How to Play 4 Guitar Licks

BB King
American blues artist McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, circa 1979
Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

­Whether you want to bring down the house with country music, rock or blues, a guitar lick will create the desired effect. Licks, also known as riffs in many musical genres, are arresting little arrangements of notes and chords that give guitar songs and solos their punch. Licks augment guitarists' musical vocabularies and allow them to create their own combinations.

Guitar riffs come in all flavors and combinations. Maybe you want to bend the strings like Muddy Waters, the quintessential bluesman, or play a haunting melodic line from Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary?" Perhaps you've always wanted to emulate the style of the Beatles. If you already know your way around a guitar and want to learn some new licks, this s­eries of video ­tutorials is just what you're looking for.


­This four-part "Lick of ­the Week" series demonstrates guitar licks in a range of levels and styles, starting with a chromatic lick and ending with a Charlie Parker-style jazz riff. After you've mastered each one, you'll get the chance to try out the techniques you've learned on famous songs from Rush and the Beatles.

Click over to the next page to try your hand at a chromatic lick using the Dorian mode.



Lick # 1: Playing Chromatic Notes and the Dorian Mode on Guitar

This first video takes a look at a chromatic lick in A minor using the Dorian mode. The Dorian mode is a subset of the major scale, which, in turn, falls within the chromatic scale. The chromatic scale is the mother of all scales; it includes all twelve notes, or pitches, in the Western musical scale.

Once you've tried out this lick in the keys of A, D and G, apply what you've learned to Rush's "The Spirit of Radio" and then head over to the next page for a taste of the blues.­


Lick # 2: Playing the Blues and the Beatles on Guitar

This video will show you how to play a standard blues lick in the key of E.

Your instructor will help you find your bearings on the second string, show you the hammer-on and pull-off techniques, and play a riff over dominant seventh and minor chords.


After you've licked this musical phrase, you'll find out a little bit about the history of the Beatles ­song "Revolution" and how to play a riff from it. Once you've got the blues and the Beatles in the bag, check out the video on the next page to learn a lick that will spic­e up your solo.

Lick # 3: A Funky Guitar Riff

­This third lick has a little more attitude than the previous two. It lends itself best to a fusion or funk style and adds contrast to a solo. Many solos are played in a typical way, but this lick shows you how to break up the monotony using rhythmic displacement and chromatic notes.

Check out this video to see how to play this funky lick over the D minor, A minor and E minor chords using fi­nger pivoting, sliding and bending techniques. Try these techniques out on Rush's "Limelight" and then jazz up your routine with the final lick­ on the next page.


Lick # 4: All That Jazz (and How To Play It)

The previous licks cover blues and funk, but no collection would be complete without a jazz riff. The riff in this video follows the style of Charlie Parker, a legendary American jazz saxophonist known for his improvisational solos.

In this segment, you'll practice the slide, hammer-on, pull-off and other techniques. You'll also take­ a look at the combinations behind the Beatles song "Day Tripper" and try them out for yourself.


With these four licks under your belt, you'll be able to impress your friends, and you might even be inspired to create your own riffs.

Can't get enough of all things guitar? Check out the links on the next page to feed your curiosity.