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How To Play Killer Lead Guitar Licks That Add Fire & Intensity To

Your Guitar Playing - Part 1

by Tom Hess

Want to know how to quickly and easily transform average guitar

phrases into GREAT lead guitar licks? Many guitarists try to do this
by changing or adding notes to the original phrase, believing that it
is the notes themselves that determine how cool the guitar lick
sounds. This is often untrue.

In a few minutes, you are going to see and hear an illustration of

how easy it is to change average guitar phrases into killer lead
guitar licks, regardless of what notes are being played. The best
part is that you will learn how to improve your lead guitar licks from
mediocre to totally amazing anytime you pick up your guitar.

Before reading any further, watch this guitar licks video that
demonstrates the main concepts I will be referring to later in this
article. Watching the video with your full attention will maximize
your ability to use the concepts and make your own great guitar
licks. In addition, the demonstrations in the video will help you get
the most out of the guitar soloing exercise I will give you (in the
rest of the article) that will add overwhelming intensity to any
guitar solo you play. Watch the video now before continuing to read.

Now that you have watched the video above... Here is a 5-step
exercise to turn the phrases you play into GREAT guitar licks:

Step 1: Think of a short lead guitar lick that you are already familiar
with and can play well (or improvise one if you like). The lick can be
in any style or scale and can be at any tempo. Once you have done
this, play through the lick several times.

Step 2: In the video above you hear me demonstrate lots of

variations of how to approach the final note of a phrase using
ornamental slides. Make a list of all these slide variations you
hear/see me do in the video, by writing out a descriptive sentence
for each idea. It is important for YOU to do this (instead of me
giving you the list) because you will learn so much more by going
through the process of training your ears to hear and identify the
different nuances that are demonstrated. The specific words you
use to describe each variation are not important, simply write out
some description that makes it easy for you to remember what the
idea is. Write down all the different variations you have identified
on paper or in a computer file (you will use it in the next step). You
may need to watch the video more than once to do this.

Step 3: To turn your phrase from Step 1 into a much cooler guitar
lick, begin to heavily emphasize the final note of your lick using the
slide variations you wrote out in Step 2. You will notice how the
phrase immediately starts to sound more intense simply by
changing the way you approach the final note. After you play
through all the ideas you saw me demonstrate in the video (and you
wrote out in Step 2), begin to create your OWN variations on the
same phrasing concept. There are dozens of ideas for how to
implement this simple phrasing element on a single note and you
need to challenge yourself to be creative and think of more ideas to
experiment with. Add your own variations to the list you started
writing out in Step 2 (by writing a short descriptive sentence for
each) and practice playing through them.

Step 4: Now, take your variations from Step 3 and create MORE
phrasing ideas from each of them by varying the type of
vibrato/bend used on the final note after you approach it with a
slide. Start by referring to the video above to see/hear several ideas
to get you started and write a short descriptive sentence for each
variation to make sure you dont forget it. Then expand on this
further by coming up with your own ideas (in the same way as you
did in Step 3). This will give you LOTS of variations for making your
phrasing sound better than it ever has before! Play through this
new set of variations of your guitar lick several times and compare
it to the original you began with in Step 1. You will notice a HUGE
difference in the level of intensity between the two.

Step 5: After doing the above steps, choose 3-5 additional lead
guitar licks and repeat the previous steps. After practicing the
exercise in this article several times, you will find it much easier to
create powerful and intense lead guitar licks on command.

Although focusing on the final note of a phrase is the fastest way

to make any phrase sound better (because that is the note that
stands out the most to the listeners ear), read part 2 to get more
great lead guitar phrasing exercises. There you will discover the
other ways to apply these ideas into your phrasing that will make all
of your lead guitar solos sound better.
Get more help with making your guitar licks sound awesome by
watching these free guitar lessons videos.

How To Play Killer Lead Guitar Licks That Add Fire & Intensity To
Your Lead Guitar Phrasing - Part 2
By Tom Hess

How many different ways can you play the same guitar lick without
changing any of its notes? If you answered anything less than 40-
50, then you still have a lot of work to do to improve your lead
guitar phrasing. Until you learn to manipulate and maximize the
expression of any guitar lick, your guitar playing will always sound
average at best, no matter how fast you can play or how many
exotic scales you know.

