In this tutorial, I break down a Charlie Parker blues lick and show you 3 of the techniques he uses to create such a cool sounding lick from such a simple set of notes. Understanding the building process of master sax players like Charlie Parker can help you unlock some creativity in your own sax solos.


  • Theme development – he uses a small set of notes and repeats them to develop the theme.
  • Voice leading – he goes back and forth between the major 3rd and flat 7th to create really strong voice leading.
  • Rhythm displacement – he displaces where the rhythm lands in the measuse to creat tension and release.

Using these 3 techniques, Charlie Parker crafts a masterful solo using only a small simple set of notes.


Inside the Sax School, there is an entire course dedicated to jazz style where I break down the unwritten rules of jazz style and show you how to apply them to any music that you play. There are also several courses dedicated to improvisation that start with the basics of playing your first solo and go all the way through advanced techniques for solo development. If you are looking for a starting place to learn how to improvise or you want to make what you are already playing sound a whole lot better, then you will definitely want to check out the improv courses in the Scott Paddock Sax School.

A full-text transcription is available by clicking the accordion below. The timestamps line up with the video’s timeline.


0:00:08.5 Scott Paddock: What's up, everybody? My name is Scott Paddock, and today we are gonna break down a Charlie Parker Blues lick.


0:00:20.4 SP: If you are a regular viewer of my YouTube channel, then you can see that I am in a different place. I'm in Playa del Carmen, Mexico in a practice studio. This practice studio is in a music store, so you are more than likely gonna hear some music store sounds in the background. But the show must go on, so let's get started with this tutorial.

So, while I've been in Mexico, I haven't been practicing quite as much as I usually do. And over the last week or so I've been trying to get my technique back together, and when I do that I play a lot of technique exercises, and I play through the Charlie Parker Omnibook a lot.

0:00:52.7 SP: And when I was playing through the Charlie Parker Omnibook... Which, if you don't know, that is a book that has a lot of his solos transcribed. It's a fantastic book. If you don't have it, it's something you definitely want in your saxophone book library, it's a fantastic book.

But anyway, I was playing through it, just to try to get my chops back together, and I played this blues lick that he played in the tune "Now's the Time" that I just loved. I've played this song several times, I know this lick, but when I played it, I was like, "I should do a tutorial about this lick, and talk about how the lick is formed and what makes the lick so cool." Now, this is what the lick sounds like.


0:01:38.1 SP: So, the lick is just over the first five measures of the blues progression, and it is pretty easy as far as licks go. It's very approachable, it's pretty easy to play, but he does so much cool stuff in this lick that makes it super interesting, that I wanted to break it down so that you could see what's going on when he's playing, so you could adapt it and use it in your own playing.

There are a ton of things that we could talk about when it comes to breaking down this lick, but I wanna focus on three main things. The first is his theme development through the use of repetition, the second is voice leading, and the third is the displacement of the rhythm.

0:02:14.6 SP: He uses those three techniques expertly in these five bars to turn it into a super-cool-sounding lick. If you'd like me to do more of these saxophone lick breakdown videos, leave me a comment below with the name of the saxophone player that you'd like me to do next.

Alright, so let's break this lick down. First, I'm gonna play it at a slower tempo so you can hear it. I want you to pay really close attention to the rhythm displacement. I want you to pay attention to what my goal notes are in each measure, my goal notes meaning the strong notes. And I want you to pay attention to the repetition of this lick.


0:03:02.1 SP: This lick is over the first five measures of the D blues progression on the alto sax, so we start off with a D7, which is your one chord, go to a G7, which is your four chord, go back to a D7 for two measures, which is your one chord, and then back to a G7 for one measure, which is your four chord. So, we're going back and forth between the one chord and the four chord. So, the only difference in notes between a D mixolydian scale and a G mixolydian scale, which is your D7 scale and your G7 scale, is the F-sharp and F-natural. So, Charlie Parker uses those two notes, the F-sharp and the F-natural, as the goal notes or the most important notes in each measure. And when he does that, that becomes the voice leading for each measure.

