start with the I chord – C major, using diad 3rd and 6th intervals. Take care with the slides and hammer-ons and make your changes as smooth as possible. 

Example 2. Jazzy lick for the ii chord

(Image credit: Future)

This lick is over the ii chord – D minor. Now we’re getting to the good stuff! Listen out for notes that “don’t belong” in the scale and use them like stepping stones.

Example 3. Arpeggio lick for the iii chord

(Image credit: Future)

This pretty little arpeggio is based on the iii chord. Take your time making the movement between each note nice and fluid. The perfect arpeggio should be a string of individual notes that sound like they flow into one another.

Example 4. Outlining the IV chord

(Image credit: Future)

Here’s a lick to outline the IV chord (F). The main idea is to include a G (G B D) triad to introduce the extended notes of the F chord (F A C). The G, B, and D notes of the G chord are the 9th, #11th, and 13th over our F chord. Crazy, right?

Example 5. Blues for the V chord

(Image credit: Future)

This lick goes over the V chord (G major). We have core blues techniques, bends, diads, slides, but we don’t want too much attitude. Aim for a mellow jazzy feel.

Example 6. Aeolian Lick

(Image credit: Future)

Now we’re on to the vi chord. This lick is based around an Am11 chord and the A natural minor scale. Start by outlining the chord, then end with a pretty flourish.

Example 7. Half-diminished chord inversions

(Image credit: Future)

It’s time for some dissonance over the vii chord. Our lick is essentially running through inversions of a Bm7b5. There’s nothing too tricky, but it sounds great!

Example 8. Altered lick

(Image credit: Future)

We’re switching from C major to C minor (C D Eb F G Ab Bb) now. This jazzy lick is short and sweet – just an altered chord run landing back on the Cm7 root.

Example 9. Funk with chord substitutions

(Image credit: Future)

This is based around a classic ii-V vamp in F (Gm-C7), but we substitute the boring old C7 for a spicy Em7b5. The single-note licks are slippery so proceed cautiously.

Example 10. Augmented lick

(Image credit: Future)

Let’s drift off with a dreamy augmented lick. Nothing too complex for the fretting hand – just a fun symmetrical run down the fretboard.

  • Get access to the world’s best online guitar courses and reach your guitar goals with structured lessons and personalised feedback from pro instructors. Pickup Music even offer a 14-day free trial so you can take a look before you buy. 

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Arianna Powell has spent the last decade playing with Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa, Halsey, Nick Jonas, JJ Lin and many more. She’s recognised for her solo guitar arrangements that draw influence from old jazz virtuosos like Joe Pass and Johnny Smith while infusing her unique contemporary sound. She has devised masterclasses for Pickup Music and other online forums, sharing her deep knowledge and love for the guitar.