Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Jamie Holroyd Guitar

5 Modal Licks for Guitar

5 Modal Licks for Guitar

Modal licks are an important part of learning jazz guitar. Besides spending time learning the different modes, it is also important to practice making music with them.

This article contains 5 modal licks for guitar. Each of the 5 modal licks uses different modes and are applied over different chord types.

The first two modal licks are applied over altered dominant 7th chords, examples 3 and 4 are applied over minor 7th chords and the last lick is over a major chord.

Practice each lick slowly to begin with, ideally over static chord backing track.



Modal Licks Example 1 — Phrygian Dominant


This first modal licks example comes from the Phrygian Dominant scale which is the 5th mode of the Harmonic Minor scale.

The Phrygian Dominant scale can be used over any type of dominant 7th chord and works very well against Dominant7b9 chords.

The Phrygian dominant scale contains two major triads a semi-tone apart which in this example are E and F. Two triads a semi-tone apart result in a Spanish tonality that is often associated with the Phrygian sound.

Each note in the E triad is a semi-tone below a note in the F major triad. Approaching chord tones from a semi-tone below is a common jazz soloing technique which makes this scale useful in jazz improvisation.

Click here to access this great free Phrygian Dominant backing track on YouTube from Rowan J Parker.


Modal Licks - PhrygianModal Licks 1



Modal Licks 2 — Lydian Dominant #2


This second modal licks example comes from a rather obscure scale used by Josh Homme. Like the first example, this lick is applied over an altered dominant chord.

The first bar of this lick uses a funky two note per string pattern found within the Lydian Dominant#2 scale.

Switching from different rhythms is easier to do on 2 note per string pattern licks with hammer ons. The audio example switches from 8th notes to 16ths.

Experiment with other modal scales and see what kind of two note per string modal licks you can come up with.


Modal Licks - Lydian Dom#2 Modal Licks 2



Modal Licks 3 — Aeolian


The Aeolian mode is the 6th mode of the major scale which can be used to improvise over any kind of minor chord such as a minor 6, 7 9 or 11.

The Aeolian scale only has one note which is not in the Dorian scale, the b6, which gives the scale a darker sound. A great way to learn the Aeolian scale is to lower the 6th in each of fingering of the Dorian scale.

This modal licks example is based of a descending Aeolian scale and finishes on the defining note of the scale, the b6.

Though the finishing note is a bit of a finger twister, the b6 gives the line a pleasing dark sound.


Modal Licks - AeolianModal Licks 3


Modal Licks 4 — Locrian


Learning to improvise over minor 7b5 chords can be quite challenging on guitar.

This next modal licks example demonstrates how you can improvise over a minor 7b5 chord using a simple but effective Locrian scale phrase.

The first 6 notes of this lick are entirely based off the ascending Locrian scale. Starting a line simply going up or coming down the first few notes of a scale is a sure fire of starting a lick over any chord.


Modal Licks - LocrianModal Licks 4



Modal Licks 5 — Harmonic Major


The Harmonic Major scale is a useful tool for creating more angular sounds over major 7th chords without getting too outside.

The first five notes of this modal licks example uses a cool Harmonic Major scale pattern used by guitar players such as Joe Pass. Enclosures are used afterwards to finish off the lick.


Modal Licks - Harmonic MajorModal Licks 5


I hope that you enjoyed playing through and listening to each of these different modal licks.

Don’t forget to check out this Lydian licks article and this Dorian lines one to complete your modal licks studies.

What are your favorite modes to improvise with? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


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What can I play to sound modal, like Jim Hall, Pat Metheney and John Scofield?
Can you recommend me some lick and lines?

Jamie Holroyd

Hi there, you can type "Jim Hall lines" into google and probably find something. The best way is to transcribe their ideas for yourself though. Good luck!

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