How Do You Memorize Guitar Licks?

Most of us may have been inspired to pick up the guitar after hearing beautiful guitar licks, such as Sweet Child of Mine by Guns N Roses. We then spend hours trying to play the same lick as well as we can. 

However, aside from playing with licks, you also need to spend time remembering them. If you don’t, you will always need to depend on tablatures or sheet music

Memorizing guitar licks take more than just mental memory but also muscle memory. You may need an understanding of chord or note progression too. How do you memorize licks? How do you do it efficiently?

You can memorize guitar licks by: 

  • Break licks down into smaller parts
  • Playing slowly at first
  • Visualize the fretboard as you play
  • Play the lick in context
  • Use Mnemonics to help you remember
  • Practice frequently

In this article, we explore how you can memorize guitar licks well. We also look at questions about guitar licks, such as if licks are similar to riffs. We also explore tips on how you can create your own licks.

What Is A Guitar Lick?

A guitar lick is a melodic phrase or solo, usually played to add color to music. Guitar licks can be played as background music or also as a solo. Many guitarists play licks based on certain progressions, and good ones can improvise a lick while jamming in real-time.

A guitar lick is a melodic phrase or solo. Guitar licks can be simple and incredibly complex and can be heard in all sorts of music genres. It is common to hear guitar licks in rock, country, blues, and jazz. 

Guitar licks help to add musical interest and flair to a song. They may sometimes be played to accompany a shredding guitar solo. Licks also can help to add texture, and color to parts of songs. 

Licks can also serve as a hook, an opening to a song, and can also be played as a melody. There are also instances where guitar licks ended up becoming solos. 

Guitar licks are usually played based on specific scales or chord progressions. For example, a guitarist may play a blues lick, based on a 12-bar blues progression. A jazz player can improvise a lick over an ii-V-I chord progression too. 

As a guitarist, it is important that you learn and be good at playing licks. This is because licks allow you to express your creativity as a guitarist. You will also be a better jammer since you can quickly improvise licks to accompany solos. 

Most guitarists begin by playing licks from other players note-by-note. They rely on videos, tablatures, and audio recordings to learn at this stage. However, they learn to be more confident as they gain musical knowledge and creativity. 

At this stage, players may create their own licks and improvise while jamming with other musicians on stage.

Some of the most memorable guitar licks include the opening licks from Sweet Child O’ Mine from Guns and Roses. Some may also consider Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry as the best licks ever. 

Are Guitar Licks The Same As Guitar Riffs?

Generally, guitar licks and riffs have similarities in that they are short phrases played in songs. Licks, however, are played more prominently and may be more exciting. Riffs generally serve as the background of a song and may be played repeatedly.

Aside from guitar licks, you may have heard of another commonly used term – riffs. You may wonder if they are the same thing.

Guitar licks and riffs have some similarities in general. However, there are also some differences between them both. As a start, both are short, melodic phrases played on a guitar

That’s where their similarities end. 

A guitar lick is commonly played as part of a guitar solo or as a melody to add some color to a song. Licks may be improvised in real-time while jamming and may use many playing techniques to create. 

It is not uncommon to see guitarists play licks that use hammer-ons, bends, pull-offs, and slides. These add excitement and a lot of embellishment to the song. 

Guitar riffs can be best described as the more stable cousin. Riffs are repeating patterns of chords, or notes played as the backbone of a song. 

If you are familiar with the band ACDC, consider what Malcolm Young plays on the guitar while Angus Young rips his solos. In many cases, Malcolm is playing riffs. 

Riffs are often used to create a melody or hook and can help fill a musical piece’s background. Aside from guitar, piano and keyboards may also be used to play riffs. You may hear the riffs being played repeatedly throughout the song for this function. 

Despite the differences, there may be times when riffs and licks may overlap each other. For example, a guitar lick can be used as a riff in a song. A guitar riff can also be used as a lick, usually a small part of it. 

