Inverting Guitar Licks - Part 1

In this guitar lesson we're going to take a look at the concept of inverting guitar licks. This is a very simple, but often overlooked, strategy that helps you to get a lot more mileage from all the licks that you learn.

Ultimate Guitar
In this guitar lesson we're going to take a look at the concept of inverting guitar licks. This is a very simple,but often overlooked, strategy that helps you to get a lot more mileage from all the licks that you learn.

The basic idea of inverting licks is to take a lick and then move the first note to the very end of the lick. This would create a new variation of the lick. You would then repeat this process until you've created all the possible lick variations.

Don't panic if what I just said isn't totally clear yet. To help you learn this practice strategy we're going to be taking a guitar lick and going through the entire process now. Here's the lick that we'll use for this lesson...

An Example Lick

[Side Note: To make the licks in this lesson easier to learn, I've included audio recordings on my website. You can listen to them by clicking here now].

This is a short lick that uses theE Minor Pentatonicscale, and is played usingeighth-notes. In case you don't know, this means that you will need to play the lick usingtwoevenly-spaced notes per click of your metronome.

OK. Now that we've got a lick to use, let's now look at the process of inverting it.

Step 1: Number Each Note Of The Lick

Although it's not essential, I find it very helpful to number each note of the lick. This helps to avoid any possible confusion that might happen when you start to create inversions.

Step 2: Create The First Inversion

To do this we take the first note of the lick and move it to the very end. What this means is that we are now playing the notes of the lick in the following order: 2-3-4- 1

Notice how I have changed how I am articulating the notes of the lick. What I mean by this is that I have changed the picking motions to suit the new lick, rather than rigidly using the exact same pick motions that I used for the first lick. For Example: In the first lick I played the bent note using a downstroke. But in this new lick, I am using an upstroke to play the bent note.

Of course, this is my preference and you are free to change it. It is always a good idea to articulate licks in a way that makes sense to your own preferences and playing style. So if the way I play the lick doesn't make sense to you, then change it. :-)

Step 3: Create The Second Inversion

For this step you take the first note of the first inversion and move it to the very end of the lick. So this means you will play the notes in the following order: 3 - 4 - 1 - 2

Step 4: Create The Third Inversion

This steps involves taking the first note of the second inversion and moving it to the very end of the lick. In other words, you will be playing the notes in this order: 4 - 1 - 2 - 3

It's very important to mention here that with all the previous licks there was a pull-off between notes 3 and 4. But the pull-off has been removed in this inversion because notes 3 and 4 are now at opposite ends of the lick. Of course, if I was to play the third inversion repeatedlyitwould be easy enough toadd a pull-off between each repetition of the lick. See the example below to see what I mean...

Example: Third Inversion Played Four Times In A Row

Now that we've created the third inversion, we've done all the possible inversions for this specific lick. If we were to try to invert the lick once more, we would be back at the very first lick.

A Few Last Words

I hope you enjoyed this lesson. After you master the licks from this lesson, I recommend taking some of your favorite licks and going through the process of inverting them. If you do this on a regular basis, you'll soon see your soloing vocabulary expand in a very dramatic way!

About The Author: Craig Bassett is a professional electric guitar tutor currently living in Melbourne, Australia. To get more free articles and lessons designed to help your playing, then be sure to subscribe to his electric guitar newsletter.

16 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Those last 2 comments (Slashiepie and nosuchmanas) are so idiotic. This is just a tool (not a shortcut). Part of the creative process, be it writing or painting or music or whatever, is learning to keep your process going, even when inspiration isn't striking. This is one of the absolute hardest parts of the process. Maybe if you 2 would stop thinking of tools like this are stupid shortcuts, or compensation for some kind of shortcoming, then you wouldn't be just a couple of nobodies bitching and whining at the internet.
    Damaged Roses
    Lol, never thought of this, sounds like you can get interesting stuff from this, thanks dude.
    still thinking in licks? this is just yet another shortcut to another shortcoming
    anyone else think this is stupid ? using a systematical trial and error method for creation is surely doomed to mediocrity at best, if you want to right a good lick write one in your head and then figure it out on guitar, you know using musicianship and creativity instead of a shortcut
    thnks man. you just saved me a bunch o money cuz now i don't have to by a reverse affect! THANK YOU!!
    cool thoughts, kinda similar to the concept of modes, to those condemning this guys article you may be surprised to hear this but there are more than one way to acheive a desired result in regards to almost anything in life and especially music, just cause it's not right for you doesn't mean it's not right for others
    "just cause it's not right for you doesn't mean it's not right for others" sure. personally, i wouldn't point a loaded gun at my temple, but that doesn't mean other people shouldn't do it! this isn't a wrong way (there are relatively few wrong ways in music), but there are far better ways (unless anyone here wants to argue the point that all manners of composition are equally effective, which simply isn't true). and please don't bring up modes, this is in no way similar or relevant to modes at all. i wouldn't call this a shortcut, but personally i do think it's pretty stupid to craft an entire lesson on it. the entire lesson could easily be summed up as "try changing the order of the notes!" i don't agree with the way slashiepie and nosuchmanas phrased their comments, but ultimately they have the right idea -- this is trial-and-error, which will always be surpassed by simply hearing the desired product/effect in your head and having the musicianship to be able to replicate it.
    Nice article! Ive tried the first inversion on loads of riff and it sound great! Cheers
    Thanks for this lesson. Maybe simplistic, but these "Guitar gods" need to realize not everyone on this site is as advanced as they are....