When it comes to becoming a great jazz improviser, it’s all about learning jazz language. Learning jazz language can happen in a lot of different ways. Listening to jazz, learning solos by ear, or learning jazz standards.

But if you want some quick and helpful rewards for your time investment, learning licks is a great way to go.

Licks are short musical phrases, usually played over the context of a chord or chord progression. You can learn them by ear from one of your favorite jazz musicians, from teaching resources, or even create your own.

But if you’re not sure what chord progressions you should be learning licks over, look no further. The 2-5-1 (or ii-V-I) chord progression is the most common in jazz repertoire.

Therefore would it be a great idea to learn licks over 2-5-1 chord progressions? You bet! The most important thing you can do is learn them, and then practice them the right way.

Speaking of practicing, make sure you’ve signed up to receive our free “Ultimate Jazz Guide to Practicing,” if you want to make sure you are working on the right things. It will just take a minute to sign up, we’ll send it to you, and you can continue on.

So in this lesson, I’m giving you 25 easy ii-V-I licks.

My suggestion is to pick one or two of these licks and bring them into all 12 keys. Learning licks in all 12 keys is a great practice because it helps you:

  • Internalize the music better.
  • Gain flexibility in keys you may be uncomfortable with.

Let’s take a look at them. Play through each one, and try to get the feel for them. If you find one you like in particular, hone in on that one.

25_Easy_ii_V_I_Licks-page-001 25_Easy_ii_V_I_Licks-page-002 25_Easy_ii_V_I_Licks-page-003

Hope you enjoy practicing these licks. The more jazz language you learn the easier improvising in jazz gets. You become familiar with the sounds and the chord progressions, and before you know it, it will become second nature.

If you need more of the basics of improvising under your belt, check out our eBook Zero to Improv which helps you become a great jazz improviser from the ground up.

30 Stepsto Better Jazz Playing


  1. C# is either used in a scalic figure using the jazz minor (harmonic minor would have a Bb).
    Otherwise it is used to imply the chords Dm Dm(ma7)/C# Dm7/C Dm6/B each two beats, beat 1 has a D, 3 has C#, 1 has C, 3 has B, resolving to Cma7

  2. It comes from A7 chord. A7 is the dominant of D-7. In addition, that A7 (A,#C, E, G) contains the C# note, that creates the Melodic or the Harmonic D minor Schales.

  3. Hello! Why in some licks (#37, #45, and others) the major 7 (C#) is used over the minor 7 chord (Dm7)? Comes from a substitution? Thanks!

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