In the last part of this article (about playing great guitar licks) I
showed you how small ornaments added to the final note of any
phrase can make a MASSIVE difference in how the entire lick
sounds. If you practiced the exercise I told you to do, then you have
already seen and heard the improvement in the sound of your
guitar phrasing. If you havent read the first article in this series,
catch up by watching this lead guitar licks video to learn exactly
how to alter the final note of your phrases to make them sound

In this article I will show you an exercise that will get you on the
right path to controlling the emotion of EVERY note in your guitar
licks and guitar solos (in addition to ornamenting the final pitch
only). Note: you can do the guitar phrasing exercise that follows
even if you havent yet read the first part of the article (but make
sure to watch the video above to understand the concepts

Exercise: How To Create A Limitless Supply Of Guitar Phrasing


Step 1: Come up with a short and slow guitar lick. It should be no

longer than 3-4 notes and should consist mostly of quarter notes or
eighth notes. If your phrase is too fast you will not truly hear the
nuances that you must hear for every note in the steps that follow.
If your phrase is too long, then your mind will become distracted by
playing lots of notes and wont truly focus on how each note
sounds. So create a phrase that fits the 2 criteria above.

Step 2: As you have seen in the video above, the main variables
that were used to alter the phrase included some combinations of:




Come up with at least 10 different ways to play your phrase

focusing on ornamenting only the FIRST note of the lick with some
variations of slides, bends and vibrato. For now you can play the
remaining notes of the lick using the original phrasing style they
were in when you first created the phrase.

Important: you must still play all the SAME notes of the original
phrase (without adding any new pitches) - only vary the way you
phrase/ornament the first note. It would be ideal if you
could record your guitar playing while doing this (and then listen
back to the recording to critique your own phrasing), but go
through the process anyway even if you cannot record yourself.
Your guitar phrasing WILL still grow tremendously in the process as
your ears will try to come up with new ways to make the same set of
notes sound great without the possibility of playing more notes. The
result of this will be a better sounding (more expressive) guitar
lick. The goal isnt to remember all of the variations you create
(that is neither useful nor practical), but simply to go through the
process of training your mind to not take notes for granted as you
play them and get the most out of every note in your guitar licks.

For this step, create at least 10 variation ideas on the first note
(that is the minimum - 20 or more different ideas will be far better)
It is definitely realistic to have this many variations on any guitar

Step 3: Repeat the step above for the remaining notes in your
phrase - one note at a time. When creating variations with one of
the middle notes in the lick (for example note 3 in a 4 note phrase),
you can play notes 1 2 and 4 either using the original way you did
when you created the phrase or by using your favorite variation you
came up with from step 2. The point is that your mind needs to only
be focused on the ONE note you are ornamenting/varying and not
become distracted with the other notes (yet).

By the time you finish this step, you will have found at least 10
ways to vary the sound of each note in your short original guitar

Step 4: After you have gone through the process of making guitar
phrasing variations on every note of your lick in isolation, make
variations out of the entire phrase. You will do this by combining
together (at random) the variations on all the notes from steps 1-3.
Since you have already found at least 10 unique ways of phrasing
each note, you will have A LOT of options to choose from for mixing
them all together at the same time in different combinations.
IMPORTANT: in this part of the guitar phrasing exercise you must
also RESIST the urge to add more notes to the phrase - instead, get
as much expression as you can out of every single note from the
original lick!
The reason why I didnt start this assignment simply by telling you
to do step 4 after step 1 (and instead told you to practice creating
variations on each note in isolation) is because:

A. The natural tendency for most people would be to simply

focus on the first and final note of the phrase and ignore the middle
notes (which are obviously also important). This creativity blind
spot is one of many reasons why most guitarists cannot make their
lead guitar playing sound highly expressive.

B. Unless you are already a very experienced guitarist (or have

learned from an expert teacher how to practice guitar phrasing) you
would likely stop this exercise after coming up with 3-5 different
versions of your phrase, thus missing out on most of the benefit of
this assignment. This is why I emphasized the point of creating no
less than 10 variations for each note in your phrase.

Why Is This Guitar Phrasing Exercise Extremely Valuable For Your

Guitar Playing?

