Spanish Guitar Lick

Lick 008 Spanish Guitar

This lick really isn’t a ‘lick’ – it’s more of a template you can use to create your own licks. Look closely at the lick and you will see that it’s simply a three note repeating pattern with the bass note moving up a scale. The idea behind this lick is to improvise with the bass notes to create your own interesting licks. The whole idea is to get a Spanish sound in your playing.

Spanish Guitar Lick

The scale used – Phrygian Dominant

The bass notes move up a scale but you will probably notice there is quite a jump from the first fret F to the fourth fret G#. We don’t see this type of jump in our standard Major scale. This type of scale is actually the Phrygian Dominant mode. Don’t let the name scare you off – just think of it as any other scale. The only difference is the intervals used. This lick uses E Phrygian Dominant to help you achieve a Spanish sound. Many Flamenco guitarists use the Phrygian Dominant mode to achieve this sound as well as the Phrygian mode.

Improvising using this lick

Start off by practing the lick as shown. Get used to playing the three note pattern. You need to play this with your fingers in this order – thumb, index, middle. Alternatively you could play it – thumb, middle, ring. The choice is yours. Play it over and over again with a metronome and build up the tempo until you can play it easily at a high pace. Once you can play it as shown, practice moving backwards down the scale. Then practice going up and down the scale. Once you memorize the notes used and can easily move up and down then you can start improvising.

The unique thing about this mode is the jump you can see from F to G#. If you focus your improvisation around these two notes you will bring out the exotic flavour of the mode. So you could start your improvisation by playing E, then F, G#, F G#, A etc. Play around with moving back and forth between the notes, repeating the same notes and jumping past notes.

Here’s a few ideas you can use to improvise using this lick:

  • Slide between the notes
  • Add vibrato to the bass notes
  • Change the tempo as you play (speed up or slow down)
  • Use hammer-ons or trills on the bass notes
  • Continue the scale past the notes shown (try to figure out the notes all over the fretboard)
  • Add in some chords that fit the scale (eg: E Major)

If you can spend a lot of time simply improvising with this basic lick, you will find your ability to come up with new creative ideas will improve. The point of this simple exercise is to help you learn to create your own interesting licks. After you master this lick, try using a different scale or mode.


TMC-007 James Bond Riff

Lick 007 James Bond Theme

This is the seventh lick in our ‘Licks and Riffs’ series and when we realized the lick would be number ‘007’ we couldn’t resist – it had to be the James Bond theme. If you have only seen the most recent two James Bond movies you may not recognize this riff but if you’ve seen any of the older movies you’ll recognize it instantly. This is a fun and very easy riff that any beginner can learn.


TMC-007 James Bond Riff

Tip: Use alternate picking on the sixteenth notes to get the rhythm right

Understanding alternate endings

If you don’t recognize the long lines above the staff they are ‘alternate endings’. Alternate endings are a simple way to repeat sections of music but changing some of the measures. In this case when you play the riff you start out by playing measures 1 & 2. You then repeat measure 1 (because of the repeat sign), repeat measure 2, repeat measure 1 again then skip ahead and play measure 3.

To understand why you play in this order have a look at the numbers above the staff. The first alternate ending bracket shows the numbers ‘1.2.’ which means that measure 2 is played on the first and second repeats. In other words, you play measures one and two (the first instance), then repeat measures one and two (the second instance). From there you repeat measure one. But this time you don’t play measure two again because it doesn’t ask for a third repeat. That’s why the second alternate ending bracket is written ‘3.’ – to play on the third repeat. After continuing on and finishing measure five the entire piece is repeated.

Getting the tone right

This riff sounds best when played on an electric guitar as that is what was used in the James Bond movies. After you learn the basics of the riff try to focus on how the riff sounds. Think about which pickup you should use. Maybe a bridge pickup would be a better choice than a neck pickup to get that sharp edgy sound. Experiment with where you pick the strings – closer to the bridge will give a more hollow sound and closer to the neck will give a bassy sound.

A technique you can use to make this riff sound more interesting is palm muting. Experiment by using different amounts of palm muting. Start by lightly muting the strings then gradually increase the palm muting until you almost can’t recognize the notes. Then you can decide what amount of palm muting sounds best.

Something else you can experiment with is distortion/overdrive. If you have an amp or pedal that lets you use distortion, try playing the lick with it. Experiment with different settings from low gain to high gain. Although the riff originally doesn’t use any distortion (ie: it is played clean), there’s no reason why you can’t add some in to change the feel of it.

Possibly the most important thing to keep in mind is to get the groove right – a James Bond riff should be played with suave, controlled groove! Try practicing with a metronome to make sure you’re playing this in time.

