Guitar Licks
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Guitar licks: Learn them. Create them. Use them.

Lead guitar players in Rock and Blues music are not playing whole solos all the time. Most of the time they’re playing short musical phrases, which are commonly referred to as guitar licks.

While a guitar solo is in reality a number of guitar licks played in different forms and variations, licks are also commonly used by themselves.

They just sneak in the other components of the music and throw in a short melody, making the music stand out.

In this lesson I will take you through a process where you will become able to create guitar licks at will and use them in real musical situations.

Step 1: Learn guitar licks

Before you start creating your own guitar licks, you should first learn a few of these short melodic phrases first.

Not only will these help you understand the concept and the role of a guitar lick, but also give you a lot of ideas you can use in your own.

The thing is, to come up with great guitar licks, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The same concept, as you will see in the examples below, can be used over and over again in an infinite number of forms and variations.

These examples are just a few common snippets you can twist around as you’ll see in the next step.

Apart from the guitar licks you will learn here, you should also be listening to your favorite Rock or Blues songs, find the guitar tabs for their licks and learn them.

In order to get you started, here are a few guitar licks you should know. (In these examples, I’m assuming you know basic phrasing techniques like string bending and vibrato. If not, click on the link, and come to this lesson later.)

All guitar licks in this lesson are coming from the A minor pentatonic scale. In Step 3, I will explain which scale you should use, where.

Guitar lick 1:

If you notice carefully, in the next lick, I’m using the same concept as above but I go from low notes to higher ones instead of the other way round.

Guitar lick 2:

In the following lick we’ll be playing something entirely differently. A pull off pattern is repeated three times in a row to end on a long note with vibrato on it.

Guitar lick 3:

The next lick, does borrow ideas from the licks above but uses longer notes.

Guitar lick 4:

The final lick uses only 2 notes. Yet, thanks to the carefully placed rests, the staccato and legato playing, a melody still comes out.

Guitar lick 5:

Step 2: Create your own licks

The easiest scale to use to start creating your own guitar licks is the minor pentatonic, as in the pattern below.

Chose a few notes and create a simple melody as in the examples above. Which notes you choose is important, but equally important are phrasing techniques like string bending, vibrato, hammer ons and pull offs, staccato playing as well as slides (which weren’t used in the examples above but are also a very effective phrasing technique).

While creating your guitar licks, try to think in terms of melody as much as possible. If you’re finding this difficult this article on guitar scale sequences will help you learn scales in a way you can get a lot of ideas from.

Another reason why guitar scale sequences are very important is ear training. After you practice them for a while, you start knowing what sound will come out from each note of the scale before you actually play it.

This makes life way easier when coming up with guitar licks, solos or improvising.

Step 3: Play your licks in the right places.

The guitar solo, is the time for you to shine. As the name suggests, the rest of the music is just backing you while your solo takes most of the attention from the listener.

Guitar licks will make you stand out and shine, but their role is usually to complement other people’s playing by injecting a melody, rather than attract all the attention on themselves.

For instance, though this is not a hard and fast rule, a good place to insert guitar licks is while the singer is breathing between his melodic phrases.

If you listen to this song by B.B.King for instance you will notice that though at times he plays long guitar solos, at times guitar licks as short as one note, fill in spaces through his singing.

Apart from using common sense in your judgement of where to insert your guitar licks, you need also to make sure you’re playing in the using the right scales.

This lesson improvising on guitar will help you choose which scales to use with the music that is playing in the background.

Conclusion

The ability to play good guitar licks at the right time will make you stand out as a musician, even more than being able to play guitar fast.

Always keep in mind that your guitar licks are there to enrich the music, not drown it.

Use them with care, and always make sure they fully complement the music they’re intended to make better.


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