You will struggle to play killer sounding lead guitar licks if all you do is play the same pentatonic and blues patterns over and over. A great way to make your lead guitar licks grab your audience’s attention with every note you play, is to use exotic phrasing. To do this, you need the following:
1. Knowledge of exotic scales and arpeggios
2. Mastery of general lead guitar phrasing (in other words: how you play the notes in your guitar licks/solos).
With both of these elements in place, you will give yourself endless options for playing killer lead guitar licks whenever you want.
Don’t worry, this doesn't require any advanced music theory knowledge or advanced guitar playing skills from you - you’ll see how extremely simple this all is in a moment.
Before I show you how to play exotic and expressive guitar licks with phrasing that will blow people away, watch this video demonstration to see and hear exactly how these concepts will totally transform your lead guitar playing:
Now that you’ve watched the video above, do the following steps:
Check out the tab of the exotic guitar licks below and read the text explanation about them.
Play through each lick several times until you are comfortable with it.
- Read the section below called “How To Use Creative Guitar Phrasing To Make These (And Any) Guitar Licks Sound Badass” to learn how you can make these licks sound totally killer.
Exotic Guitar Lick#1: This guitar lick is an arpeggio, based on the Lydian mode (don't worry if you are unfamiliar with modes - the lick is very simple to play and apply). The exotic sound of this lick comes from emphasizing the raised 4th note in the Lydian mode (circled in the tablature to the right) by bending it up to the 5th note in the scale. This creates unexpected tension and dissonance that sounds very exotic.
You can apply this lick over any major chord in a backing track or song (since the above lick is simply a major arpeggio with 1 note added), as long as the lick is moved to match the chord it’s played over.
Note: the above scale is the basis for the lick #1, even though the notes are played in completely different octaves/areas of the guitar (the pitches of the scale and the lick are still the same).
Exotic Guitar Lick#2: This guitar lick is an arpeggio based on the 5th mode of melodic minor. The exotic sound of this lick comes from emphasizing the flatted 6th note (circled in the tablature to the right) by bending up to it from the note below.
Watch the video above again to hear exactly how to make these exotic guitar licks sound creative and unique.
You can also apply this lick over any major chord in a backing track or song. The notes of the lick are taken from the 5th Mode Of Melodic Minor shown above on the right(even though the octaves/positions on the guitar are different).
Note: of course there are more exotic scales than just the two I listed here (to cover this topic in full detail, work with an expert guitar teacher), BUT even these 2 scales will already help to make your guitar licks come alive…particularly when you combine them with the concepts described below:
How To Use Creative Guitar Phrasing To Make These (And Any) Guitar Licks Sound Badass
Here are several creative guitar phrasing techniques that will make all your guitar licks sound exotic and totally badass:
1. Bending From Notes Outside Of The Scale: Instead of beginning all of your bends by bending from one note of the scale to the next, start the bend on a note in between two notes of the scale. This will create a very expressive and exotic effect in your bends that sounds awesome.
Here are two examples for how to do this:
In Exotic Guitar Lick#1 above, bend up from the 17th fret on the E string to reach the 18th fret. Hear It
- Using the same guitar lick, fret the 17th fret, but pre-bend the string to match the pitch of the 18th fret (bend the string without picking it). Then, strike the string and release the bend all the way down until it is almost matching the pitch of the 17th fret. Right before the string matches the pitch of the 17th fret, immediately play the 16th fret. Hear It
TIP: The slower you release the bend, the more tension you can create (this sounds really awesome – watch the video above again to hear how I do this). Additionally, this style of phrasing closely immitates the sound of a singer’s voice (more on this below). Check out this guitar soloing video to see another demonstration of this phrasing technique along with an explanation of how it is used to create a vocal-like sound in your playing.
Important: This style of guitar phrasing (landing intentionally on an out-of-key pitch and then slowly bending into an in key note) is an example of “controlled dissonance” – something I teach to all students who take online electric guitar lessons with me. By learning how to create tension in your lead guitar playing (in a controlled manner like this), you will be able to easily play very intense and emotional guitar licks whenever you want. This is completely different than the approach most guitarists use of simply playing notes at random (without knowing how they will sound ahead of time) and hoping they sound good.
2. Creating Aggression With Slides: When using slides, you are not restricted to ONLY sliding from one note of the lick to the next. There are lots of variations you can create in your guitar licks by using slides in unconventional ways. For example, try this:
Play through any lick until you reach a note you want to emphasize.
Play the note you chose from the first step, then immediately slide up the fretboard a distance of 3-5 frets or so and return back to the original note. Tip: Do not focus on counting the number of frets you are sliding - simply slide up an undetermined distance and return to the original note.
- Continue playing through the rest of the lick.
Read more details about using creative slides in your guitar playing by checking out this article on playing intense guitar licks.
3. Using Guitar Phrases That “Sing”: Most of the truly great guitar solos consist of guitar licks that ornament a memorable melody. One of the best ways to give this quality to your guitar licks is to play them similar to how a singer sings a vocal line: By holding out several important pitches (using them as the main body of the lick) and inserting faster runs or fills to fill the space in between.
One way to quickly apply this idea into your guitar playing is to study the vocal melodies of your favorite singers and observe how they structure the notes in their phrases. As you do this, pay close attention to the smaller phrasing nuances that the singer uses to enhance the expressiveness of each note (such as vibrato). When you use this vocalist-style approach in your guitar phrasing, you will easily transform any lick that sounds "robotic" and lifeless into a lick that sounds highly memorable and expressive.
See a demonstration of how you can instantly apply this concept into your guitar solos by watching this video about writing guitar solos that sing.
4. Applying Vibrato Creatively: Using great vibrato technique is key for playing killer guitar licks. Apply the following phrasing approaches to the guitar licks discussed in this article (and the ones you create yourself):
Use different styles of vibrato on notes throughout the lick, such as narrow vibrato (less than a half step), wide (one half step) or very wide (one whole step).
- Use vibrato as soon as you pick a note, but sometimes try delaying it while you let the note ring for a moment. By not applying the vibrato instantly, you create anticipation in the listener. As a result, it becomes much more intense once you finally apply the vibrato and release the built-up tension.
Learn more on how to make your guitar soloing sound creative using different types of vibrato by reading this article on playing better guitar solos.
5. Combining Guitar Phrasing Techniques: To truly make any guitar lick sound badass, you can’t just use a single guitar phrasing approach all the time (because then your solos will all sound the same). You must creatively combine many phrasing techniques. Combine the guitar licks and phrasing techniques in this article using the following steps:
Step One – Select one of the exotic guitar licks discussed in this article (or create your own).
Step Two - Play through this lick 10-15 times using one of the four phrasing approaches you saw/heard in the earlier examples. (Yes, this many variations are REALLY possible - challenge yourself to be creative!) As you do so, try to make each repetition sound unique and highly expressive.
Step Three – Combine the guitar phrasing approach from the previous step together with another one discussed in this article and repeat the process from step 2. Review the video demonstration above to see and hear how I use different guitar phrasing techniques together.
Apply the concepts in this article and watch your boring, cliché guitar licks turn into killer-sounding, exotic guitar licks. However, know that there is MUCH more to learn about guitar phrasing in order to become a truly great lead guitarist. Learn how to take your lead guitar playing to the highest level fast by starting online rock guitar lessons.