Giving Guitar Licks Smooth and Musical Transitions

It can be difficult to make guitar licks smooth and natural sounding, but the ideas discussed in this lesson will help you achieve a musical and exciting shift between your vocabulary.

When we solo, it is normal and desirable to subtly[1] lead in and out of a phrase with the techniques described in this guitar technique lesson.

Slowly, and confidently, say the word ‘Hey’ out loud, speaking from your chest. Notice how the ‘H’ takes a few milliseconds to form in your chest and throat before the sound comes out of your mouth? Also, if you’re sitting in a quiet space, listen carefully to the end of the note. It doesn’t end immediately as the sound bounces around the room.

It is those natural phenomena that we seek to recreate with each phrase that we play on the guitar. Doing so will give your phrases a musical, vocal quality, setting you apart from most other players.

To flow into lines, it is common to slide from below into the first note of the phrase. Study this line from my book The CAGED System and 100 Licks for Blues Guitar, but first listen to the accompanying audio track for this lesson:

The above blues lick in ‘A’ is written out and played with no decoration. We will be using it as a workhorse to describe the techniques in this chapter, so learn it thoroughly.

To begin making our guitar licks smooth, let’s approach the first note with a small slide from below. Put your finger on the 8th fret on the string, and quickly slide into the first note of the lick. I have repeated this idea on beat 4 of the 2nd bar, sliding into the 9:

Experiment by sliding into the first note from further away for a more pronounced effect. For example:

Often sliding into a note is notated just as a slur line into the first note of the phrase.

To mimic the room echo, we can slide off from the notes at the end of each phrase. This is essentially the reverse of sliding in but we need to tail off the note correctly. It’s a subtle technique to make your guitar licks smooth where you gradually reduce the pressure of your finger on the string during the slide.

The best way to practice this is to play a single note on the 12th fret, and slide quickly towards the nut. You’ll soon figure out how to ‘kill’ the note before you reach the open string.

The example phrase now sounds like this:

It normally sounds great to add in some wide vibrato before sliding out of a phrase:

If you have a tremolo arm on your guitar, try sliding out of the phrase all the way to the open string, (don’t let the sustain on the note die). As you let the open string sound, slowly depress the bar to make your guitar licks smooth and for an extremely modern sound.

Compare exercise 36e with 36a. Listen to how 36e flows as one complete musical phrase.

To expand on this concept and learn 100 new and original rock guitar licks, check out my new book, Rock Guitar Un-CAGED.