Do you struggle to play great lead guitar licks? Chances are you're making the same mistake as most guitarists: You add extra notes to your licks in order to cover up your lack of guitar phrasing skill. To make your lead guitar playing sound great, you must understand how to play every single note in your licks with as much expression as possible.
As you already know from reading the first part of this great lead guitar licks article series - you can add power and intensity to your lead guitar phrases by accenting the final note in your licks. 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).
Step One: Think of a guitar lick that contains only a few ‚Äòslow' 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 Two: After watching the video above, you saw (and heard) that the main techniques used to enhance the guitar lick were:
Come up with no less than ten unique variations of your lead guitar phrase by emphasizing only the first note in your lick with any combination of the above three techniques. For the time being, keep the other notes in your phrase exactly the same as when you made it.
Remember: do note change any of the pitches of your guitar phrase - only change the way you approach using the above techniques to play the first note. 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 Three: 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.
After you are done with this process, you will have come up with ten different ways to change the sound the notes in the guitar lick you created from step one.
Step Four: Now that you have made changes to the phrasing of each separate note in your guitar lick, begin changing the guitar phrase as a whole (to make new versions/variations of it) using the same process. To do this, simply combine together the different ideas you came up with in the previous steps. You should have tons of options/combinations to choose from after following the instructions of steps one through three. 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.
You might be wondering why I did not begin this exercise by telling you to simply do step four after step one. Here is why I did this:
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. Unless you are an advanced guitar player (or have already learned how to improve your guitar phrasing technique from a great teacher) you would probably miss out on the full value of this exercise because you would stop prematurely (after only thinking of a few variations for your lick). It is for this reason that I told you to make at least ten different variations per note in your guitar lick.
These are the two main reasons why performing the previous steps are essential for making progress to develop your guitar phrasing skills:
1. You learn and understand exactly how to make any guitar lick sound killer regardless of the notes you are using.
2. This exercise will keep your guitar licks from becoming overrun with excess notes that do not sound interesting and are merely being used to cover up poor phrasing. By breaking this habit, you will see drastic improvement in all of the lead guitar phrases you play.
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. Study the playing in this great rock guitar licks video to get more ideas for how to improve your lead guitar playing.
3. Use these lead guitarist phrasing resources to learn many new approaches you can use to create new guitar licks.
4. Find an expert guitar instructor who can show you the best way to express yourself when you create lead guitar licks. Then work together with that teacher to identify and achieve your highest musical goals.
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.