How many licks are you able to call up at any given time? I find when I go to improvise in jamming situations, half the time I can't recall any, or if I can, can't execute them well and I end up just messing around in scale boxes. The problem is I find learning new licks to be a pain on every level. It's hard for me to come across licks that I find interesting, especially anything in a magazine, book or tutorial, it's almost like they intentionally give you the garbage that they would never use themselves. Then once I find one I like it takes a lot of work to be able to recall it on the spot. And even after that, I find I end up forgetting it eventually.

Whenever I go to a guitar store, or watch someone on youtube demoing equipment, they'll just play some licks and link it together with some scalar notes, improvise a little melody and then go back to a lick, and just kinda put it all together effortlessly. But I find when I try to do that, I can play a lick, but it won't be connected to anything, it just hangs out there by itself until I can think of something else to play which is almost always unrelated melodically and it just sounds like a bunch of separate pieces that don't connect and it sucks.

How do I fix this? I've spent hours with jam tracks, and all I get is more of the same. Is there some kind of exercise or lesson out there for this?
The idea with licks is that you learn them well enough that you know exactly what they sound like before you play them and you know them well enough to be able to play them without thinking.

From there you need to link the sound you want to the muscle memory needed to produce it, this is the hard part of learning a lick, it's the part that takes the longest. Basically it's a matter of playing it enough that the link forms between the two aspects of it.

Once you do that you should be able to say to yourself "I want this sound" and be able to produce the lick that sounds that way with no effort at all, then from there it's a question of removing the conscious process from it so when you're soloing you're not really consciously thinking at all, you're just... playing.

If you're having trouble linking your licks to other melodic parts it's probably one of two things: you don't have any idea where the solo is going anyway; or you just don't have a physical exit strategy, that is you have learned these licks in way too much isolation.

For the first... put down the guitar, step away from it and just listen to the backing, thinking about where you would want a solo to go, singing it if you can or just going through it in your mind. Once you've got to there it's much easier to actually get out of licks into more 'pure improvisation'.

The second, stop learning licks as isolated entities, with any lick you should always have some kind of fall back you can go to, a set of options for what comes next that will sound good in certain situations. Yes it can make your solos sound like an identikit bunch of licks that you've just run over but at least it won't sound bad.

Focus on the first solution though, if you do it enough you should eventually get to the point where you don't need to think about it separate from the guitar: once again you stop really 'thinking' and just get to 'playing'.

Pro-tip: This takes literally years to develop as a skill, don't worry if you don't get it for ages, as long as you keep practicing and always think about what you're doing you'll get there eventually.
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it takes time, i go through phases not really being able to bust anything out and then it's like this explosions of licks.
but to your questions probably the easiest way i can think of helping to get more licks is just take any three notes on the guitar, now form them to a lick.
example on the high e string play 12 13 15. now play it again but with a different rhythm. now play it again but repeat the first note. now switch up the note order.
try that. just take a few notes and start gettin as many different ways out of them, you don't have to like all of them, just get more used to creating things, and mixing up rhythmic qualities and of course add in pauses. don't forget you can always play the same note multiple time.
hope that helps
Last edited by spooner1957 at May 6, 2011,
im not yet able to link licks together either but as for not liking ones in magazines etc. just find out how to play ones you like from your favourite solos. Its not difficult to transpose them to the key your playing in. Gitar pro could even do it for you.
Licks and improvisation are 2 completely separate things. Improvisation should be spontaneous and not prepared. What you describe as happening when you break into improv is what it should be! Unknown , after more experience the noodling within the boxes becomes an expression of yourself at that time. Try not to think and explore what in your mind. Really focus. It's a skill that like anything, takes time to develop but it will come if you persevere. A great jazz artist once caught a member of his band practicing. He asked him what he was doing to which he responded "practicing licks for my improve" his response was " your fired, you can never practice improvisation with pre learned material, it comes from the heart and your building up Walls as a safety net"

That's not to say licks are not useful because it is! But try and see them as 2 different muscles that need exercising. The quote above was from Charlie Parker btw
Last edited by rex pearson at May 7, 2011,
The key to improv is chords, not licks. In order to be able to sound good, you need to know what notes are inside (chord tones), what notes are color tones (chord extensions and alterations) and what notes will just clash (typically certain 1/2 steps off chord tones). In order to sort all that out, you need to know your chords first and foremost. Scales and licks, while distinctly useful, are secondary.
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I totally agree with the person that said learn the sounds of the notes so where your playing without even thinking.I suggest instead of learning from magazines and stuff to just go to the source.put on some hendrix or led zep and just learn the licks.the licks you will learn from people like this will always sound fresh and will get you rooted in the right place when you start doing more crazy stuff...that's how I got through your situation man
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I love improving. I'm not the best player and I suck at theory. I usually just put on a drum loop and get a rhythm going and branch off from there. If it sounds good...score...if it doesn't, it helps me learn what not to do. When I'm in a different mood I'll put on a blues backing track and do the same thing. It's not about linking together riffs and licks you learned from others, but building your own. Some days I'm in the zone and sound so damn good (to me anyway), and other days I can't buy a good sounding riff. Just have fun and make the sounds bouncing around your head come from your guitar.
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Quote by Even Bigger D
The key to improv is chords, not licks. In order to be able to sound good, you need to know what notes are inside (chord tones), what notes are color tones (chord extensions and alterations) and what notes will just clash (typically certain 1/2 steps off chord tones). In order to sort all that out, you need to know your chords first and foremost. Scales and licks, while distinctly useful, are secondary.

This is how I see it as well. You need some kind of context to improvise around or it's really just licks and noodling. The beauty in improvisation comes from being able to melodically weave in and out the predefined - creating something that works within the context but is also unexpected.
Look in truth i can call up instantly in the region of 100-200 different patterns. In reality that is just 12 patterns (transposed mind you) in my case iam particular to Major scales/modes, harmonic minor and its modes, and pentatonic. occasionally i like to play eastern scales too.

The thing of it is that none of that will be of any use whatsoever unless you have developed some style. Playing a scale note for note is about as boring as hearing someone talk in monotone.

I look upon scales/licks/progressions as only guides to unlocking the fretboard. Now it is really really usefull to know these guides but unless you have style it will sound poor. To get some style only comes with experience. i.e a great improv can be a simple matter of knowing weather to bend that note or slide it. etc etc...

It is not how much you know but what you do with it. For me persionally i think a decent arsenal int he improv world is to know major/minor/pentatonic/ harmonic minor scales as a min requirememnts to really getting something going. However if you are very gifted then you can play entirely by ear which is a huge skill in itself ;-)