As guitarists, we’re often guilty of playing the same old styles of music, and not branching out as much as we could. While we’re not suggesting you must set your sights on being a multi-genre virtuoso, brushing up on a few leftfield licks can help all players – soloists and songwriters alike – improve their chops and stylistic awareness.
Think of your playing development as a session guitarist might, and it starts to make sense: the lessons learnt from tackling new styles of music can be applied more creatively elsewhere.
So here we’re looking at licks in 10 musical genres. It goes almost without saying that they don’t represent a stylistic masterclass; no, the idea here is to take note of the key characteristics of each lick.
Ask yourself, ‘what makes this lick sound like, say, a blues line?’ Then bring those qualities into your playing the next time you need to call up a dash of bluesiness.
Example 1. Classic Soul
This Motown-style riff uses all the notes in the lower octave of the G major pentatonic scale, mirroring the bassline and providing a melody line for the listener to latch on to. It’s a great scale for simple melodic lines.
Example 2. Neo-soul
This riff has a contemporary neo-soul vibe broadly in the style of guitarists like Melanie Faye or Tom Misch. The arrangement of notes on the highest three strings are ideal for sliding doublestops.
Example 3. Blues
The influence of blues can be traced through nearly all electric guitar music, so whether it’s a style you listen to or not, it’s worth understanding its key elements. Our lick is a classic Eric Clapton-style idea, using the A minor pentatonic scale as its basis. The bends and final rundown are typical blues fare.
Example 4. African Pop
This syncopated African-style groove starts with an ascending C major triad (the notes are C, E and G) and then descends through the C major scale. Use alternate picking and try to synchronise your pick strokes with the rhythm of the riff. Aim to keep both hands as relaxed as possible.
Example 5. Thrash Metal
This Phrygian riff summons '80s metal demons Mercyful Fate and Slayer. The A5-Bb5 sequence is an essential change (also try it in E: E5-F5) that you simply must know, but the more interesting part is the run at the end of each bar.
Example 6. Latin Jazz / Rock
Dialling in our influence from Carlos Santana and Paco de Lucía, this simple lick is a great place to begin with Latin-style lead guitar. Essentially, we’re just running through the most important scale in the genre: the harmonic minor scale.
Example 7. Neoclassical Metal
This Yngwie Malmsteen-style lick uses Am and E arpeggios, once again using notes from the harmonic minor scale. Your sweep-picking motion should be one smooth pick movement across the three highest strings.
Example 8. Jazz Fusion
This melodic minor-based Scott Henderson style fusion riff follows a somewhat syncopated rhythm, so lots of notes fall on upbeats. Keep your pick moving down and up in a 16th-note rhythm and count ‘1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a’ to keep time.
Example 9. Epic Movie
More melodic minor action here as this epic melody outlines A minor (A C E) and E major (E G# B) arpeggios. Play the part as dramatically as possible by really making the most of details like the string slides and vibrato on the sustained notes.
Example 10. Easy Country
Here, we’re using the A Mixolydian mode in a very simple Chet Atkins-inspired country groove. Scales can be hard to spot thanks to the use of partial two- and three-note shapes, so try and associate these shapes with A, D and A7 shapes in the 5th position.