What Is A Guitar Lick (And Other Things You Should Learn About It)

By Monica | Guitar Techniques

Apr 28
What Is A Guitar Lick

The guitar world is full of terminologies. If you do not delve yourself into the art, you will never understand these concepts, nor how to make them work. Among the most enigmatic terms that you can encounter while learning the guitar is the "lick." So what is a guitar lick exactly again?

In this article, we will give the full definition of this concept. Luckily, it is not a musical jargon that you should fear. Just read on to be enlightened!


What is a Guitar Lick

Music has a lot of music genres. Each of them requires unique playing styles, techniques, and even instrument. The same goes for the novelty genres (e.g. rock). If you have a guitar geek friend, you probably heard the word "lick" from his/ her mouth while playing rock songs. And that made you curious, right?

Specifically, a guitar lick is a set of " stock phrase and pattern." It consists of single notes (usually short) that are noticeably common on lines and melodic solos. Any contemporary blues or rock guitarist might be consciously or unconsciously using this technique while they are playing

.When it comes to rock and roll, licks serves as a form of a formula. Some players use this concept to indicate the development and integration of simple techniques in a solo. For the metal genre, they call it as a "hot lick."

In jazz, you can play the lick during multiple variations of solos. It can be either on a solo break or a solo within the chorus of a track. But despite the difference in their applications, the nature of licks still stay the same. It is usually short and altered to fit into changing the progression of a song.

The Riff and the Lick

The Riff and the Lick

It is not a hidden that a lick is usually compared to a riff. Sometimes, it causes a lot of confusion, especially to amateur guitarists. But to make things easier, we have to clarify that the lick and the riff are not the same. You should not use these two concepts wrongly. Otherwise, you won't be able to create a harmonic track.

In fact, there is a huge difference between a riff and a lick. Specifically, a riff can contain a repetition of chord progressions. Of course, this could never happen to a lick, as the latter can only contain a single note for every melodic line.

The confusion between a lick and riff rooted from one of their distinct similarity. You can use each of these two as the main ground of your song. A good example of that is the Western classical music. This particular genre is using single line licks or riffs as its basis. Specifically (and technically), we call them the ostinatos.

You can also find the similar concepts in Latin jazz and contemporary jazz. Most of the music writers in this area are using ostinatos to build the structure of their tracks.

The Lick and The Hook

You can also say that the lick can act as a hook if you use it correctly. By definition, a hook is a form of phrase and passage that can make a particular piece "stand out." In short, a hook is an element that allows the music to capture the attention of any listeners.

You can actually integrate a lick to a hook. You can do it by employing short passages between the pauses of a melody.

Essential Guitar Licks You Should Hear From Legends

We can easily spot an excellent guitar lick the moment we hear one. For example, the solo breaks in the song "Whole Lotta Love" of Jimmy Page is an ideal example of a how a lick should sound. A lick that possesses the similar quality can give a lasting impression to its listeners.

At some point, the effect could go as deep as subliminal. You will be playing a certain lick repeatedly, then ask yourself: "where did I hear this?"

A good guitarist can assemble licks to make a harmonic piece. However, the best among the best can give their licks its own life and breathe. Therefore, if you are looking for an inspiration, you better listen to the licks of these following guitarists:

T-Bone Walker

You should know that the sub-genre Chicago owes a lot to T-Bone Walker. This Texas native splendidly illustrated the right approach to the fifth string by starting on the measure two.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

It was Elmore James who wrote "The Sky Is Crying." However, it was Stevie Ray Vaughan who bestowed immortality to this song by creating a rendition to this song on his 1991 album. The licks you can hear in this song is truly out of this world.

Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter is a world-renowned blues guitarist. He has a unique style that only a few can mimic or copy. Most of his licks deal with the b7th and b5th lines while having the measure of two.

Elmore James

The licks of Elmore James were inspired by guitar players like Son House or Robert Johnson. However, James were able to modify his licks that made them divine and sensational. Just listen to his "Take Me Where You Go" song, and you will know what we are talking about.


It is easy to answer what a guitar lick is. The biggest problem that you have to deal right now is how to execute it properly. Although it is true that this element is plainly simple, you still have to practice continuously to make sense out of it.

If you are planning to become a legendary guitarist someday, you have to know the ins and outs of a lick. Otherwise, you won't be able to create soul-captivating music.

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About the Author

Hi everyone! Im Monica and I am an avid lover of guitars and everything in-between. My current profession is not really music-related. It is quite discouraging but I just don't want to drop my zeal--especially not to guitars! I created GuitarTrance.Com so that I can keep up with my hobby. Of course, I want to engage with the community as well! Hope we can all get along!