Why do guitarists love to learn “licks?”
I have a theory…
When you learn a lick you get this instant feeling of making progress. A few moments ago you didn't know the lick. Now you do. That’s progress.
Unless it’s your first day learning how to solo… you (probably) don’t need more licks.
There’s a “forgotten” skill that few guitar players I meet seem to know about practicing. (Or even bother to practice.)
But it’s the same skill that makes your jaw hit the flaw when you watch a great musician play. And how they seem to “effortlessly” flow all around their fretboard in a way that makes you want to quit guitar sometimes.
(Sure, some of these guitar plays DO know lots of licks… but it’s what they do with them that counts.)
So what is the skill?
It’s what I call “lick adaptation.”
Let me explain…
Lick adaptation is all about changing HOW you play something. (I’ll give you some food for thought in just a moment.) But let’s do a little experiment…
You see, if I learn a lick… I can play it one way. Over one chord. In one context. My ability to use this lick is very low. What if the key changes? What if I’m playing over a different style? Etc.
What if I took that same lick and played it backwards?
That’s a second lick I now know without needing to learn anything new.
What if I changed some of the notes around? Depending on the length of the lick… I may get another two to ten new ways to play my original lick.
What about if I try to play it somewhere else on my fretboard by moving the notes around? That could be another four or five (at least) ways to play it.
And the list goes on.
So how many licks do I have now?
Just from writing that… I now have (a VERY conservative) seventeen new ways to play it. What that means is I have seventeen licks I can play… but I only had to learn ONE.
Talk about getting more bang for your buck.
We haven’t even talked about changing keys yet. Or how to make it fit a different mode. Or changing the rhythm. The time signature. Making your lick “fit” over a different chord.
None of that stuff.
You see, guitar players rarely need to learn “new licks.” What’s needed is to go a level deeper and understand how to edit and adapt your lick to a new environment.
This is what any great guitar player can do in my book. (That might be different for you.)
Before I go I’ll leave you with one quote from Bruce Lee…
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
How might that apply to your licks?