How To Play Great Lead Guitar Licks (Continued)

By Tom Hess

Think that creating great lead guitar licks is hard? Fact is, it is much easier than you might first expect. All you need to do is follow this fundamental principle: “Get as much expression out of every note as you can”. This may sound too simple to be effective, but when you use this approach it will totally transform your lead guitar playing forever... and I’m going to show you how in this article.

After reading the first part in this two part series about how to create guitar licks – you can greatly increase the expressive quality of your guitar phrases by emphasizing the final note with ornamental techniques. After practicing the exercise in the first article, you have now seen the BIG difference it makes in your lead guitar phrasing. If you missed that article, watch the video below about how to play lead guitar licks, then read through the exercise in the article itself and apply the concepts into your playing.

Now you are going to learn how to get the most emotion possible out of all remaining notes from your lead guitar licks. Keep in mind that you can use the following guitar phrasing exercise even if you did not read the first half of this article already. However, do not skip watching the video above (this is necessary for understanding the ideas being used).

Guitar Phrasing Exercise – How To Make Endless New Guitar Licks

Step 1: Think of a guitar lick that contains only a few ‘slow’ notes. For example, use less than 5 notes with only quarter or eighth note rhythms. Do not make your phrase too fast, otherwise you will not be able to hear the subtleties emphasized in the next steps of this exercise. Additionally, it is important that you don’t make your phrase very long either because playing a lot of notes will take away from your ability to focus on the sound of each individual note. After you have come up with a guitar lick that fits the above criteria, continue on with the next step.

Step 2: After watching the video above, you saw (and heard) that the main techniques used to enhance the guitar lick were:

  • Bends
  • Vibrato
  • Slides

You must now focus on enhancing the ‘first’ note (ONLY) of the guitar phrase you thought of using the techniques listed above. Think of at least ten different variations using this approach. Keep the other pitches in your guitar lick the same for the time being.
Remember: you need to keep all of the pitches in your guitar lick the same (don’t add any new ones at this point) – you are only changing the way you ‘play’ the first note in your phrase. If you are able to record yourself while you are playing, do this and listen back to yourself so you can make subtle improvements to your approach. If you cannot record yourself, still continue through this exercise anyway. As you continue thinking of new variations, you will notice your guitar phrasing skills increasing. This is because you are forcing yourself to think creatively since you cannot change the pitch of the notes in your lick. As a result, your guitar lick will sound infinitely more expressive than the way it sounded when you first began in step one. Also, don’t get caught up on trying to keep track of every single variation you think of (this is not the point of the exercise). Instead, continue working through the process of training yourself to get the most expression possible out of every note you play.
In this step, make at minimum ten new variations on the first note of the phrase (ideally make twenty or more). This is not as difficult as you might think, so keep pushing forward to come up with new ideas.

Step 3: Use the same process described in the previous step on each of the other notes in your guitar lick. Go through this process in a note-by-note fashion. When you create variations on any of the middle notes in your lick (by emphasizing it), play the other notes in the same way you did when you first created the phrase OR by using one of the variations you came up with in the previous step.

Make sure that you focus most of your attention on the single note you are emphasizing. Do not let the other notes distract you at this point.

Once you are done with this step, you will have created ten or more methods for adding variation to the sound of every note from your original guitar phrase.

Step 4: When you have finished creating variations for each note of your guitar phrase individually, start playing variations of the phrase as a whole. Accomplish this by making combinations of any of the ideas you came up with from the previous steps of this exercise. After taking the time to think of ten or more variations for each note, you should have TONS of ideas to select from. CRUCIAL: you must not add extra notes to your lick in this guitar phrasing exercise... only focus on getting the maximum possible expression from each note in your original phrase.

So why did I not simply begin this exercise by giving you the instructions for step four after step one?
A. The majority of guitarists will naturally want to emphasize only the beginning and ending notes of the phrase while ignoring the notes in between. This common mistake in guitar phrasing frequently results in mediocre lead guitar licks.
B. Assuming you are not already an advanced guitarist (or are learning from a great instructor about guitar phrasing) you most likely would have stopped trying to think of new variations after thinking of only a few. As a result, you would lose a lot of the value in this exercise. This is why I told you to create ten new variations for every note in your guitar lick.
Why Does This Guitar Phrasing Exercise Add A Lot Of Value To Your Lead Guitar Playing?
Here are the two main reasons why the exercise above is crucial for helping you become a better lead guitarist:
1. You learn and understand exactly how to make any guitar lick sound killer regardless of the notes you are using.
2. It forces you to focus on making every note a GREAT note in your lead guitar playing by preventing you from covering up phrasing mistakes with ‘extra notes’.
What You Should Do Now
1. Practice this exercise consistently by using the concepts above on every new lick you learn. Keep doing this until it feels totally natural and easy to implement.
2. Practice the exercise in this cool rock guitar licks video to become a better lead guitarist.
3. Get lead guitar help to learn how to improve your guitar phrasing and play great solos.
4. Find a great guitar teacher who can help you learn the best methods for playing lead guitar with maximum expression. Then study with that teacher to quickly reach your guitar playing goals.

Author's Bio: 

About The Author:
Tom Hess is a professional recording artist, composer, and expert guitar instructor. He teaches and trains guitarists how to become great musicians in his online rock guitar lessons. Visit to receive additional free guitar playing resources and to read more guitar articles.