3 Steely Dan Style Licks


One of the mainstays of Steely Dan, Walter Becker is often seen more as a producer, but is an accomplished guitarist and bassist in his own right. His jazzy and funky playing can be heard on some of Steely Dan’s standout albums, notably Katy Lied and Aja, plus Alive in America and Everything Must Go.

There’s nothing too technical here, but if you want to play it convincingly, keep an eye out on the staccato notes (the notes with dots above them), quarter note bends, and quick vibrato. Staccato gives the notes a stingy, funky quality. You’ll need to play the notes articulately.

The three licks are played over a funky Cm7 groove and can be used in a minor blues progression. Here’s a lick by lick breakdown:

Lick 1

Start with a snappy slide before working down the C Minor Pentatonic. The two hip slides (bar 3) produce Cm6 double stops, giving a Dorian Mode sound. The lick continues around the C Minor Pentatonic scale with funky phrasing.

Lick 2

This long line is made up from four short phrases all based on the C Minor Pentatonic. The way they are joined together keeps things interesting. Here’s where the timing has to be particularly exact.

Lick 3

After starting out in typical C Minor territory, we shift up a tone with a fast flurry lick that is in D Minor Pentatonic but resolves perfectly back into the C Minor tonality. If you are very comfortable with Modes, another way of looking at this tone shift is that it’s also the second half of the C Dorian position 1 three-note-per-string scale!

As always, below the YouTube video you’ll find the backing track to play along with, and below that, the tablature. Aren’t I nice?!

Feel free to ask questions or just share your thoughts in the comments!

Watch the video:

Play along with the backing track:

Read the tab:

3 Steely Dan Style Licks

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