Top 10 Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Guitar Licks Part 1
Written by Steven Martin (Steven Martin Guitar)
We all hear about them, 'Lick of the week', 'Lick of the day', 'here's this week's free lick', check out this 'rad Dorian lick'. Guitar licks are everywhere! Due to popular demand and great feedback we have recently been releasing some REALLY great 20 licks packs that are crammed with great content, but instead of just learning some awesome and obscure lick that you may never play again and moving on, have you ever considered trying to squeeze EVERY last bit of value you can from each and every lick? Below are our 'Top 10 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Guitar Licks':
Learn the same lick all over the neck - This first one may seem basic, but that's because it needs to be! You should first aim to be able to play the lick in the SAME octave in as many different places as you can. The guitar fretboard is laid out in a wondrous fashion, making plenty of notes available in any position. This means you can play the same lick in the same octave in different places, but you can also start in the same place and then switch to a new position in the middle of the lick. Certain neck positions and variations in note positions will present different challenges to you; certain string sets will be more difficult to work with. There may also be times when a change of technique may be cool to try, such as string skipping a lick that previously used sweep picking. As you play the lick in various places, try to visualise the 'parent' scale or chord/arpeggio. This will both help you remember the lick, and help you to formulate similar licks when you come to use that position while improvising. The extension of this is to then transpose the lick up or down an octave and repeat the same method of playing it everywhere you can. It may seem like a dull approach but if you really work on this for EVERY lick, you'll open up a whole world of fretboard freedom.
Learn the lick in familiar AND unfamiliar keys - This is very important because you will probably not always use the same key for every track. Learning the lick in a familiar key makes perfect sense because you want the lick to be available to you while you are improvising and playing. If you love playing in that classic 5th fret A minor position then you need to find a logical fingering for your lick in this position. Moving to unfamiliar keys is usually an easy task on guitar... it's just a case of moving all the notes together up or down the frets to match the new key. Learning to play the lick in many different keys is going to help solidify the lick in your mind. The goal here is to aim to be able to play the lick at ANY given moment, regardless of which key you might be playing in.
Learn how the notes relate to the underlying chord - This is going to help you BIG TIME with improvising, for three reasons. Firstly, it will give you a more thorough understanding of exactly which notes you are playing and why. For example if you know which notes you are playing in relation to the chord (root, 3rd, 9th etc) you instantly have more control over your playing. You hear the sound of the notes, learn their names and how they relate to the chord, and you can then access those sounds when you want them. For example, take a lick that highlights the 9th over a minor 7 chord. Once you know what is happening to create this sound, you then know what to do when you wish to call upon that particular sound again. Secondly, this links with the first tip, increasing your fretboard/chord knowledge. Try not to just learn licks as patterns... if the first note is E, is it the root of the scale? Or the 5th... or the 3rd? Thirdly, if you know how a lick fits with one chord, you can figure out how to change it for other chords; which leads us to our next top tip!
Learn how to play Major/Minor/Dominant versions of the same lick - Using your knowledge of how the lick relates to a chord, you can now alter it to fit other chords. Let's say your lick works over a major chord and uses notes from the major scale. The major scale is built from the root, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th (in C, this is C D E F G A B). Now lets say that we want to play a minor version of the same lick. In the natural minor (Aeolian) scale the 3rd, 6th and 7th are lowered (flat), so if your lick contains the notes E, A or B, you need to change them to Eb, Ab and Bb. The same lick pattern will now work over a C minor chord. In some cases, you can leave the A notes... this creates a Dorian sound. Experiment!
For dominant, the only note you need to change is the 7th... shift the B to Bb, and your lick will now work over a C7 chord. With this basic principle you can change your lick to fit a wide range of scales and modes.
Reuse/Recycle the Lick - This can be quite a fun one to mess around with. Try focusing on the rhythm of the lick, using the same rhythm but adding your own choice of notes. Or focus on the melodic shape, looking at when the melody goes up or down. Effectively we did this when we changed/altered our licks to create major/minor versions. You can be as exact or vague as you like. For example if the original lick went 'down down down up' then you can take that same pattern but use different sized intervals. This can give you some very interesting results!
So that is the first 5 tips of our top 10 tips for trying to get the very most out of a single guitar lick. Be sure to stay tuned for part two where we'll go through the final 5 tips! You can subscribe to our mailing list at the very bottom of the page to be notified of our releases and future blog posts (including the second of this series).
P.S - Part 2 can now be found here.
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