How To Create Endless Original Guitar Licks On The Pentatonic Scale
How to Add Licks to a Blues Riff
The blues are a guitarist's medium. Known for soulful playing and emotional, rocking solos, the blues are filled with spots for a guitarist to show their chops. A lick is simply a short phrase or collection of notes. When multiple licks are strung together, you have a solo. More commonly, however, a blues lick is simply an accent on the song -- a tasty collection of notes that gives flavor and emotion to a verse or chorus.
Improvising Your Own Licks
Playing guitar licks is not necessarily the first skill you need to pick up when playing the blues. Before launching into the nitty-gritty of improvising your own licks, you should consider reviewing:
Experiment on the pentatonic blues scale to start adding lead licks.At the end of the day, anything played in the right key in the pentatonic blues scale, will sound good over a basic blues track. If you're first starting out, simply play a blues track and start fiddling around with your scale. What note combinations sound good to you? Where are good places for big, dramatic bends or slides? Remember -- the blues is about personal expression, so just be yourself and start playing.
- If you've never improvised before, try to erase the desire to make everything sound good. This process is about making mistakes and taking risks, then keeping the bits and licks that sounded great.
Play your licks to fill in spaces left by the singer or other instruments, not on top of them.A great guitar lick slides into the song and gets out without muddling other instruments or the singer. A good way to think about this is the classic "call and response" blues format, where you use your guitar to "talk" with the singer or other players. Just like you would never talk over someone else, try not to play over them.
- In the twelve bar blues, you most frequently have space during the 4th, 8th, and 11th & 12th bars, as they are the turnaround measures.
Follow the chord changes when beginning riffs, matching your first note to the chord.Take a standard 12-bar blues in E, for example. The progression, through the twelve bars, is E-E-E-E-A-A-E-E-B-A-E-B. Knowing this, you should try and hit the root notes whenever that measure begins, basing your riff around the chord in the measure. Find all the root notes of your song before beginning, using them as a road map for the rest of the song.
- Learn the rhythm guitar part for your song as well -- knowing the chord changes forwards and backwards will make you a much better player overall.
Adapting Blues Licks into Your Playing
Use single-note lines in the last measure before a chord change.A single-note line is when you just play multiple individual notes one after the other -- it is not a solo made up of only one note. After hitting your few chords, or listening to the rhythm player/singer hit them, you can play 5-6 notes from the pentatonic scale, any notes, for a screaming "mini solo." A good solid bend, ending on the next chord to get out of your lick and into the next measure is always welcome in the blues.
Create excitement in your play by dropping to the high-pitched notes after deep power chords.This interplay between low and high creates tension and excitement in your licks. Look at the following riff, for example, which uses a deep E power chord to jump into some squealing, bluesy notes.
- e |-------0-0-0---------------------------|
- e |-------0-0-0---------------------------|
Try some hybrid picking to get extra notes and tones into your playing.Pick the 1st and 3rd strings with the pinky and ring finger of your strumming hand. It is a great way to alternate deep notes that you pick normally (like the 6th and 5th string) while juxtaposing higher pitched licks and notes into the solo. Really talented players can hold power chords up top, then use hybrid picking to add licks to their own rhythm playing. To practice, try the lick above with hybrid picking.
Use an arpeggiated seventh chord to get through the turnaround.Arpeggiated simply means you pick every note individually instead of strumming. Hitting the V chord, right before the song comes around to the root, and picking each note slowly throughout this final measure, is a slick little lick out of the twelfth bar. In the key of E, this final chord is a B. Make it a B7 for your final lick:
- Note:You can do this with any turnaround in any key, as long as you know what the final chord is.
Focus on great note selection, not just fast playing, to really learn the blues.A great blues lick is not necessarily the speediest playing, nor is it the most flashy. Look, for example, at B.B. King-- he could play as fast as anyone, yet the crowds go the wildest over 1-2 well-bent, well-placed notes. The blues is about feel and emotion. So put some thought into every note to really improve. Think about using:
- Bends:Bent notes are essential for blues playing, as they give the emotion and power needed to really make your notes stand out.
- Vibrato:Bending a note back and forth, "shaking" it, gives it a warbly, bluesy tone that makes the note stand out.
- Slides:A slide up or down the neck is a great way to make the guitar "whine" getting high and emotional. It is also a good way to move quickly through the scale.
Video: Add Licks To The Blues Riff - Blues Guitar Lesson #11
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