How to build your own solos using the LickStack


Licks on the LickStack are – by definition – building blocks for solos. In this article, I will show you how to construct your own solo over chord changes using our collection of crowdsourced licks.

Once again, I would like to hammer home the core principle of the LickStack:

Any solo can be broken down into small snippets of music, called licks, and licks are the raw material from which solos are built.

In other words – depending on which analogy you prefer – the licks that live on the LickStack are our collection of Lego pieces to build castles with, or our collective musical vocabulary to use in conversation.

To use yet another analogy, you can think of your final solo as a mosaic, a work of art pieced together from carefully selected and precisely cut stones.

Thinking in terms of small building blocks helps you understand how a solo is built.

But does it actually work in practice? Can I build a solo over a lead sheet using nothing but the building blocks found here on the LickStack?

Let’s give it a try.

Building a solo using the LickStack

Full disclosure – I actually haven’t tried to do this before.

This is my first attempt of constructing a solo using the LickSack. In other words, don’t expect a masterpiece to come out of this (I’ll leave that task up to you), but think of it as a proof of concept.

(Wear lab coat and safety glasses now.)

In this experiment, I aim to demonstrate that the licks found on the LickStack can be pieced together into a continuous jazz solo. (Once again, I happen to be comfortable with jazz, but you can do the same no matter which style or genre you prefer!)

I have chosen to construct a solo over the chord changes of “Days of Wine and Roses”, which is an example of a jazz standard that you may find on any page in the Real Book.

Here is the lead sheet we will be working with, a standard 32-bar format:

image[Days_of_Wine, lead sheet for Days of Wine and Roses]

The goal is to fill these 32 bars with content from our lick collection.

A mosaic of licks

The way I approach this is to proceed through the lead sheet in bite-sized portions of 2 to 4 measures.

Let’s start with the first two measures, which hold the chords Fmaj7 and Eb7.

I now use the LickFinder tool to find any licks that can be played over these changes.

If you want to follow what I am doing here in real time, I suggest you open the “Find Licks” tab (or the link above) in a new window.

In the LickFinder, I enter the chord changes taken from the lead sheet and hit “Find Licks”. For better results, I also check the boxes “Include transposed” and “Exact search”. Click the info button for an explanation of what they do.

image[Fmaj7_Eb7, LickStack Search Licks panel with Fmaj7-Eb7 chord progression selected]

The LickFinder will now search through our collection of licks and return any licks that match the Fmaj7 – Eb7 chord progression.

Here are some of the results I get:




I decide to pick lick 171 as a worthy opening phrase for my solo.

If you repeat this exercise for yourself, you may choose any other lick, whichever you feel like using.

To keep track, I will mark this on my lead sheet.

I write down lick 171 for the first two bars. I also mark it (+10), as I am using the original version of the lick transposed 10 half steps up into the key that matches Fmaj7 – Eb7.

image[Days_of_Wine_171, Lead sheet for Days of Wine and Roses]

The next snippet I see is an Am7 – D7 – Gm7 progression over 4 bars.

Once again, I enter the changes into the LickFinder tool:

image[Am7_D7_Gm7, LickStack Search Licks panel with Am7_D7_Gm7 chord progression selected]

I am presented with the following choices:



I decide to go with lick 95. This time, I can use the original version, as it happens to be in the right key already.

Let’s mark that on the lead sheet.

image[Days_of_Wine_95, Lead sheet for Days of Wine and Roses]

You see where this is going. If I proceed through the entire lead sheet like this, I can fill it with a mosaic of licks sourced entirely from our collection, like so:

image[Days_of_Wine_all, Lead sheet for Days of Wine and Roses with licks marked]

Looks like I have successfully created a patchwork of licks to fill my lead sheet.

But does it sound like a real solo too?

At this point, you could play the lick recordings in order to give you a rough idea, but I find it hard to imagine how the solo comes together that way.

Better to practice the licks and play the entire solo in action. Let me present to you my mosaic (musaic?):

And? If you like what you heard please consider subscribing to our youtube channel. There is more to come!

I will not claim that this is a masterpiece. Some of the mosaic stones seemed a bit rough to me, as if they are not quite the perfect size or shape or shade.

But I think I have demonstrated that the licks housed on the LickStack can – in principle – be forged into a continuous solo.

I declare the experiment a success!

This is just the beginning

The point of this experiment was a proof of concept, and I think it looks promising.

We have seen that a well organized collection of licks can serve as a useful source for solo material.

And to my surprise, it looks like your collection of licks doesn’t have to be very large to be useful.

At the time of this experiment, the LickStack had some 150-ish licks available, from a grand total of two contributing licksters (myself and shoutout to RichardB!).

Although my choices were limited and I had to contend with what I have, I was able to find licks that match all the chord changes in “Days of Wine and Roses”, as long as I was willing to use transposed versions of the original recordings.

Indeed, this is largely thanks to the transpose function. Being able to use our licks in any key means that your chance of finding a fitting mosaic stone is multiplied by a factor of 12!

As I did alright with a relatively modest collection of licks, I can safely conclude that it will only get better from here on!

Imagine a collection of not dozens but thousands of licks, contributed by an army of licksters who each bring in their own style, ideas and passion.

This is where we are headed.

The larger our collection of licks grows, the more choices we will have in the LickFinder, and we will be more likely to find combinations of licks that fit together like peanut butter and jelly.

With every lick added to the LickStack, our possibilities will grow exponentially, and chances are we will find perfectly cut stones to create mosaics that truly shine.

Building solos to practice improvisation

The ultimate purpose of our community is to make each one of us better at improvisation over lead sheets.

But is my demonstration piece an improvised solo?

Definitely not.

I laid out all the licks beforehand and practiced the entire solo. No musician in their right mind would call this improvisation, let alone jazz mastery.

So what is the point of constructing a solo from licks and then playing it?

To answer this, imagine you find a handful of licks that you like well.

Now try them out in as many solos as possible, in several different keys.

After doing this over and over, I bet you will get very familiar with your licks over time.

And I have a feeling that at some point they will come to you instantly and effortlessly, at appropriate positions in any lead sheet.

Once you reach this point, you will also be able to use small fragments of a lick here and there, maybe change little sub-parts and come up with rhythmic and melodic variations on the spot.

This sounds a lot more like improvisation, doesn’t it?

Building solos from licks over real-world lead sheets is not only fun but an excellent way to get familiar with the licks in our collection.

Give it a shot! It is your turn to experiment now. Pick any lead sheet and try building a solo using the LickStack.

An excellent channel to share your creations is our subreddit r/lickstack. Make sure to check it out too!

And don’t forget to add new licks to our collection, whenever you find a nice one.

The LickStack is here for you. Make good use of it.

I look forward to seeing your mosaics!






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