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Jazz Guitar Corner: Anatomy of a Lick — George Benson Bluesy ii V I

George Benson is a master soloist, and his command of jazz guitar vocabulary is up there with the best improvisers of his generation. While learning to play George’s licks can be a great way to dig into his sound and bring some of his lines into your solos, it can be much more beneficial to dissect his licks to see what concepts he was using to build these great-sound lines. That way, you can not only learn his licks but also be able to construct your own Benson-sounding lines on the spot in your solo by applying the concepts used to build these classic lines. In today’s lesson, we’ll be looking at a short George Benson ii V I lick and the concepts behind the construction of this idea. George Benson Bluesy ii V I Lick Before you dig into the concepts behind this cool, bluesy lick, listen to the lick and get it under your fingers, as this will make breaking it down into its component parts much easier. Here is the lick written out over a short ii-V-I chord progression in the key of F major. Click the SoundCloud link below to hear this example:

Concept 1 - 3 to 9 Arpeggios The first concept can be heard between the first and third beats of the first bar of the lick. Here, George is using a Bbmaj7 arpeggio to outline a Gm9 chord, without the root being played in the lick. This concept is referred to as a “3 to 9” arpeggio, as Bbmaj7 (Bb, D, F, A) outlines the intervals 3rd-5th-b7th-9th when played over a Gm7 chord. Try taking this concept to other areas of your playing as being able to use 3 to 9 arpeggios over various chords and chord progressions can really open up your solos and allow you to outline chord changes without focusing on the root all the time, as can often be the case when we are using 1-3-5-7 arpeggios in our lines. Check out this concept further with my “Bebop Guitar Techniques - 3 to 9 Arpeggios” article. Concept 2: Minor Pentatonic Scale The second concept is playing a Minor Pentatonic Scale over top of a dominant 7th chord, as George does on the first two beats of the second bar in this lick. This is probably not a new concept for those of you that come from a blues and/or rock background. But sometimes when we begin to study jazz, we feel we have to ditch all the rock and blues ideas we’ve worked out and start over, but this is not the case. If done right, you can use a good amount of the blues ideas you’ve previously learned to solo over 7th chords in a jazz context, it’s just a matter of finding the right time to bring them into your solos and usually of changing the rhythm and feel to have it “swing” more when applying these minor pentatonic ideas to a jazz tune. Concept 3: Major Pentatonic Scale The last concept from the lick is playing a Major Pentatonic Scale over a dominant 7th chord, as George does in the last four notes of the phrase. We often bring a minor pentatonic sound to our 7th chord lines, but having the major pentatonic scale in our back pockets allows you to navigate changes with pentatonic sounds, but bring in a major flavor at the same time. George Benson Lick Practice Tips Here are some ways that you can practice this lick and these concepts in your own time in the practice room. • Learn the lick in one key at various tempos, 60 to 240 if possible • Learn the lick in 12 keys at various tempos around the neck • Find one or more different fingerings for this lick in the key of F • Transpose these new fingerings into 12 keys and run them at different tempos • Practice soloing over a tune and integrating the lick into your lines as much as possible until it begins to sound more natural • Solo over a tune and apply the 3 to 9 arpeggios whenever you can, using George’s lick to start then branching out on your own • Solo over a tune and apply the minor pentatonic scale over 7th chords as much as possible • Solo over a tune and apply the major pentatonic scale over 7th chords as much as possible What did you think of this lick? Share your thoughts in the comments section b Matt Warnock is the owner of, a free website that provides hundreds of lessons and resources designed to help guitarists of all experience levels meet their practice and performance goals. Matt lives in the UK, where he is a senior lecturer at the Leeds College of Music and an examiner for the London College of Music (Registry of Guitar Tutors).