As a result, you may hear musicians use both terms interchangeably, which can be confusing. 

How Do You Memorize Guitar Licks?

Memorizing guitar licks are not exactly a walk in the park, but they are not rocket science, either. It takes some effort to understand the lick and then to practice building muscle memories, but it can be done.

To memorize and play guitar licks, it may help to follow the steps below:

Break Licks Down Into Smaller Parts

You may first start to listen to the licks multiple times and try to see if you can break the licks down into several smaller parts. In many cases, you should be able to break down a lick into several four or eight-beat parts. 

By breaking the lick down, you get to slowly practice, understand how to play them and focus on it. Put in the effort to play out a part, and practice until you can play them right. Once you can play one part, move on to the other. 

Finally, you try to join the lick sections together to play them seamlessly.

Playing Slowly At First

Many guitar players find learning licks frustrating because they do not have the patience. They expect to be able to pick up licks quickly when it takes time. 

One of the ways you can ensure you play your licks well is to play slowly. When you play slowly, you are not under pressure to try to jump to the next note. This allows you to focus on playing every single note well.

Aside from that, since you are playing slowly, you have the time to think of the next note and figure out how to place your hands and fingers for it. All these skills should prepare you to play fast.

It may help to first simply figure out the finger movement and which strings to play with. Then practice in small parts before trying to join several parts together. 

Then try to use a metronome when you play. This forces you to play in a beat, which adds a bit of pressure. Then as you find playing slow easy, try increasing the tempo until you are playing at a similar speed to the actual song. 

Visualize The Fretboard As You Play

As you practice from part to part, it may help to also visualize the fretboard. This method may be useful if you have already learned what to play and need to practice. 

Before you play, close your eyes, and imagine how you will play the guitar. Imagine your finger position and also your movements to play every note. Then open your eyes, and try to play it. 

This approach is helpful because it helps you build up muscle and mental memory to play the licks well. 

Play The Lick In Context

Once you are capable of playing the lick with the metronome, you can now try to play them in context. This means playing the lick together with the song.

One way of doing this is to play the soundtrack loud and then use headphones to hear your guitar. You can also download backing tracks without the guitar. Then you play the track and try blending your guitar sound into the track.

This helps you to have a feel of how to play the lick together with the other instruments and also in the style of the original player. You should also get a better feel of the structure of the music and how the lick fits in.

If you can keep to the rhythm and play in sync with the other instruments, you can now say you are capable of playing the lick. 

Use Mnemonics To Help You Remember

Now that you are capable of playing the lick well, the next stage is to actually be able to play the lick without referring to tabs or any other type of notation. 

In short, you need to remember it. One of the best ways may be to use mnemonics.

Mnemonics are memory devices that you can use to help you memorize large chunks of information. Mnemonics are particularly useful to help you remember things such as lists or series. 

You can definitely use mnemonics to remember a lick. This is because licks are usually a series of individual notes. You can then create a sentence to help you remember these notes. 

Take, for example, a lick that uses the note progression E-G-D-A-B. In this case, you can create a sentence, “Every good dog always barks,” to help you remember the lick. 

Practice frequently

Finally, now that you have developed the skills to play the lick and a memory technique to remember it, your next goal is to continue to practice it. 

Why? Because if you do not practice it, you may suffer from memory decay. When that happens, you may forget the notes or the muscle memory to play the lick.

One of the best methods to ensure you continue to play your licks and remember them is to incorporate them into your warm-up repertoire. 

For example, you can start your warm-up by playing some scales. Then, you can move into some chords before finishing the warm-up with some simple and difficult licks. If you play in one, you can also make it a standard warm-up repertoire with your band. 

How Do You Create Guitar Great Guitar Licks?

Creating a great guitar lick should start with a melody, then you improvise around the melody and add color to it. You can get ideas to embellish the melody by listening to other players and playing it repeatedly, each time trying new ideas. 

In many ways, great guitar licks are not just created out of the blue. Instead, it takes many repetitions, experimentations, and tryouts to work. 