There are 2 reasons why doing the steps above is key to improving
your lead guitar playing:

1. You will learn the exact process for making any guitar lick sound
awesome, no matter what notes are being played.

2. This guitar phrasing exercise will get you to stop using the
possibility of playing more notes to cover up poor guitar phrasing.
Breaking this habit will greatly improve the sound of all your guitar
solos and improvisations.

What Should You Do Next?

1. Start to practice the steps above on a regular basis with every

new lick you learn. Do this until it becomes natural and intuitive for
you to apply these ideas instantly to every new guitar lick you

2. Watch another video demonstration of me going through a

similar guitar phrasing exercise with one of my students in
this classic rock guitar licks video.
3. Get more guitar phrasing resources to learn more ways to
improve the sound of your guitar licks.

4. Seek out a master guitar teacher who can show you how to
develop the skills needed to express yourself with your lead guitar
soloing. Then study with that teacher to fully reach your guitar
playing goals
Improving Your Guitar PhrasingPart 1
by Nick Layton
Many times you will hear or read about professional guitar
players talking about the elusive topic of guitar phrasing. Guitar
teachers talk about it in their lessons and books. We hear about
how important it is to have good guitar phrasing and to spend time
working on it. Well, what the heck is phrasing anyway? And, if we
can define it, why is it important? Before we continue, test
yourself here to see if YOU really know what good guitar phrasing is
and how it needs to be practiced.

My aim with this article is to clear up any confusion about what

phrasing is and, more importantly, show why it is critically
important to you as a guitar player to develop it. Finally, I will show
you some very easy and practical ways to dramatically improve your
improvisations and guitar solos almost immediatelyjust by
changing how you approach the guitar and how you think about

I once tried explaining this subject of phrasing on the guitar to a

non-musician friend of mine. She had heard someone refer to a
guitar solo as having good guitar phrasing, and she wanted to
understand what it meant. Musical lingo doesnt usually work with
non-musicians, so I had to think of a way to relate it to her in
simple, everyday terms. After giving it some thought, I decided the
best explanation was by way of making an analogy to human speech
something most everyone can relate to, right?

When we speak, we use words to convey meaning to the listener.

We combine these words to make sentences. But we dont only use
words and sentences. How we say those words can make a huge
difference in both the meaning of what we are saying and the
listeners interpretation of what is being said. If we are angry, we
might raise our voice, or if we are sad we might whisperwe may
pause for effect or put emphasis on a certain word. We use
inflections to give more meaning to the things we say. This process
we use when we speak is called phrasing. We all have our own
phrasing style or way of speaking and using words. Most often this
happens naturally and unconsciously.

In my analogy to my friend, I explained that when I improvise a

guitar solo I use the same process I use when Im speaking with
someone. When I am speaking, I first think about what I want to say
based on how Im feeling and the circumstances, then I draw upon
my vocabulary of words and put them together to form sentences
(or phrases). I use inflections, dynamics, and pauses to make my
points clear. The goal is to fully express what I want to say to the

When I play a guitar solo, the same process happens but instead
of using words I use musical pitches, rhythm, articulation, and
dynamics. I first think about what I want to say on my guitar, then
I draw on my vocabulary of ideas and techniques to play the notes
based on how Im feeling as well as the musical context. But I dont
just play the notes. I might play faster to increase the intensity, or
maybe Ill hang on to a note and give it a wide vibrato to add

It should be clear by now that phrasing, whether in speech or guitar

playing, is not so much what is being said but how it is said or

So, how does all this relate to you becoming a better guitar player?

In my opinion, a guitar players ability to phrase is perhaps one of

the greatest skills he/she can possess because it is directly related
to self-expression. Further, guitar phrasing is one of the least
developed skills most guitar players have today. As a guitar teacher,
I have noticed that most players are out of balance. As they
progress to intermediate/advanced status, they usually have good
technique but underdeveloped guitar phrasing skills. I have put my
students on the spot asking them to play from their heart and
improvise a guitar solo. Know what usually happens? They stare
back at me with this blank look of confusion and disbelief that I
would ask them such a thing. After the blank stare, Ill usually
gently encourage them to just play something. Normally what
comes out (if anything) is some mindless exercise or lick.

