Guitar Licks Essentials: Learn, Create, Use

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 begin creating your own guitar licks, learn a few of these short melodic phrases.

Not only will these help you understand the concept and role of a guitar lick, but they will also provide you with numerous ideas for creating 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.

Aside from the guitar licks you’ll learn here, you should listen to your favorite rock or blues songs, find the guitar tabs, and learn the licks.

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 come from the A minor pentatonic scale. In Step 3, I will explain which scale you should use, where.

Guitar lick 1:

Tabs created with Guitar Pro

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 around.

Guitar lick 2:

In the following lick, we’ll be playing something entirely different. 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.

Choose a few notes and compose a simple melody, as shown in the examples above. Phrasing techniques such as string bending, vibrato, hammer ons and pull offs, staccato playing, and slides are just as important as the notes you choose.

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 of 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 of 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 to 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 blues guitar licks as short as one note, fill in spaces through his singing.

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


The ability to play good guitar licks at the right time will set you apart as a guitarist even more than the ability to play 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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