If you are at the stage where you are looking to create great guitar licks yourself, consider following the steps below to create your own guitar licks.

Start With A Melody

The most basic building block for a lick is a simple melody. The melody can be as simple as a series of notes that helps you achieve what you want to do with the song. 

Suppose you want to start a song with a lick, similar to Sweet Child O’ Mine. Try to think about and imagine how you can produce a great lick to do that. 

At this stage, you may not even need a guitar yet. Just use your mouth and imagination, and try to hum something creative for yourself to use. 

Listen To Other Guitarists

If you need ideas for your basic melody, you can listen to other guitarists and get ideas. If you ever feel that you may be stealing other players’ creativity, please do not feel so.

This is because many great guitarists and musicians listen to other players and allow their playing style to be influenced by them. This is why many musicians list out the other musicians that have influenced them.

Listen to the similar music genre you plan to create a lick for, and see if you can get ideas. For example, if you want to create some licks for a metal band, it helps to listen to other metal guitarists too. 

Use Your Music Knowledge

During this melodic design stage, it may make sense to use some of your music knowledge and see if you can play with the melody slightly.

For example, you can apply some chord progression to build your melody around. There are tons of chord progressions to choose from, from different chord qualities. You can use them to also create a mood for your guitar licks. 

Play, Repeat, Stop, Repeat

Now that you have your basic melody in mind, now it’s time for you to put in your creativity and turn it into a sick lick that people will go mad for. 

There are no shortcuts here. You need to play the melody with your guitar. Then you try to experiment around by adding in flashes you see fit. If you like the addition, note it down. If you don’t, discard it and try again.

This process is basically referred to as the Play-Repeat-Stop-Repeat cycle. You continue to do this until you arrive at a lick that you see as fitting and good enough to use. 

Experiment With Different Techniques

As you engage in the process of refining your licks, feel free to experiment with all the different techniques you have in your arsenal. 

Instead of playing individual notes, perhaps a hammer-on and then a slide can work better? Give it a try. What about bending the note instead of just letting it ring? Try it. 

Would it make sense to just finger-tap the fretboard instead of playing the note as usual? Try it. What about harmonics? Can you play a harmonic note instead? Try it. 

Continue the process until you arrive at a lick that you believe is melodic yet not over- embellished that it starts to sound like a guitar solo.

Think In Context

One thing to remember when creating guitar licks is to ensure you create one that suits your context. This prevents you from being too creative and ends up with an overdone guitar lick.

For example, you just want a rhythmic guitar lick that helps bring listeners into the mood to listen to the band. If that is your goal, ensure your licks are not too heavy or creative, to the point that they distract the underlying flow or melody of the music.

You also need to think about the other instruments that are jamming along with you. Ensure that your licks are workable with their instruments. It may also help to think about what other musicians can play while you execute your licks. 

You can do this during jamming sessions, where you can discuss with the other instruments to play a ‘wall’ of background melody while you play out your licks. If it fits and sounds good, you can probably stop adding anything. 

However, in many cases, you will need to do some refining to really make the lick gel well with the music. 

Practice To Remember

Now that you have finally created a lick that plays well blends with the song, and is acceptable to your standards. 

The last thing to do is practice it frequently, so you do not forget. What is the best way to get this done? Integrate it into your warm-up routine. 

Depending on the difficulty of the lick, you can play it during the middle or end of your warm-up session. You can also make it a warm-up routine with your band to play the section so that everyone gets some practice too.

Remember To Have Fun

One thing very important during the process of creating your lick is to remember to have fun. Many players, in their quest to make their best lick, forget that, and stress themselves.

That just takes away the joy of playing music in the first place. Plus, the stress may end up locking in your creative juice, making you unable to produce a great lick.

Remember to take it easy and chill throughout the process. Just remember all the musicians’ music videos and how they chill. You may also want to learn to take it easy like them and let your creative juices flow.

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