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: Blazing triads form the moment of truth from Mark Knopfler’s lyrical outro solo in Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing.”
Theory: The lick is an adjacent-string, pull-off motif constructed from D minor (D–F–A), Bb (Bb–D–F), and C (C–E–G) triads.
Playing Tip: Fretboard activities are pretty simplistic on this one; it’s the picking direction where you’ll likely hit a snag. Try using a downstroke on every attack except for the last 16th-note in each group, where you should use an upstroke. Or play it like Knopfler—fingerstyle!
Check back tomorrow for Figure 2!