Incorporating Guitar Licks Naturally into Your Playing

Today we will look at some quick and effective methods to make your guitar licks sound natural and spontaneous. Scroll down for the audio examples.

Students often ask whether a solo should comprise of recited licks, or just spontaneous improvisation. My answer is that I believe most good solos are a combination of both. If we use the analogy of learning to speak, we ‘stole’ vocabulary from our parents and people around us before making it our own. Learning the language of music is much like this, and it is an important step to copy others before turning that vocabulary into something unique to ourselves.

In fact, you will find this the fastest way to learn to play and improve on the guitar… There is no point reinventing the wheel just yet!

The following exercise will teach you to incorporate any line you wish into your unique playing style and help you to make your guitar licks sound natural.We will focus on just one lick, making it part of our own vocabulary while also working on our spontaneous improvisation skills.

Look at the following guitar lick taken from the A Blues Scale shape 1:

Figure and audio example a.

The idea is to use the lick to ‘set up’ our own unique answering phrase. In other words, view the lick as a question to which you will be providing an answer. Thousands of great guitar solos are structured in a question/answer format as it gives melodic strength to the music and keeps the listener engaged and guessing.

Begin by playing the lick as written over the first 2 bars… then, play whatever comes into your head to form some kind of answering phrase. This can be a challenging task at first and one which can make us self-conscious, but trust your ears and stick to simple Blues Scale ideas and the answers will start to come.

As you develop confidence with the previous exercise, try switching the idea around. Instead of using the lick as a question use it as an answer. Your task now is to set up the lick with your own improvisation in the first 2 bars. This is shown below:

Figure and audio example b.

This is a little trickier because you don’t have an initial phrase to ‘bounce’ off, but it is a fantastic exercise to develop the melodic strength of your improvised lines. You are forced to be in control of where you take the melody in readiness for a set answer. Imagine you are an improvisational comedian with one or two ‘set piece’ jokes in your set. You need to naturally lead the audience to the start of each joke. This sort of guitar practice really helps to make your guitar licks sound natural.

Make Your Guitar Licks Sound Natural – The Most Effective Method:

Finally, we can combine the above two approaches in the following exercise, where you lead into the lick and lead out of it:

Figure and audio example c

Check out the audio here:

Make your guitar licks sound natural Audio Example 9a – 9c

This is the exercise to really help your licks sound natural and uncontrived. You are aiming for an extremely smooth transition between your own initial improvisation, the lick and then the answering phrase. If you really want to make your rock guitar licks sound natural when you are soloing, this exercise will give you some of the greatest benefits.