We all know a great lick when we hear one—Jimmy Page’s solo breaks in “Whole Lotta Love” and Mark Knopfler’s blistering triads in “Sultans of Swing,” for example. Moments like these grab your attention and aurally brand your ears forever. Or, sometimes it acts more subliminally: You suddenly find yourself playing a certain lick over and over again, wondering, Where have I heard this before?
Through the years, these licks have evolved into a vocabulary for the guitar. And like great writers who are always able to find the right word to make a point, great guitarists always have that essential lick at their disposal to express, in the moment, what they’re feeling. And whereas the best writers are able to string those words together to form remarkable prose, the best guitarists link their licks to form living, breathing, musical statements.
We called upon our mighty stable of instructional writers to assemble these 101 Amazing Guitar Licks, spanning over eight decades and ranging from rock, metal, and blues to jazz, country and bluegrass. Regardless of what style music you play, it will do your ears and your chops good to go through each of these licks. Learn them, master them, and keep them on file for the next time you’re looking for just the right way to say what’s in your soul.
Origin: You’ll sweep ’em all off their feet with this series of arpeggios that ascends up the neck to an explosive climax. Alex Skolnick (Testament) and Marty Freidman (Megadeth) were masters at this technique, giving their solos a flowing, classical feel over the chaotic underbelly of the rhythm section.
Theory: This series of C major arpeggios resolves to an A note, which implies the relative minor of the key.
Playing Tip: In sweep picking, when you encounter an ascending arpeggio followed by a descending one (measure 1, beats 2–3), rotate your pick hand in a circular fashion when reaching the top of the ascending line to properly execute the ensuing descending line.
Check back tomorrow for Figure 35!