How to Play Licks on the Guitar - dummies

By Hal Leonard Corporation, Jon Chappell, Mark Phillips, Desi Serna

What’s cool about playing up the neck of the guitar is how often you get to shift positions while doing it. And make no mistake, shifting is cool. You get to move your whole hand instead of just your fingers. That looks really good on TV.

You’re ready to try some real licks.

Licks that transport

Just like life, a lick can start you out in one location and take you to another unexpected place — often with delightful results.

This lick begins in 5th position, but quickly shoots up to 7th and finishes in 8th position with a bluesy flourish. The added chromatic note here is the flat five in A minor, E♭ó, which is called a blue note (so named because it is the note that creates a sad or blue sound). The left-hand fingering indications will help you to play this smoothly.


Adding E♭ó to the A minor pentatonic scale creates a six-note scale called the blues scale. In A, the blues scale is A C D E♭ó E G. The numeric formula (the “interval recipe,” if you will) for the blues scale is:

1♭ó3 4♭ó5 5♭ó7

The ♭ó5 can also be written as a ♭ó4, the ♭ó5’s enharmonic equivalent. So applying this formula to a C major scale (C D E F G A B) produces C E♭ó F G♭ó G B♭ó, the C blues scale.

Of course, you can start high and end low — which might be bad in the world of finance or investments, but is perfectly fine in music. This lick begins in 5th position and takes an unexpected dip into 2nd position for some low-end gravity.


From the depths to the heights

For the ultimate exercise in shifting, try this example, which starts in 2nd position, goes through 5th position, then 7th, and finally winds up in 9th — ending on a high, 12th-fret E on the 1st string.


Remember that although you’ve gone through different positions, various ways to shift, and five versions of the pentatonic scale, you’ve never left the key of C major/A minor.