Herein lies a big problem that most guitar players face in this day
and age of internet tab and short attention spans they dont
know how to express themselves. If you get this, and you
understand that self-expression is perhaps the greatest musical
goal you can have, you can avoid the fate most of the tab-and-
fingers-only players will meet most of them will either give up
from frustration or boredom. After all, how fun is music and playing
guitar if you arent expressing yourself?
Technique is very important, make no mistake; and learning other
peoples songs from tablature has its place. But self-expression
happens when your heart, your emotions, your brain, your ears,
your thoughts, your knowledge, and your fingers all come together
simultaneously. This is a skill you can develop. But in order to do so
you must change not only how and what you practice, but also how
you think.

It is my belief that, as a whole, guitar players have the least

developed phrasing skills of all musicians. The reason I bring this up
is because I think there are a few very obvious reasons why this
problem exists, and that by understanding the problem we can
begin to fix it.

To illustrate what is at the heart of the problem, lets examine how

a saxophone player phrases and compare that to how most guitar
players phrase. A saxophone player (or any wind/brass instrument)
generates sound by using his/her wind (or breath) which comes
from their lungs. This lends itself to a very natural way of phrasing.
Why? Because they have to use their wind sparingly or they will run
out of breath. There is only so much wind the lungs can generate so
they must choose how they are going to use it. They may pause
during a musical phrase to get their breath before continuing, and
they will usually play a fast passage with one breath before

This is just like speech. We have to pause when we speak (to catch
our breath) and we need to pause to let our words sink in. Most
horn players have developed a very natural phrasing style because
of the inherent limitations of breathing to sound the notes. Their
phrases have beginnings and endings as well as natural timing;
they also have lots of dynamics and nuance in their phrasing.

Could it be that guitar players generally have less developed

phrasing skills because we usually learn to play with our fingers
first? We learn finger exercises and licks and things to help
us develop guitar technique, and these things can be good, but this
doesnt really show us how to phrase and express ourselves. Horn
players are doing this from day one.
How many guitarists do you know who rattle off notes incessantly
without pausing at all? Some guitarists get a bad rap for noodling
too muchand rightly so! Their playing has no natural phrasing to it
- no space to allow their notes to sink in to the listener.

Ok, so we have talked about what guitar phrasing is and why it is

important, and have determined that most guitar players need
improvement in this area. So, what can we do to change this? The
good news is that I think we can start improving our guitar phrasing
immediately and drastically just by changing the way we think.

The first thing we can do is simply start equating our playing with
speech. Think about all the things that make up speech and try to
implement them into your playing. Think in terms of sentences
when you play a phrase. Try pausing more often as you would if you
are speaking. Think about how you can use your instrument to make
the notes sound like you are speaking (ie: use inflections,
dynamics/volume, vibrato, bending, legato, staccato, etc.)

Secondly, listen to great horn or saxophone players. Notice how

their phrasing is usually superior to most guitar players. See if you
can apply what you hear to your own playing in your own style.

Thirdly, listen to guitar players who do have great phrasing. Study

them, analyze them and use what you learn for yourself. In
Improving Your Guitar Phrasing - Part II, we will look at some
specific examples of great phrasing by several guitar players who
excel in this area.

In closing, Id like to point out that if you have begun thinking about
these things, you are already ahead of most guitar players. You are
on your way to learning how to express yourself. However, it is not
enough to know what phrasing is or even to know some ways you
can improve your guitar phrasing. The key is application.
Knowledge isnt enough; you must begin to put this knowledge into
action. My forthcoming articles will focus on this application
process. Also, notice that in the survey mentioned at the top of the
article most of the questions revolved around action steps (what
you do/practice), rather than the mental concepts (what you
know). Until next time, Ill leave you all with this quote by master
motivator Napoleon Hill: HAPPINESS is found in DOING not merely
in Possessing .
How To Find The Best Guitar Exercises
by Tom Hess
Do you become overwhelmed with searching for what to practice
on guitar as you try to filter through countless guitar exercises?
Are you feeling frustrated with thousands of guitar playing
resources, books, videos and lessons that all attempt to guide you
down different paths of learning guitar? Would your guitar playing
become a lot easier if you knew exactly what to practice on guitar
as well as when and how to do it so that you could make the most
musical progress possible?

