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Anatomy of a Bill Evans Lick

Learning How to Play Jazz Guitar often means digging into classic licks from your favorite players and bringing them into your own vocabulary as you develop your voice as a jazz guitarist.

While learning licks note for note and playing them back in the practice room is a good way to introduce yourself to commonly used vocabulary, you can dig much deeper when learning licks in order to fully digest these ideas and make them your own as you internalize them in the woodshed.

In today’s lesson, you’ll learn a fun and classic Bill Evans lick, as well as dissect this lick into small and easy to learn chunks that you can explore further on their own in the practice room.

This approach not only gives you a classic lick to bring into your solos, but provides you with weeks if not months of further practice as you dig deep into this great-sounding and must-know Bill Evans ii V I lick.




Bill Evans Lick – ii V I


This first example is Bill’s lick from start to finish, with the different sections that we will dissect and practice separately later on in the lesson.

Start by working the lick in the key of C Major, as written below, slowly at first with a metronome before increasing the speed as you become comfortable with the lick.

When you have worked it at a number of different tempos in the key of C major, try taking it to other keys across the neck until you can play it in all 12 keys and in a wide range of tempos.

Once you are comfortable with the lick, at least in the key of C Major, check out the individual parts of the lick for practice and expansion below, as you dig into the creative mind of one of the greatest legends in jazz music history.


Click to hear the lick slow Click to Listen to the Bill Evans ii V I Lick Slow

Click to hear the lick fast Click to Listen to the Bill Evans ii V I Lick Fast



Bill Evans Jazz Guitar ii V I Lick



Bill Evans Lick – Bebop Pattern


The first section of the lick that we’ll extract and expand is the Bebop sounding lick in the first two beats of bar 1, which you can see isolated and expanded here.


Click to hear Bill Evans ii V I Bebop Pattern Audio


Bill Evans Jazz Guitar ii V I Lick Bebop Pattern



This is a common pattern that has been a part of the jazz vocabulary since the Bebop era, and it is a pattern that is easy to play on the guitar and one that can add a nice sense of Bebop vocabulary to your solos.

The lick is built with two scale notes and one chromatic note to form a four-note pattern.

You start by playing the first scale note, C in this case, then you move down a 3rd to A.

But, before playing that A note, you sneak in a chromatic half-step below it, G#, then the A and back up to the first note C.

So, when you break it down, you start on a scale note. Then, play a chromatic note below the scale note 2 notes below the first note before playing that second scale note and back to your starting note to finish the pattern.

Once you have checked out this pattern as written, take it through an entire scale, such as the C major scale in the example above.

Being able to play this pattern through an entire scale, such as the C Major in the example, will not only allow you to bring Bill’s lick into your solos, but allow you to use this Bebop pattern over any chord or scale you want as you integrate it into your solos.

Practice this lick through the C Major scale to begin. Then, take that scale pattern to other keys, at various tempos, before applying it to other scales and modes you are working on in the practice room.

When you can play it through one scale comfortably, try putting on a backing track and improvising using that scale while focusing on using the Bebop lick as much as possible to begin to introduce it to your soloing as well as your technical practice.

This is a classic lick that will help you Build Bebop Vocabulary in your solos once you’ve taken it out of Bill’s lick and worked it through other scales and modes you are working on in the woodshed.



Bill Evans Lick – Descending 3rds 


As guitarists, one of the first scale patterns we usually explore in the practice room is playing 3rds through different scales and modes.

While we run 3rds up and down scales, one thing that we don’t often do is play descending 3rds while ascending a scale and vice-versa, which is exactly what Bill does in the second half of the first bar in this lick.

Here, Bill plays the descending 3rds up a C triad, but you can also take this technique and apply it to a scale in order to expand your scale pattern knowledge, expanding your soloing vocabulary at the same time.

Check out this example below where this pattern is applied to a C major scale.


Click to hear Click to Listen to the Bill Evans ii V I Descending 3rds Pattern



Bill Evans Jazz Guitar Lick ii V I Descending 3rds



Notice that the 3rds are descending, starting on the highest note first then playing the lowest note, while you ascend the scale with this pattern.

This is a great way to add a twist to the conventionally used 3rds in your scale practicing and soloing.

Begin by applying the pattern to the C Major scale at different tempos, in one and two octaves. Then, take it to different keys and different scales around the neck as you work the pattern with a metronome.