TMC-06 Country Style Double Stops

Lick 006 Country Style Double Stops

Our previous lick (Lick 005 Hendrix Style Double Stops) looked at a unique way of playing double stops. This lick uses double stops again (double stop means to play two notes at once) but to get a country feel. There are a few pull-offs between double stops so its important you think about which fingers you use to play the notes.

How to get a country feel

The key to getting this lick to sound authentic is to control your tone. If you’re playing an acoustic guitar you don’t have any choice with pickups but you can still choose how to play the notes. Using your fingers (or hybrid picking) will give this lick a more interesting sound compared to playing with a pick. When playing the double stops, try to pluck the strings hard enough that they slap back against the fretboard. This snapping sound adds to the character of the lick.

If you’re playing electric guitar, use a single coil pickup around the middle position (depending on your type of guitar). This will give your tone a very hollow sound and will sound great when you pluck the strings hard with your fingers.

What makes this lick sound country?

While playing the lick, have a think about each part and why it makes it sound country. Is it the double stops? Is it the hammer-ons? The chords at the end? Learning to critically analyze a piece of music this way will help you understand what gives it certain characteristics. Many players don’t think about music this way and have trouble coming up with their own music as a result. If you can figure out what makes this lick sound country then you can recreate it in your own licks.

We won’t give the answers away because that defeats the whole point of this lick! Learning how to figure out what makes this lick sound country will help you grow as a musician. So practice the lick over and over until it feels natural then figure out what makes it sound good. Once you can do this you can start trying to come up with similar licks.

 TMC-06 Country Style Double Stops

Tip: Click the TAB above to see a larger version

 Even if you don’t plan on learning how to play country style guitar, it’s still worth learning this lick as it will help you understand how to copy a certain style. It will also help you learn different ways to play double stops. By adjusting the way you play this lick you can transform it from dull sounding to an authentic country lick. Merely playing the notes as written isn’t enough – you need to put some feel into it!

TMC-05 Hendrix style Double Stops

Lick 005 Hendrix Style Double Stops

What are Double Stops?

The term ‘double stop’ actually means to play two notes at once. It sounds fancy but pretty simple to play. All you need to do to play a double stop is play two notes at once whether those notes are on adjacent strings or skip a string. Quite often guitarists will play double stops on adjacent strings because they are easy to play. It all depends on what type of sound you want to go for.

Hendrix style Double Stops

Jimi Hendrix used double stops quite a lot (as do many other blues/rock guitarists). This lick is inspired by the way Hendrix would repeat a note over and over while adding in vibrato (listen to the ending of All Along the Watchtower). This is straight forward when you’re only playing one note at a time but can be a bit tricky when two notes are played. When you play this lick you will need to make sure that both notes have smooth vibrato and the open second string isn’t played. Hit the strings hard when playing the vibrato to get the feel Hendrix would have given.

TMC-05 Hendrix style Double Stops

Tip: Click on the image above to enlarge it

Think about which fingers you should use to play the two notes. Try different combinations to figure out which one feels easiest for you. Different people will prefer using different fingers.  It doesn’t really matter which fingers you use to play the notes as long as all the other strings remain quiet – especially the B string.

Creating Your Own Double Stop Licks

When you can easily play this lick you can start thinking about how to come up with your own licks that use double stops. There are countless ways double stops can be used so just experiment with them until you find something interesting. Start with a basic scale such as the Minor Pentatonic and think about all the different two note positions you can play. Look for positions where you can play two notes using one finger. Those type of double stops are used all the time in blues and rock improvisation.

Lick 004 Pedal tone pull-offs

Lick 004 Pedal Tone Pull-offs

How to use pedal tones in your licks

A pedal tone is when you alternate back and forth between one fixed note and others. For an easy example, if you played the notes: A C A E A F# A C# then A would be a pedal tone. Licks that use pedal tones sound interesting because every time you hear a new note, you are comparing it to the pedal tone. In other words, pedal tones focus on the different intervals between the pedal note and the other notes.

When writing your own licks using pedal tones, try to experiment with different intervals. The lick below uses the open B and G strings as the pedal tone. Pull-offs are used to make the lick sound more interesting. You may notice that the second bar is exactly the same as the first bar, only the string has changed. Normally when you change a lick to a different string you need to adjust it so it still fits in the same key. This example is to show you how keeping the intervals fixed to the pedal tone will give a certain feel to the lick. If you wanted to change how it sounds you can simply change the notes around.

