A few weeks back, I wrote about my thoughts on the two camps regarding licks that most guitarists seem to settle in, and how I felt the best approach was to find a happy medium between the two. You can read it all here.
As a quick recap, I think it's essential to learn ideas from other musicians, but I feel as though it is just as vital to make them your own. In this way, you come from a tradition that came before you, giving your musical ideas context, and some background for your ideas. Experimenting with them, however, is what gives you your own voice and expression, so you don't end up sounding like a robot churning out licks exactly as you had learned them.
In this week's blog, I want to take a simple blues idea, and show you the different things we can do to make it your own. Obviously, the possibilities are endless, but these will hopefully spark a few ideas, and show you how simple our approach to this can be.
Here's the starting lick:
Not too hard, huh? This one might be a challenge for some folks starting out, but I wanted to keep it pretty simple.
The first thing we can do, before we try anything fancy. is just to ornament it how you choose. What do I mean by this? Whatever technique you think sounds cool, sounds cool to you because you like it, and it's part of your developing style. Maybe add some slides! A strong vibrato, perhaps! Hammer-ons and pull-offs? Why not? These are things that really make some players stick out from others. In fact, a lot of experienced listeners can identify a guitarist just by how they play or bend one note!
Now the lick above is pretty vanilla, and you'll probably run into some licks that already have some ornamentation, but that doesn't mean you have to do those as well. Learn how someone else approaches a lick, and see if you agree. It's perfecly alright if you don't! It's all about personalization. Here's just some things I added off the top of my head:
Already this lick starts to sound a little more personal. My ideas could be dramatically different than yours, and that's great! Experiment with your own ornamentations; again, the possibilities are endless!
Now, let's see what type of personality this lick takes on if we just experiment with the rhythm a bit:
This simple change might inspire you to use this lick in a totally new way! Also notice how the rhythmic changes also inspired slightly different ornamentations for me.
Now let's see this lick completely transform when I just add a few notes, and replace another.
All I did was take a few notes and repeat them, and then replace the last note with a higher one, and this idea takes on a whole new meaning. Now imagine if you did all of the above steps with this new lick! After awhile, you can have ideas all your own that don't even resemble what you originally learned! This process can be a lot easier than starting from scratch though.
Finally, let's see what happens if we take the idea of the original lick, and start it on another note. Now, this doesn't require a great deal of analysis. All you have to do is try to figure out which scale this lick is in (it's in A minor pentatonic like most licks you'll learn as a guitarist) and then objectively look at the patterns. So for this lick we:
-Start on a note
-Go up 3 more notes in the scale, without skipping any
-Go backwards until we get back to our starting note
-Go up one more note in the scale
That's it! So what does that sound like if we start that pattern on another note of the scale? Like this:
That little difference can inspire tons of new ideas! What happens if we try this with a different key? What about a different scale completely?
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what you can do!
Yes, you should learn licks, but use ideas like these to then make them your own. Rather than learning 10 licks from someone else, try to learn one, and then MAKE 10 out of it! It will turn you into a great musician, and most of all, is very fun.
Any questions or anything you'd like to add? Feel free to leave comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Guitar Instructor, Co-Owner
Falls Music School