Guitar Licks Are USELESS - Do This Instead

Why You Can't USE The Licks You Learn In Your Playing

Tommaso Zillio

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how to use licks

One thing I hate with a passion are books/videos of licks. (*) You know "23 Blues licks", "37 Sax licks for guitar", "75 B*tching Bassons licks for guitar" etc...


Because yes, you may be learning lots of fancy new guitar licks, but somehow you end up not being able to use them in your playing. You sure do have the illusion you are getting better, but your soloing skills still stink.

But shouldn’t learning how to play a lick magically endow you with the ability to seamlessly put it in a solo, regardless of key, style, tempo, time signature, or placement?

Surprisingly, no.

Indeed, in order to integrate the licks you learn in your guitar playing in a way that feels convincing and natural, we’ll need to graduate beyond the ‘mimicry’ style of learning that is common in baboons, and certain types of birds.

Unlike birds, most humans do possess the ability to process and understand the things they see and hear (I say ‘most’ as this doesn’t include drummers and CAGED users (**) ).

The difficulty for most guitar players is that they genuinely do not know what to do to integrate licks into their playing. But don't worry, I'm here for that.

If you want to go beyond simple mimicry, and learn how to really use the licks that you learn, check out the video below. Let the fun begin!

(*) Yes, the people who have followed me for years know that I too wrote a book of guitar licks. You may notice, though, that it's not sold on my website. I took it out when I realized that books on licks are not helping guitarists play better. I could have made more money by keeping it on sale, of course, but I do have this bad habit of putting my money were my mouth is...

(**) CAGED users incidentally are the most common demographic who buys books on licks. There is a reason for that, but saying it out loud could get me cancelled once and for all. So I'll just notice that while I lumped together CAGED users and drummers, at least drummers use books on lick the right way: as a shim steady wobbly furniture (or drums!)

TL/DR: if you want to get better at soloing, playing licks, and improvising, don't learn licks. Instead, it helps to really understand how scales work. So if you really want to improve your solos, check out my Master of the Modes guitar course.

Video Transcription

Tommaso Zillio 0:01 Hello internet. So nice to see you, you go around and watch all YouTube videos about cool licks on guitar. And then you spend hours and hours learning all those cool licks on your guitar. And then you build up these big library have cool licks on guitar, and then you go and buy courses that gives you 100 Cool licks on guitar, or 45 saxophone licks for guitar, or 36 tuba licks for guitar, or all these kinds of things.

And you learn all of them. And then you find that you are not a better musician than before. You studied those licks, but those links do not come out in your improvisation. You are spending a lot of time and you're not going anywhere. You're not building any actual skill, you're just learning a lot of licks. Why? Why this is happening, when everybody tells you to study some licks and get some vocabulary, why you are not able to take what you learn and leverage it and make those things come out in your improvisation.

Well, I student of mine asked me exactly that. And there is a very good reason why this is happening. And it's a very specific practice that people should do. So that all the links that you know, will actually become useful for you. And that's my answer to them.

Speaker 2 1:27
I'd like to pick your brain and and see if we can work up some cool blues licks.

Tommaso Zillio 1:33
Fantastic. Do you know any blues lick, right? Yes, I do. Okay, so

Speaker 2 1:37
I started 100 blues licks with some other company, and I only remember about two.

Tommaso Zillio 1:42
That's what happens.

Unknown Speaker 1:46
And you cram them all in there and you forget them.

Tommaso Zillio 1:48
Because because as well, the thing about let's let's just talk about that now, because they give you this book or whatever with the 100 blues licks or like 50 saxophone licks for guitar, other than 20 for their piano licks. And and then you go you play them and then you say you remember to, and they tell you that it's good.

No, no, it's not good. If I have 100, I'm gonna remember 100. The following is that they don't give you the context, the context of the lick. They don't tell you how they arrived at it. And more importantly, they don't tell you how to adapt the lick. Now, if there was a product like 100 variation of one blues, it's unsalable, of course, because nobody will buy that. Yeah, but 100 variation of one blues lick. I be all over that.