Lick 004 Pedal tone pull-offs

Use a metronome to practice this lick because you want the notes to sound consistent. Don’t try to play it faster than you can comfortably as it will sound sloppy. Build up the tempo with the metronome over time. Once you learn the lick, try changing it slightly to play hammer-ons instead of pull-offs. It will change the feel slightly. Try playing the lick across other strings then try to come up with your own pattern using pedal tones. Keep in mind that the open strings were used just as an example, you don’t have to use open strings for pedal tones – you can use any other note on the guitar.

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Lick 003 Grace Notes

Lick 003 Grace Notes

Using Grace Notes to give your licks character

Adding grace notes to any lick you play can quickly transform the lick and give it a lot of character. If you have come up with a lick but it needs something extra to make it exciting, adding a few quick grace notes can change the feel completely. Grace notes are very quick slides, hammer-ons or pull-offs where the first note played is barely heard.

In the lick below, you can see three grace notes. They look like fast hammer-ons and pull-offs but it’s recommended you try to use slides as well to learn to use both. Try playing this lick using hammer-ons and pull-offs for the grace notes then play it again using slides. Decide for yourself which you prefer the sound of. When you look at the rhythm of this lick, notice that the grace notes don’t interfere with the notation. So a grace note really takes up part of the time the next note is played.

This is a very simple lick so the focus is on making it as interesting as possible using the slides, grace notes and vibrato. Play the lick without any of these techniques and you’ll see how boring it can sound. But start to add in all these extra techniques and the lick starts to become interesting. Once you learn this lick, try coming up with different phrasing and try to add more interesting sections to it. Play around with adding in staccatos and rests.

Lick 003 Grace Notes

Think about which fingers you use for this lick. The lick should flow easily from one finger to the next without any awkward changes. When learning a lick like this one, the goal is to make it as interesting as possible. What if you changed the grace notes around or played grace notes at different times? Spend some time thinking about how you would change this lick to suit your personal style of playing. Thinking along these lines will help you create your own unique ‘voice’ as a guitarist. Repeat this process with any lick you learn and pretty soon you’re going to have a very distinctive sound.

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Lick 002 Simple Funky Rhythm

Lick 002 Simple Funky Rhythm

Learn to create funky rhythms using muted strumming

This simple riff will help you learn to use muted strumming to create an interesting rhythmic sound. This style of strumming is often found in funk and similar styles. The chord used in this riff makes it very easy to mute the strings. Simply lift your fingers off slightly so they aren’t pushing down on the frets but still touching the strings.

When learning this riff, start very slow and count the beat out loud. It’s highly recommended you learn to play this riff with a metronome as it will make sure you learn to play the rhythm in proper time.

After you feel confident playing this riff, you should try to come up with slightly different rhythms and strumming patterns. Keep the chord the same but change your strumming. Change how often you play the chords and when they are played. As an example you could play each chord on every off-beat or you could play a chord every second and fourth beat. Try as many different options as you can think of.

If you have a wah pedal, use it while playing this riff. The wah effect works very well with this riff and can be used to create exciting changes in the sound. Experiment with the wah and how you play it during the riff.

Lick 002 Simple Funky Rhythm

Here are a few things you can try after you learn this simple funky rhythm based riff:

  • Try using different chords and come up with your own chords that fit the ‘funky’ sound
  • Try using different effects such as a wah pedal, phaser, flange, delay, reverb
  • Play the riff at different tempos and think about how the feel changes
  • Try changing the rhythm and adding in triplets to you strumming
  • Try adding some rests and use multiple chords

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TMC Lick 001 Octave Fun

Lick 001 Octaves Fun

Using Octaves in your riffs

This riff is a simple way you can practice octaves and create different melodies by sliding around to different positions. The notes on the sixth string are palm muted to improve the dynamics of the riff. Play the riff without palm muting then play it again using palm muting to understand how it changes the feel of the riff.

The basic idea behind this riff is to come up with an interesting melody by sliding around between different positions. There are four basic positions in this riff so it won’t take long to learn. The overall melody may sound a little strange, but that’s to teach you how certain intervals sound when played. The change from the 9th fret octave to the 4th fret octave has a dramatic sound. If you don’t like the sound of that change, try coming up with a different change. After you can play this riff try figuring out your own riff using the same basic idea.

TMC Lick 001 Octave Fun

TIP: You can click on the riff above to bring up a larger view.

Here are a few different things you can try after learning this riff:

  • Try sliding around using different positions
  • Try using octaves on different strings
  • Try using different intervals instead of octaves (eg: 5ths or 3rds)
  • After you come up with a good sounding riff, try to figure out the chords based on the notes used and play the chord progression.

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