Improve Your Rock Lead Guitar – 6 Licks to Raise the Roof

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AS SEEN IN GUITAR GIRL MAGAZINE ISSUE 6 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you will certainly have noticed that male-dominated rock scene of yesterday has been turned on its head by a generation of women who rock just as hard (sometimes even harder!). The guitar hero title is now rightfully split between anyone who can bring their game.

The last few years have wonderfully gifted the music world with guitarists like Orianthi, Nita Strauss, Lzzy Hale, Samantha Fish, and more. These women are fretboard blazing, preconception shattering heroes, or shall we say “sheroes.” 

In my experience as a guitar tutor, I have seen a huge surge in younger girls wanting to get into guitar playing. This has been proven true in the recent Fender study, “Illuminating the State of Today’s Guitar Players.” Some come via the medium of more pop-friendly strummers like Taylor Swift and some by the fleet-fingered heroics of some of the ladies mentioned above. Historically, the guitar has had some incredibly notable female players, check out Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson, Jeff Beck, and more), Wendy Melvoin (Prince), Mary Ford, Joan Jett, and Lita Ford for a start, this is just scratching the surface. Each one of these powerful guitar heroines influenced a generation of new players, but in a time where being a female guitarist was unfortunately overshadowed by politics and old-world mentalities.

In 2018, it’s time to throw away those preconceptions of what women can do with the guitar. The guitar is for everyone to play, and anyone who wants it can stand in that center spotlight regardless of who they are or where they come from. 

So, I hear you say, you want to take your own playing up a gear and rub shoulders with the guitar giants and carve out your own path to that podium center stage? Well, here are some rock licks to get those fingers flying and get you moving on your way. 

These licks are not for the faint of heart. Let’s get those fingers flying. 

Lick 1: 

This first lick is a great bending workout, and it’s also a great way to end a really rocking solo. These types of bends are called unison bends. You will be playing two strings simultaneously, bending one to the pitch of the other. This is a tricky technique to pin down as your first finger must stay anchored on the E string and not move. You will be taking the note on the B string and bending it up a full step to match the pitch of the E string. The good thing with this technique is because you’ll be hitting the same note on both strings when the bend is at optimal height, you can hear any discrepancies in pitch. The timing of this lick is to play each two sets of bends as an eighth note and a dotted quarter note. The first bend lasting for half a beat (On the 1 / 3) and the other bend lasting for a beat and a half (On & 2 & / & 4 &). The final phrase is a single note full step bend on the 20th fret of the E string with a release, lasting a quarter note, followed by a quarter note on the 17th fret and then a full step bend sustained for the rest of the bar. 

Lick 2: 

Tremolo picking is an essential skill in any speed hungry guitarist’s trick bag. Tremolo picking is picking quick subdivisions of a beat on a single note. In this instance, we can start slowly by picking each note as sixteenths (four notes per beat). The first bar has four separate notes, meaning one will fall on each beat of the bar and each note will be picked four times per beat. The second bar has just two tremolo picked notes (for the same durations – four notes per beat) and ending on four full step bends on the 20th fret of the E string. When working on your tremolo picking, it’s a good idea to start slowly with a metronome and aim for four clean pick strokes per beat. Slowly increase the speed as your picking accuracy increases. 

Lick 3: 

This descending triplet lick is based around the A Minor Pentatonic scale and is a great way to get some fast rock licks out of a simple scale shape. You’re aiming for three notes per beat here, but each triplet has a pull off which makes the picking a little easier. The second bar also sticks with the triplet feel, the initial bend on the G string followed by a note on the B and E strings will fall into a triplet pattern. The pull off on the B string and single note on the B string that follows this will also be a triplet. 

Lick 4: 

 

Now we are venturing into speedy waters. This ascending legato lick uses notes from the E Minor scale (E F# G A B C D) with an added C# note (14th fret of the B string). This might look like an intimidating passage but start slow and work on the accuracy and strength of the hammer on sections. Each beat will have three notes, but you only need to pick the first note of each triplet, the other two notes are played as a pair of hammer-ons. The entire first bar is the same three note group on two strings. The second bar starts off the same across the first two beats and then shifts to a different grouping for the next two. These groupings will change which fingers you use for the hammer-ons so slow these down and get them clean before attempting it with any speed. 

Lick 5: 

 

One great way to create the illusion of speed is to use pull-offs. This lick might look frantic on paper, but in reality, if you break this down, you are doing very little. This is using notes from the E Minor Pentatonic scale and is short repeated groupings. The lick is all sixteenth notes, so you will hear four notes per beat, but you will only pick the first note of each two-note grouping. 

Lick 6: 

No rock lick lesson would be complete without talking about the ultimate rock and roll statement, two-hand tapping. If you really want to take your playing to new heights, this will make you look every inch the guitar goddess. Like Orianthi, Nita Strauss, and Jennifer Batten, many guitar greats have used two-handed tapping to raise the roof. The technique is quite simple, it is essentially an extended pull off using a finger on your picking hand followed by a hammer-on with your fretting hand. Most guitarists will use the index finger (with their pick in their mouth or cupped between their other fingers) or their middle finger to perform the “tap” part. You will want to position your left hand on the lower of the two notes ready, in the case of the first bar, this will be the 10th fret. Using your picking hand finger of choice, you will tap the higher note as if you were doing a hammer-on. This “tapped” finger then performs a pull off with a slight downward flick to give the string some energy for the next note. The left hand then performs the hammer-on to the other note. All the notes in this tapping lick are taken from the E Minor Pentatonic scale.

Each bar has two different tapped notes. The first bar your picking hand will be tapping is 15 and 17 while pulling off to 10 and hammering on to 12. The second bar you will be tapping is 17 and 19 while pulling off to 12 and hammering on to 15.

Once you get the notes to flow evenly, you can start to push the speed of this lick. Focus is always on ensuring every note is clean and that you maintain that triplet feel throughout. 

Summary 

All these licks will take your rock playing to the next level. I’ve spent a lot of time watching footage of all the female guitar heroines I’ve mentioned in this lesson, and I’ve been fortunate to watch some perform live. These are all techniques and playing embellishments that they use in their regular playing. These licks sound great fast or slow and can be moved into any other key so you can integrate them into your day to day playing. Practice them slow with a metronome, and get the notes clean before tackling the speed. Grab your guitar, turn up your amp, and raise the roof!

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Leigh Fuge is a professional guitarist and tutor from the UK. He works as a session guitarist, plays with a number of live bands, writes for various high-profile guitar publications and works daily with his own music students to develop their skills and careers. He is passionate about sharing knowledge and helping aspiring players hit their potential with technical and songwriting abilities.

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