Yeah. Because that we show me how the musician behind that lick is thinking, what what? What is like the decision tree like after this note, you're going there? Why? And I'll go in here. Why gonna give you it's gonna be way more useful to see that, but nobody's gonna buy that because they're like, it's one lick.

Okay, and here's a lick. But yeah, that's what the value is. Yeah. Okay. So right now, I'm gonna show you how to do this for yourself. I mean, you can, you can definitely pick my mind. No problem. But yeah, grab one of your blues licks. Any blues lick.

Unknown Speaker 3:08
It's somebody else's fault. I stole it. Sure.

Tommaso Zillio 3:13
Fantastic. Okay. The beginning of this is the is the right? Yes. Fantastic. So I want you to play only the first 6 notes. I feel like I'm back to the justice part. Oh, does that part.

Fantastic. Now, we have this cycle if you want us 123456 notes now. Right. It's just an accident that we started from this note, because that's what was written in the original blue book. But I could have started here. The link sounds different issues on the front. The point is, it's where the downbeat is, is 123412341234 or 1234. Is the same lake which we started at different points, so it sounds different. Okay, that's what.

Unknown Speaker 4:50
That's a good lesson.

Tommaso Zillio 4:53
But that's the very first thing I do with every lick. I learn I'm trying to make a loop of the lick, even if he doesn't really learn naturally loop, but just thinking about that, and then I'm gonna go, what if I start on the second on the third and the fourth and on the fifth note on the downbeat, and this is kind of mentally hard to shift, yeah.

But he's gonna give him more possibility because in a real solo, whatever I put into that lake, I put in that lake and I don't know, if I'm hitting the downbeat or not all the time. So I want to know the link also with different downbeat. This is partly so that I have more possibility. And partly because the problem is adapting the lick you learn to real life. And so sometimes you may be late with a lick, but I do fail.

So right now, I want you to take the clicker. Yeah. And try to start it I'm not gonna put any time for anything start from a different note. But please, same lick.

Make sense? Again. It's the same circle. Yeah, that sounds different to yours. By the way, on this specific lick this has been done already. Remember another brick in the wall by Pink Floyd? Well, yeah. It's this lick with going back and forth a couple of times. Starting from these, as opposed to these not so it's a variation of that lick. Yes. Okay. And whatever other classic rock song you're gonna find, you're gonna find a variation of this lake anyway. Okay, that'll be the first thing.

Okay. The second thing is to think of the lick as a starting point. Okay, so right now you know, the lake and or something like that, right? But you don't have to do exactly that. You can do something else, as well. Yeah. So well, they want to do right now. And they're gonna take the lick slower. Okay, so I feel like it doesn't matter if it's too slow. We're just learning right? Now, you grab this lick, you start on a different note. Again. Once you finish one cycle of this layout, you don't repeat it.

You just put another two or three notes that improvise on the spot. Okay. Okay. So take us low, choose some notes and just let's see what happens. Okay. All right. Again, but different again, but different now changes right? Again again again ready good changes, saw a single point of an infinite number of licks. Yes, they do the lick is that you're there you're improvising. You have a stock idea to get started. And then it's up to you to keep growing.

Speaker 2 8:24
Something new can't rely on the original lick or get stuck.

Tommaso Zillio 8:28
Exactly. So rather than learning, 100 different licks etc, etc. You may learn a lick or to get grabbed the basic idea. You take it on the guitar, you try starting from different notes. And then you think of it not as a lick but a starting point.

Yeah, okay. Yeah. From here, where can you go? So that's how I want you to think about licks, I will you notice that also you play that you started every leak with the same basic idea. But since you are starting from a different note, he didn't feel like you were repeating it yet. Okay. So you can take one basic idea stuff from one note and can continue to leak and then take your same basic idea might just have from a different basically the year and continue in a different way and you can go on and on and on and before somebody realizes what you're doing, so let's finish.

Next on non otherwise okay, so that's why we also say that great guitar player don't know 1000 guitar licks he knows 10 licks, but he knows them really well. That's how really well looks like okay, yeah, you did that. You're unstoppable. I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

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