From teaching well over a thousand guitar students over the last 25
years, I have found that most guitarists do not struggle with finding
lots of guitar practice materials. Instead, one of the most common
problems I hear about is a general feeling of helplessness from not
being able to make sense out of the millions of guitar
practice exercises and resources found on the internet or

If you can see yourself in what I wrote above and you feel
overwhelmed by not knowing how to decide which guitar exercises
you should focus your practice time on, then I want to show you
why so many guitar players share this problem and (most
importantly) how you can make more progress in your guitar
practicing and identify exactly what you should practice on guitar to
become the musician you want to be.

One of the biggest mistakes that guitar players make regarding

guitar exercises is having "too many" of them. As a result, they
spend a lot more time and energy jumping around from one
exercise to another than they do focusing on how to get the most
results out of whatever guitar exercise they are practicing. Fact is
that you can often make a lot more progress by focusing
intelligently on a smaller number of highly targeted guitar
practice exercises than you can from a long list of random guitar
licks (more on this below).

Another mistake guitar players make is looking for what to

practice on guitar before defining specifically what their goals are
AND what specific steps they need to take to achieve those goals.
Remember that guitar exercises "in and of themselves" have no
meaning. Going through monotonous repetitions of random guitar
practice materials will have very little effect on your guitar playing
until and unless your mind focuses on two things:

1. The "specific" guitar playing problems you are trying to solve by

using a particular guitar exercise.

2. How the guitar practice exercise fits into the big picture of the
general guitar playing skills you are trying to develop.

It is important to understand (and always remember) that guitar

exercises are merely tools that are used to overcome "specific"
problems in your guitar playing. The key word in the last sentence
is specific. For example, instead of saying: "I want to make my
guitar playing cleaner", you need to identify an exact problem such
as: "I need to work on cleaning up the noise from the lower strings
that occurs every time I bend a string". The more specific you can
become about what you are trying to achieve, the easier it will be to
determine the most effective guitar exercises for reaching that

If you struggle to get results out of the exercises that you practice
or if you are feeling overwhelmed from not knowing which guitar
exercises to include into your guitar practice routine, ask yourself:
what specific guitar playing problem is this exercise helping me
solve and how does this particular guitar practice exercise fit into
the big picture of my long term goals as a musician? If you cannot
answer this question (dont worry most guitar players cannot),
then here are the steps you need to take to understand what to
practice on guitar:
1. Become clear on what goals you want to achieve for guitar.

2. Break up your long term guitar playing goals into a list of

skills that you must develop to reach those goals. If you are unsure
of what steps you must go through to become the guitar player you
want to be, check out this free resource about reaching musical

3. Narrow down your guitar practice exercises to a list that is

very specific to your guitar playing problems. After doing Step 2
above, select the guitar exercises that will help you develop the
skills you identified as important to your guitar playing goals.

4. Learn how to organize your guitar practice time in the most

effective ways among the exercises that you have identified in Step
3. This will help you to avoid wasting valuable practice time and
will enable you to make faster progress. If you have trouble with
doing this on your own, read this guitar practicing page to get

5. Realize that the biggest responsibility for your guitar

playing progress falls on YOU. The most important factor that
determines how much progress you will get out of a specific guitar
exercise is what your mind focuses on as you practice. Even if you
have correctly identified (narrowed down) the list of guitar practice
exercises to focus on, your mind must be totally focused on
overcoming the specific problem that the exercise is designed to
fix. You must never let your fingers go on autopilot while
practicing. As you get better at doing this, you will likely realize
that you don't need to practice as many guitar exercises as you
imagined before. In fact, many guitar exercises can often be used to
develop multiple skills simultaneously (watch this guitar
practice video to learn how to do this).

Approaching the process of practicing guitar with the mindset

outlined in this article will make your journey towards becoming a
better musician a lot easier and more enjoyable.

If you study guitar with an experienced guitar teacher (someone

who has already taught many people to play guitar well), he/she
should already be aware of the ideas described above and should be
helping you to practice guitar in this way. However, if you have
been struggling with knowing what and how to practice on guitar,
implement the ideas that you have just learned into your guitar
playing and watch your rate of progress take off like never before!

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