How To Write Face Melting Guitar Licks – Alien Guitar Secrets
How To Write Face Melting Guitar Licks

How To Write Face Melting Guitar Licks

How to Write Face Melting Licks

By Rob Lobasso  

 What do these famous guitarists all have in common? Their faces have melted because of the humble guitar lick. 'boom, tish':)

 Ok. I hear you. Lame joke,  so i'll stick to my day job. 

So what’s a guitar lick, and how do I write a 'face melter'

Well, according to Wikipedia, a lick is "a stock pattern or phrase" consisting of a short series of notes used in solos and melodic lines and accompaniment. Licks in rock and roll are often used through a formula, and variations technique in which variants of simple, stock ideas are blended and developed during the solo’.

Riveting huh? Not! …a stock pattern or phrase true, but there has to be a way to manipulate any pattern and make it exciting for it to be regarded as face melting, right?!

Well in this week’s blog post, I’m going to share a couple of insights and give you a few pointers as to how to begin creating those catchy, sought after, killer guitar licks for yourself.

So, let’s get started.

Writing your own licks isn’t as hard you might think. It can be challenging, but for me that’s where the joy is. Coming up with something that is both catchy and melodic, a musical phrase that can stand on its own is a very creative and gratifying process. And once that fresh lick is embedded and under your fingers, it is so satisfying to play, that you just have to incorporate it into every piece of music until you write the next one.


Using Technique and Dynamics to Re-shape a Musical Phrase Idea (Lick)

    Have a look at figure 1. below. You will see a simple lick which doesn’t really have that much going for it, except for the triplet feel and the vibrato on the last note.  It only uses 4 notes, those being B - A – G & E. It's a pretty standard issue lick, and one that exemplifies the Wikipedia description above.  

    Fig 1. E minor Lick Pattern 1

    But let’s say I want to get this average lick that a million people can play right this moment (fig 1.), and knock it out of the ball park, by re-working the lick. Not changing the overall integrity of the lick, but by really thinking about the phrasing, any other potential techniques and dynamic range I could use to spice it up somewhat, to make it ‘pop’ and become a feature. How might I go about it?

    Now, the parameter I set for myself in this case is that I have to keep the integrity of the initial lick. That means I can play with how I reach the notes in sequence (B – A -G & E), but I can’t play with the timing otherwise the integrity of the lick has been compromised.

    So, let’s look at figure 2. below. I started with bending the A note on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string to reach our first destination note of B. Then I tapped an octave above on the 14th fret with the string still bent from the 2nd fret, thus creating a B note in the octave position. I then release the bend with the tap finger on the 14th fret descending to an A note. A pull off is now executed down to the 12th fret of the 3rd string, which is a G note. Finally, I bend the 15th fret on the 2nd string (D) a whole tone until it reaches E, which is my final destination note for the lick.

    Fig 2. E Minor Lick Pattern 2

    I think if you study both examples closely you will understand that my approach is really quite simple.

    I thought about the various techniques one could apply in this situation given the notes at hand (bending, tapping, vibrato & pull offs to create a softer, more fluid sound). I thought about their dynamic range (using octaves to widen the voicing range). However, I kept the overall timing integrity of the initial lick (fig 1.).


    Writing a Lick Using Rhythm


    Another way of creating killer guitar licks is to listen to a drummers’ fills. Yep. You heard right. You want to learn how to create lick by listening to the rhythmic patterns contained within a drummers’ fills. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderfully easy this trick is.

    Because you’re taking only the rhythmic aspect of a percussive fill, it allows to incorporate that rhythm over any note selection and technique. It really a money for jam kind of affair. Every drummer is different, but they all have fills ranging from the very simple to incredibly complex patterns.

    Now if you take my first approach of intentionally spicing up the note selection of any lick with various techniques, such as bending, sliding, taps hammer-ons etc. and combine with timing of a rhythmic percussive fill, you will hit ‘pay dirt’.


    Below (fig 3.) is a very basic drumming fill utilising a triplet feel over some high hats and finale on snare, using a triplet left, right hand technique

    Fig 3. Drummers fill


    And now if we incorporate a note selection and combine said notes and techniques with the drummers fill (fig 3) we have now created our own perfectly crafted, on time lick (fig 4.).

     Fig 4. Drummers Fill Lick


    We have to address the face melting part.

    Well that's the easiest part. Grab the lick, the phrase and the note, by the proverbial, hold on tight and give it everything you got. The guys above always gave and give their all and have never held back on their expenditure of energy, ever! That's one of the best kept secrets.

    So, I hope I have helped you gain a better understanding in the art of lick building. Please, if you have any questions or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email.

    Happy lick writing, and until next time,




    Alien Guitar Secrets   

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