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Digging Deeper: Recycling Licks

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Let’s move to Dorian (1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7), where the b6 is replaced by a natural 6. Fig. 5 is your new Dorian lick, based on the fingering presented below.

Lastly, here’s the switch from Aeolian to Phrygian (1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7). Like magic, we create a Phrygian-based lick in Fig. 6.

Finally, let’s completely switch things around by turning the original major example into a Phrygian lick.

There are two ways to approach this: First, by keeping the fingering and pentatonic-based shape, but placing it in a minor context. Since the scale degrees differ between the major and minor fingerings, all the scale degrees of the original lick are switched around. You don’t need to be aware of the degrees of the old or new licks, as this approach is strictly shape-based, but you still need to make some adjustments for the new Phrygian fingering. Fig. 7 is the result.

The second approach is to adjust each scale degree of the original lick. Once you’ve done that, you may end up with some unfamiliar fingerings (which might be worth exploring). In Fig. 8 we are firmly outside of the pentatonic bubble.

This simple procedure can yield many variations on a single lick—and those are just the possibilities involving modes derived from the major scale. I used pentatonic-based fingerings for the sake of accessibility and guitar friendliness, but you can apply the procedure to any fingering, mode, scale, melody, or chord. Try turning a Dorian melody into a harmonic minor melody, or turn a Phrygian major lick into a Super Locrian one. Go as far as your theory knowledge allows.

There are only twelve notes to choose from in the Western music system. An adjustment may seem small, but its result can be dramatic and ear opening. The new sounds may inspire you to delve deeper into a mode, chord, or tonality. Creativity feeds on itself, and the process can be at least as rewarding as the end result. As they say, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Happy exploring!

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