Now, oftentimes, when we're thinking about voice leading, we're thinking about connecting the last note of one chord to the first note of the next chord, but another way to think about voice leading is bringing out the strong note and one chord and voice leading it into the strong note of the next chord.

So, that's what he does in this tune. So, over the D7, he brings out the F-sharp, and over the G7, he brings out the F-natural. With that in mind, take a listen and I'm gonna over-accent the F-sharp and the F-natural, so you can hear the voice leading.


0:04:30.5 SP: Can you hear how he's using the F-sharp and F-natural as the main note, as well as the voice leading note? Take a listen to it one more time.


0:04:51.5 SP: If you're trying to get started using voice leading, this is a really good technique to use. Instead of just trying to change on the last note of one chord going into the first note of the next chord, think about what you want your main note to be and try and bring your voice leading out through goal notes. If you're watching this video, I'm assuming that you'd like to get a lot better at improvisation and jazz style.


0:05:11.4 SP: If that's the case, I'd like to invite you to check out the Scott Paddock Sax School. Inside the Sax School, I have entire courses dedicated to learning the unwritten rules of jazz style. As well as teaching improvisation, we start off with one note solos and work our way all the way up through improvising over complex chord progressions. So, if you'd like to get way better at playing the saxophone no matter what your current playing level is, then check out the Scott Paddock Sax School.


Now, I'm gonna play it again, and this time I want you to pay really close attention to the theme development. So, theme development just means taking a little idea and developing that idea, oftentimes through repetition. So, he's gonna repeat this lick several times, but each time he's gonna do something a little bit different with it. Take a listen to how he develops the theme in this lick.


0:06:11.3 SP: So, he starts off with this...


0:06:18.4 SP: And, in the third measure, he plays the exact same thing, even with the A pickup note on the end of four.


0:06:27.6 SP: So, he's doing the repetition with playing the exact same thing two times in a row, each time he has that D7 chord, but over the G7 chord, he plays a very similar rhythm and a very similar idea, it just sounds a little bit different.


0:06:45.7 SP: So, even though that's a little bit different, it's a variation of that very first lick that we're playing. So, he plays that first phrase, then he goes into a variation, and then goes back to the original phrase.


0:07:06.0 SP: From here in the fourth measure, if he repeated it again, it would just be too much, so he goes off into another little idea.


0:07:15.0 SP: And then comes back to it.


0:07:21.0 SP: He plays that line for the first time, starting on the end of one in the second measure.


0:07:28.2 SP: And then he plays it again on the end of three and the fourth measure.



0:07:33.6 SP: And when he does that, he displaces the rhythm or puts it in a different place so that it sounds different, which makes the lick sound super cool. Listen to those back-to-back.


0:07:46.2 SP: And then the second time.


0:07:52.1 SP: So, the second time the first part of the lick is the same, but it is displaced, and then he changes up the end of the lick so that the lick sounds finished. So, take a listen again from the beginning and listen to how he displaces that rhythm in the second measure and going into the fourth measure.


0:08:22.8 SP: So, Charlie Parker is using theme development, voice leading, and rhythm displacement to take this seemingly easy lick and make it sound really interesting.

Now, we haven't talked much about the fourth measure, but the fourth measure is just to throw something in there different so that it doesn't sound so repetitive. Now, when he does this, he goes to the flat seven, which is the C-Natural, and he plays an F-Natural over the D7, and that makes it sound Bluesy.


0:08:49.9 SP: That definitely sounds Bluesy.


0:08:57.1 SP: So, he uses the repetition, and then he breaks up the repetition with a Bluesy-sounding lick to go into some rhythm displacement to finish out the lick.

0:09:06.8 SP: So, take a listen to it one more time, up the tempo.



0:09:17.7 SP: This simple Charlie Parker Blues lick is jam-packed with interesting ideas that you can use in your own solos. So, when you are taking your own solo, think about theme development through repetition, think about how you're moving between the chords and what notes you're bringing out as your goal notes, and if you wanna make something sound really cool, displace the rhythm a little bit so that it doesn't sound so predictable.

Thanks for taking the time to check out this video. If you'd like to dive deeper into my saxophone world, check out the Scott Paddock Sax School.



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