How do we create a lick that we can consistently play really fast? Here is my approach.
How to Create Guitar Licks
To create a guitar lick, you first need to know the notes in your guitar scale in the key which you wish to create your lick. Next, create a lick respecting the style of music that you are playing, using any combination of hammer-on or pull off to simplify the lick.
Make Sure the Lick is Playable at a Fast Speed
Most guitarists are taught this: play the lick over and over again, slowly at first, then faster, and the speed will come naturally. However, this practice technique is dependent on the notes in the lick – some licks are impossible to speed up due to fingering or picking issues.
We’re not interested in playing fast scales, per se: we want fast licks, and the scale is the palette from which we derive our notes to create the lick.
Study other guitarists to create fast licks
This all started when I was listening to a concert by Serbian Guitarist Miroslav Tadić with Macedonian guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski. The first thing that I noticed was that both these guitarists were easily recognizable by their distinctive hats.
Vlatko plays with a pick and was expertly playing very fast licks which weren’t in the major scale, the natural minor scale or the pentatonic scale. His licks were based on notes from the Gypsy Scale, or Hijaz Scale. It was the first time I had heard this particular ethnic-sounding scale used with such breathtaking rapidity. Instantly I wanted to learn how to play licks using this scale with a pick and with blazing speed.
The Gypsy Dance Lick
Let’s examine a blazing fast lick played by Vlatko Stefanofski using notes from the G Freygish scale in the introduction to Gypsy Dance, a work by Kristjan Järvi. Unfortunately, the camera angle focuses entirely on Miroslav Tadic for almost the complete duration of the lick, so I had to transcribe this lick by ear.
The lick in question starts at the 1:00 (one minute mark) timestamp. Once I had all the notes from the lick transcribed, I learned a lot about how Vlatko Stefanovski constructs his licks.
A Scale Is Not a Lick
A scale is a linear collection of notes going from the lowest to the highest with no single note played more than once. That’s not the case for a guitar lick: here, in Gypsy Dance, Vlatko meanders up and down over a series of four or five notes taken from the scale. Since we never hear the scale played in full from top to bottom, the fingering that you use to practice the scale is not necessarily the best fingering for the lick that you want to create.
In this lick I learned that big stretches, like the ones that I was recommending in the scale video, actually don’t work very well for accuracy in fast passages. Consider using small shifts instead of no more than two frets.
When we practice scales, generally every single note is picked. This isn’t the case with licks as we can use pull-offs and hammer-ons anywhere in our lick. These slurs are used to avoid picking all the notes. In some cases, this helps with changing the picking pattern for string crossings – the slurred notes give you time while you switch strings with the pick.
The Hijaz scale contains the interval of an augmented second, which spans three frets. Instead of playing this interval on one string, you can avoid the stretch by playing those notes across two strings. If the picking pattern doesn’t allow for an easy string crossing, you can slur into the note that precedes the augmented second interval.
The full breakdown and explanation of what I call the Gypsy Dance Intro Lick is on Youtube.