[REVIEW] Slick Licks That Stick,by Bobby Stern

I finally got some spare time to have a look at a few music books that are stacking on my desk. The one on the top is Slick Licks That Stick,by saxophonist Bobby Stern.

Some (or many) of you might already be familiar with Bobby,him being the author of The Minor Melodic Handbook:A Jazz Player’s Perspective,published in 2006 by James Aebersold. More recently he turned to self-publishing,and the e-book I am reviewing here is his first work. (There is also Slick Licks That Sticks,volume II,that was released some days ago.)

Slick Licks That Stick contains 167 pages of exercises and etudes,plus an index and some notes. However the book uses the landscape orientation,pages are smaller than the standard A4 and each page contains only 4 staves. Broadly and large,it therefore corresponds to an 80-page book in standard layout.

Unlike most exercise books,it doesn’t attempt to cover every single chord progression or scale. Instead,it contains 10 specific (and partially unrelated) sections,that analyze topics on which the author believes he can provide a better insight,and rightly so. While the quality of the material is high,on the average,there are sections that I like very much and other that I don’t find particularly exciting. Let’s see each section in detail.

Chapter 1:Pentatonic Modes is arguably the least interesting of the entire book. It covers the classic Major Pentatonic (e.g. CDEGA),the Pentatonic b3 scale (derived from the Melodic Minor scale),the Pentatonic b6 scale,and the Pentatonic b2 scale (derived from the Diminished scale). For each scale it displays straight runs over its five modes. I assume that any average player will not even look at these pages once he or she understands the obvious pattern used to build the exercise.

Chapter 2:Augmented Scale Patterns is where the interesting stuff begins. It shows how to use arpeggios and intervals over this often-neglected scale and in this case I do welcome the fact that each pattern is repeated for each key (more precisely,for each of the 4 distinct versions of this symmetrical scale).

Chapter 3:Coltrane Changes shows how to use basic 4-note patterns over a Coltrane change chord sequence. You will find this chapter very useful if you are new to this sequence,yet it might be a bit too basic if you are already familiar with it. At the end of the chapter you can also find some interesting patterns built using the Augmented scale.

Chapter 4:Triad Pairs shows how to alternate a Major triad with a Minor triad a 3rd minor above it. Rather than leading you into creating musical ideas on this sequence,the chapter includes just one series of ascending arpeggios,repeated in all 12 keys. As it is the case with chapter 1,I found that transposing these arpeggios in your mind is a better exercise than reading them on a book.

Chapter 5:Chromatic Finger Busters is exactly what the title implies,that is a series of fast exercises built over the chromatic scale that aim at improving your chops rather than providing complete musical ideas. If played at up tempos these exercises can be truly challenging,and I like them a lot.

Chapter 6:Intervalic ii-Vs includes a couple of ii-V patterns built over fourth intervals and pentatonic scales,and shows how to momentarily play “outside” and then back inside at the end of the pattern. Good stuff that doesn’t sound as “already-heard-of.”

Chapter 7:Melodic Minor Bebop Scales includes runs of the little-used Melodic Minor Bebop scale (e.g. CDEbFGG#AB). Nothing else but straight runs up and down the seven modes of this scale. The same considerations I gave for Chapter 1 apply here as well.

Chapter 8:Melodic Minor 4th Stacks contains non-obvious arpeggio patterns built over the Melodic Minor scale,which can be useful if you are tired of playing using plain thirds.

Chapter 9:Melodic Minor Polymodal ii-V7 explains how to cleverly use modes of the Melodic Minor scales over the classic ii-V7 progression. It contains 15 different patterns (in all keys),all of which sound quite intriguing to me.

Chapter 10:Melodic Minor Etudes contains three etudes on the minor scale. It’s a good departure from the usual all-eight-notes exercises.

The bottom line:Slick Licks That Stick contains some great sections and some less useful ones. The chapters on the Melodic Minor scale (7-8-9) are surely the most interesting one,and they justify the $9.99 price tag,unless you believe that you already master this topic.

I haven’t had a look at the just published Slick Licks That Stick volume II, so I can’t really recommend it. This second volume is twice as thick (369 pages) and sells for $13.99,thus you might find it convenient to get the Volume I and II bundle for $19.99.

For more information and purchase,visit Bobby Stern’s website.

Even if you aren’t interested in this e-book,I strongly recommend paying a visit to Bobby’s blog,where you can find TONS of useful tips,ideas,exercises,and more.

2 comments to [REVIEW] Slick Licks That Stick,by Bobby Stern

  • I just thought I might briefly add some clarification on Ch. 1,which since the publication of “Slick Licks That Stick!”early in 2013,has become known as “X-Centric Pentatonics”;“X”being the 12 common tones,each from which 5 different pentatonic “keys”can be generated.

    This is the inverse concept to what the reviewer misinterprets as “straight runs over (a pentatonic scale’s) 5 modes”. Also,if the assumption is that the “average player”can generate 5 different pentatonic scales (incl. penta b3,b6 &b2) from a single,common tone on demand,(without first having seen the book),I will personally eat my funky old,crusty Bari synthetic reeds,without ketchup,on live,Intergalactic U-Tube-o-Vision!

    Likewise,Ch. 7,which is dedicated to the “little used (???!) Melodic Minor Bebop Scale”including the “altered dominant scale”(it’s 7th mode),probably the most commonly used,as well as most misunderstood scale in the jazz vocabulary. The “Bebop Scale”aspect allows one to strategically insert passing tones into the seven note scale to allow smooth phrase resolutions while playing groups of 8th or 16th notes. Once the “average”player has mastered that in all keys,he or she might no longer be considered average.

    As with all the material in both Vols. 1 &2 of “Slick Licks That Stick!”,these exercises are meant to build technique,accustom the ear and fire the imagination.

    It’s like saying,“Here’s a set of watercolors. Now go paint a picture.”

    Bobby Stern
    Author “Slick Licks That Stick!”Vol. 1 &2

  • Francesco

    Thank you for these clarifications,Bobby.

    Just to be sure readers don’t misunderstand what I wrote…I didn’t mean to imply that the “average player”can generate all the modes of all pentatonic variations that start on any given note on demand. What I wrote (verbatim) is that “any average player will not even look at these pages once he or she understands the obvious pattern used to build the exercise”. Readers should have a look at the image in the review and see whether the pattern is obvious or not.

    The Melodic Minor Bebop scale is a 8-note scale,the ubiquitous Altered scale is a 7-note scale. The two scales are of course very similar and can be used over the same chords,yet one can’t claim that the Altered scale is the 7th mode of the Melodic Minor Bebop scale,as you do both in Chapter 7 and in your comment.

    Names such as Lydian Augmented and Lydian Dominant were brought into common use by the George Russell 60 years ago and always referred to 7-note modes of the Minor Melodic scale ever since. I agree that adding a passing note doesn’t change the nature of the scale,but a textbook shouldn’t use long-established names to indicate something different. If this approach were correct,than we wouldn’t need different names for,say,Bebop Dominant vs. Mixolydian,or Bebop Major vs. Ionian.

    There are no established names for modes of the Melodic Minor Bebop scale,which suggests that this scale is indeed less common than,say,the Bebop Dominant scale,whose modes have been labeled with specific names by some authors,eg Bebop Dorian for mode 5,or Dorian Eolian for mode 2.

    In spite of our different opinions on this specific topic,let me re-emphasize that I found the book to be useful and intriguing,and I hope it gets all the visibility and popularity it deserves.

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