When you have the descending 3rds pattern comfortably over the C Major scale, put on a backing track and improvise over a static Cmaj7 chord, or even a Dm7-G7-Cmaj7 progression, and focus on using the descending 3rds as much as possible to work on bringing this idea out of your technical practicing and into your soloing vocabulary.



Bill Evans Lick – 7Alt Pattern


Another great idea that you can pull from Bill’s lick is a very cool sounding 7alt lick that happens in bar 2 of the phrase.

We sometimes get handcuffed when it comes time to solo over 7alt chord, not knowing what scale/arp/idea to use in our lines, or having too many options to choose from and so we get a bit tongue-tied when it comes to soloing over these chords.

Here, Bill uses an arpeggio pattern that outlines the #9, b9 and b13 intervals over the G7 chord, without ever actually playing the root-note G.

Because of this, it is a great-sounding altered pattern that you can bring into your playing that doesn’t use the root itself, allowing you to focus on outlining all of the juicy altered notes in the chord during your phrase.

In order to get this idea into your playing, start by working out a comfortable fingering on the neck for this idea, as you can see here.


Click to hear Click to Listen to the Bill Evans ii V I 7alt Pattern



Bill Evans Jazz Guitar Lick ii V I 7alt Pattern



Then, practice this idea through all 12 keys, using a Dominant Cycle as in the example as a good place to start with this approach.

This will get the lick under your fingers and in your ears, as well as all across the fretboard, allowing you to then practice applying it to your solos over 7th chords and ii-V-I chord progressions.

Notice that Bill uses the 7alt sound in a major key ii-V-I. You can apply this pattern in a similar fashion in your own solos, but you can also use it in the more conventional V7alt chord during a iim7b5-V7alt-im6 progression in a minor key.

This is a very fun lick that will expand your 7alt vocabulary and help you explore rootless-arpeggio patterns at the same time.



Bill Evans Lick – Double Enclosure


The last technical idea that we’ll pull out of this lick is a double enclosure.

If you are new to enclosures, check out my article “Bebop Vocabulary: Enclosures” for an in-depth explanation of these important melodic devices.

In this instance, Bill is using one chromatic note above, Ab, and two chromatic notes below, F F#, before resolving to the target note G.

While we looked at expanding the other licks through scale patterns, this item sounds great when practiced through arpeggios across the neck.

Check out the example below where a double enclosure was applied to all of the notes in a Cmaj7 arpeggio.


Click to hear Click to Listen to the Bill Evans ii V I Double Enclosure Lick



Bill Evans Jazz Guitar Lick ii V I Double Enclosure


Start with this example, then work this approach through all 12 keys at various tempos, and then apply it to other arpeggios such as 7th, m7th and m7b5 shapes that you know or are working on in the practice room.

When you are comfortable with the double enclosure approach in a few keys on one arpeggio, you can try soloing over a static chord or chord progression and focus on using the double enclosure during your soloing phrases and lines.

This is another great Bebop inspired lick that you can bring into your soloing and technical practice routine as you expand your vocabulary and arpeggio phrases.



Bill Evans Lick – Triad Pair


The last item we’ll take out of Bill’s lick and practice in a different context is the triad pair that he uses over the Cmaj7 chord in the phrase, G and Am.

Here, Bill is using the 5th and 6th triads from the key center, so V and vi from C Major, to improvise a line during the 3rd bar of the lick.

To bring this into your own playing, practice soloing along with a Cmaj7 to begin and only use the G and Am triads to build your lines.

Then, take this idea to other keys and to as many triad fingerings as you can think of on the neck.

Finally, practice soloing over a ii V I phrase and when you get to the Imaj7 chord, use only the V and vi triads from the key, so G and Am if you are in C Major.

If you need a refresher on triad fingerings on guitar, or are looking to expand your current triad fingerings, check out my Triad Resource Page for many different ways to play these important shapes on the guitar.


As you can see, in this three and a half bar lick there is literally weeks, if not months, worth of practice material to explore in the woodshed.

As you move forward in your playing, and move beyond this one lick, try to take licks from your favorite players and dig into them with this same amount of detail.

Not only will it help you expand your vocabulary and technical ability, but it gives you a detailed look into the creative process of your favorite players.


How do you analyze and practice your favorite licks? Share you thoughts in the comments section below.

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