Let’s start with a small explanation of what a guitar licks is, then I’ll clarify the Why and the How.
A guitar lick is a phrase (a short musical idea) made up of a series of notes that you can use and incorporate into your soloing and improvisation. You can also see it as a small part or fragment of an entire solo. Good licks can add magic, excitement and drama to your solos.
Learning, memorizing, dissecting, rebuilding and incorporating licks into your playing is such a great investment in your guitar learning process. It will enhance and expand your soloing in many ways.
The variety of licks is infinite. They come in all shapes & sizes, styles, moods, tempos, timings, keys and levels of playing, so it’s important that you learn why and how to use them.
WHY YOU SHOULD LEARN GUITAR LICKS
1 – Building technique and dexterity.
Licks are perfect training tools to develop the dexterity and flexibility you need to able to solo and improvise.
2 – Acquiring inspiration.
Learning new licks will lead to inspiration and more brilliant musical ideas. You learn licks and then learn from the licks. You use the notes, turn them around, upside down, take some notes out of the licks, put some new ones in there and create your own ideas from those licks. You need input to create output!
3 – Building a vocabulary.
You can see licks as words to build sentences. Building a vocabulary of fancy, cruel, light hearted, fast, slow, elegant, brutal, daring and lovely licks will give you the freedom to express yourself. With phrasing you can determine the emotion of those words to create an exciting story line.
4 – Learning and understanding new insights.
Now and then you’ll learn a new lick that will make your mind blow. It will give you insight in different ways to shape melody and bring new life to your improvisation.
It could be a great timing or phrasing idea that will open up new doors to your soloing. Also observing and analyzing the licks of your favorite guitar player will give an idea of the style, techniques and musical approach.
5 – Sounding original and fresh.
Learn different kinds of licks and learn to think and play outside of the box. Learn licks, then dissect, shake ‘m up, rebuild and incorporate them into your soloing. Influences from different guitar players and styles will make your soloing sound fresh, bold and interesting to listen to.
6 – Learning how to apply soloing ideas to a particular scale.
Each scale shape has it’s own mood, charm and approach to soloing. Licks can give you ideas how to use a particular scale shape for improvisation and how to create lovely melodies and produce cool sounds with that scale shape.
HOW TO USE GUITAR LICKS
It’s great to learn and build a vocabulary of licks, but you need to do more than just practicing licks for the sake of practicing. You want to know how to use them properly and apply them to get the most out of your licks. Let’s see how you can do that.
1 – Know the scale and the key
Knowing the scale and the key of a lick is essential to incorporate the lick into your playing. Know it and you can apply it. Practice a lick and the scale that goes with it.
2 – Learn your licks in every key.
Learning licks in different keys is really important. Don’t assume when you’ve learned a lick you can automatically play it in every key. Licks feel different when you go higher up or lower down the neck. Learn your lick in different positions to get comfortable around the entire fretboard.
3 – Copy and dissect.
Copy licks from every guitar player you know, but don’t copy them verbatim. Rip them apart, leave out notes, add other notes, use hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, vibrato, bending and create your own sounds, melodies and ideas from those licks.
4 – Connect and combine.
Practice connecting and combining your licks with other licks and ideas. Learning how to glue your musical phrases together is the key to create a entire solo and be able to improvise.
5 – Practice with jam tracks
Once you know how to play a particular lick start practicing it over a backing track to work on timing, tempo, feel and rhythm. Knowing how to play a lick and playing it over a backing track are two different things. Practice them both!
6 – Incorporate
If you don’t apply your licks to the field, they will soon vanish into thin air and you will forget what you’ve learned. Incorporate your licks into your daily soloing and improvisation practice. Make it a habit to learn and apply. Make it stick!
Practice with eagerness and curiosity!
~ Klaus Crow