Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

15 Ideas for Writing Licks With Scales on Guitar

1. Per Pattern Licks
One of the beautiful things about playing guitar is that you can play the same scale many different ways, creating a lot of various fingerings. Thus, each pattern has different possibilities. You should write several licks for each specific pattern.

2. Pattern Connection Licks
I encourage my guitar students to practice connecting the patterns together on each string. Some guitar players get lost when using a connection they aren’t familiar with. To reinforce this concept, write several licks pattern-to-pattern.

3. Bends
This is one of every guitar player’s favorites. Don’t just write licks with bends, but try to be creative with how you use them. Use the bend, release, and adjacent notes to come up with some really original bend licks. Use 1/2, whole, 1 1/2 step bends etc. You can even bend from notes that are not in the scale.

4. Hammering and Pulling
Write licks focused on just hammering, just pulling, and a combination thereof. Don’t forget to hammer the string below you also.

5. Slides
How creative can you be with slides?

6. Single String Scales
Practice playing the scale on each string from the root note. Become familiar with the intervals. Then, write licks that go up and down one string.

7. Use Open Strings
Open strings can be great pedal tones. There is an open string that works in almost every key. If it’s not in key, it can be a chromatic note that you can use as a passing tone. An open string can be placed above or below a single string scale, or you can pull off to it.

8. Confining Notes Per String
Only allow yourself to play one note per string for pentatonic scales and two notes per string for diatonic scales. It forces you to play with more intervals and gives you a new “pattern” to solo with.

9. Scalar and Interval Patterns
Try playing the scales in various patterns of 3, 4, 5, etc. Also, try to play them in intervals of 3, 4, 5, etc. The lick possibilities here are endless.

10. Double Stops
Practice playing the scales two notes at a time. Write various licks using double stops.

11. Tapping
This is not just the 80s kind of tapping here. You can trace arpeggios, add a high note you can’t reach, or a quick flare of a lick in the middle of a solo. Use tapping to augment your style and write some licks.

12. Sweeping
Again, this technique often gets that negative “show-off” stigma, but I use it all the time in moderation. I personally like using short sweep patterns in my licks. If you don’t know how to sweep, you won’t know if it fits your style or if you even like it. Don’t judge it if you can’t even do it.

13. Octave Displacement
Play your scale and displace the notes into different octaves. For example, if you play a major scale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7, maybe take the 3 and 4 higher: 1 2 10 11 5 6 7. You can change any note of a scale up or down an octave. This will certainly bring more interval licks into your playing and make your playing way more interesting.

14. Octaves
Write runs with the octave of the note attached. This is a great technique players like Wes Montgomery and George Benson use to beef up their solos.

15. Chords
Create some chords from the scales. That’s where the chords come from anyway. Practice creating chords in each pattern and harmonizing the chord patterns up the neck. This is a great way to start exploring chord soloing. Chords can really beef up your solo as well.

There are certainly more ideas, but these 15 will keep you busy for a while. Don’t forget that you can also combine any of the ideas. Imagine the possible combinations within each technique, the combinations between the 15, the scale patterns, and the types of scales. The possibilities are endless!

As I mentioned before in the previous blog, The Importance of Writing Licks, making up your own licks is imperative to becoming a unique player. Start by taking each concept and writing 15 licks per week. Then, never stop writing licks. Be prolific. Your playing will explode! Have fun!

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