Louis Electric

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Digging Deeper: Recycling Licks


Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn to analyze a phrase based on intervals.
• Adjust melodies and licks to work in a variety of harmonic contexts.
• Develop a better understanding of the modes within the major scale.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

There are many ways to be creative when coming up with licks or melodies over a set of chord changes or a static tonal center. Inspiration may not always strike, and reinventing the wheel (or at least trying to reinvent your own playing) can prove tough. But a dash of music theory and some simple analysis can help recycle old licks—whether yours or someone else’s—into fresh sounds. It might be the creative kick you needed to finish writing that blazing solo.

In a previous lesson, I demonstrated how to play in different modes while staying close to a blues-rock sensibility. On guitar, this means exploring modal fingerings based on a root-position pentatonic scale. We’ll stick with this approach as we examine two simple licks, one based on the major scale (or Ionian mode), and the other one on the minor scale (or Aeolian mode).

First, the major sounds. The diagram below is a fingering for the major Ionian mode based on the root-position major pentatonic fingering. Numbers indicated each scale degree.

Fig. 1 is the lick based on that fingering. The numbers between the staff and the tab represent the scale degrees. Observe their location in relation to the diagram.

To play in Lydian rather than Ionian, just adjust the lick so that all the notes fit the Lydian mode (1-2-3-#4-5-6-7). You can stay in the same position and simply adjust the fingering so that every 4 is replaced with a #4. The other notes are unchanged. Fig. 2 is the new Lydian lick based on the fingering of the diagram below.

Let’s apply the same process to Mixolydian (1-2-3-4-5-6-b7). The only note to change is the 7, which moves to a b7, as seen in the diagram below.

Scary how deceivingly simple it all is, isn’t it? Now let’s look at Fig. 4, an Aeolian (1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7) lick.