Open-String Rock Guitar Licks To Use In Your Rock Lead Guitar Solos

by Tom Hess

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One of the ways to quickly get ideas for great rock lead guitar solos…

…is to learn more cool rock guitar licks.

Granted – knowing a lot of guitar licks isn’t the end-all, be-all of rock lead guitar.

But learning new guitar licks can make you feel inspired and help you think of new ways to apply guitar solo ideas and licks you already know.

And guess what?

The rock lead guitar article you are reading will help you do just that.

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To begin…

Watch the rock lead guitar licks video below and I’ll show you a lot of easy rock lead guitar licks you can use in your next guitar solo.

And here is the cool thing about these guitar licks:

They use open-strings.

And as I’ll explain below…

…open-string guitar licks help your lead guitar playing in very unique ways (compared to other types of rock guitar licks you might play.)

Check out the video:

Question: “Tom Hess, what is so special about open-string guitar licks?”

Answer: These guitar licks challenge different elements of your rock lead guitar playing in ways standard lead guitar licks do not.

This is especially true if you pay attention to these nuances of your rock lead guitar playing as you practice them:

Why Open-String Guitar Licks Make You A Better Rock Lead Guitar Player Reason #1: They Are Easier To Play Than Most Other Rock Lead Guitar Licks.

Since you are fretting less notes while playing open-string guitar licks, they take very little effort from your fretting hand.

And that means: with open-string guitar licks, you are way less likely to make mistakes and play wrong notes in your rock guitar solos.

It also means: open-string guitar licks take less effort to memorize.

And that means: open-string guitar licks free up your mind to think about what to play next and have a lot more fun playing rock guitar solos.

That said, the common sense guidelines for learning all types of rock lead guitar licks apply to these open-string guitar licks as well:

- Control excess string noise in your rock guitar licks

The best way to control string noise is by using thumb muting. Simply rest your picking hand’s thumb on the lower in-pitch strings and your guitar licks (and guitar solos) will sound a lot cleaner.

Watch this video to see what I mean:

Note: be careful with how you hold the guitar pick when you play lead guitar (and especially: when you play these open-string rock guitar licks).

Don’t let your thumb hang over the edge of the guitar pick. If you do – you will hear pinch harmonics on every note of your guitar licks.

Pinch harmonics sound great in rock lead guitar – but only when you intend to play them!

Question: “But Tom Hess, why not use my palm to cover string noise in these open-string rock guitar licks?”

Answer: That’s because when you mute with your palm, your pick is at rest outside the space of the strings. This makes your lead guitar technique less efficient and you make more mistakes.

Second: your palm has much softer tissue compared to your thumb. This means: it takes longer for that tissue to securely mute the lower (in pitch) strings during a guitar solo. And that makes your muting less consistent.

That’s why I prefer thumb muting to palm muting for lead guitar playing (including these open-string guitar licks).


- Play the notes in time

Concentrate on playing the notes using even rhythm. Don’t speed up or slow down parts of the lick (unless you are playing rock lead guitar solos with rubato).

Listen to the audio examples in the video where I show the open-string guitar licks and follow the tips in the infographic below to keep your rock guitar playing in time:

How To Play Tight Rhythm Guitar

And yes, the above tips on how to play in time apply the same way to both rhythm guitar riffs and rock lead guitar solos.

Tip: as you play these open-string guitar licks, focus on the timing of the first note of each beat. If that note is exactly on top of the beat – the rest of the notes in the guitar lick will be in time as well.

Moving on to:

- picking hand motions efficiency

Whether or not you want to play fast rock guitar solos…

…efficiency helps you play rock guitar licks (that include these open-string licks) with fewer mistakes.

All you need to do is: focus on making smaller motions with your pick. This lets you get the pick back to the string a lot sooner to play its next note. And from this efficiency, comes greater accuracy and speed.

Why Open-String Guitar Licks Make You A Better Rock Lead Guitar Player Reason #2: They Train Your 2-Hand Synchronization

Even though open-string guitar licks are easy to play, they also force your 2-hand synchronization to improve.

Here is why:

Your guitar pick is playing every single note in these open-string guitar licks. But your fretting hand only frets every other note.

That means: your fretting hand needs more coordination to fret the notes at the right time in these lead guitar licks.

Plus: the string is under different amounts of tension in guitar licks where every note is fretted, vs. in open-string guitar licks.

This is an additional challenge for your 2-hand synchronization (no matter if you are playing slow or fast rock guitar solos).

Question: “Tom Hess, is it cheating if I play these open-string rock guitar licks using hammer ons and pull offs?”

Answer: No, of course not. Hammer ons and pull offs are a valid technique to use in all lead guitar licks and rock guitar solos. They simply create a different sound in your rock guitar playing compared to picking every note.

For best results, practice these open-string guitar licks both ways: pick every note (to improve your synchronization and get a more articulate sound)…

…as well as with hammer ons and pull offs (to get a smoother sound for your rock guitar licks).

Bonus 2-hand synchronization tip: as you practice these open-string rock guitar licks, hit the strings with a good amount of power in your picking hand.

This forces your hands to get in sync (because it’s impossible to pick with power and not be in sync.)

Also, practice unplugged for a few minutes per day. That will help with synchronization as well.

Why Open-String Guitar Licks Make You A Better Rock Lead Guitar Player Reason #3: They Help You Learn Scales On The Fretboard Horizontally As Well As Vertically

Let me prove it to you with a “simple” question.

When I say: “play a scale up and down” – how many strings do you think you need to play on?

If you answered “all 6 strings”, you are…

BZZT - Wrong!

This is how most rock guitar players play scales. It is called a “vertical” approach to scale playing. But the best rock lead guitar players can also play scales “horizontally” during their rock guitar licks and guitar solos.

That means: playing scales from the 1st fret to the last fret on a string.

And guess what?

The open-string rock guitar licks I showed you in the first video in this article train you to do just that.

Here is how:

Once you know the scale each of the open-string guitar licks is made of…

…you can extend the lick up the neck on each string (playing it horizontally).

This is an easy way get more out of each rock guitar lick you play in a guitar solo.

And this is something few guitar players ever practice when they are learning lead guitar licks and scales.

Bonus tip: you can also practice sequencing your licks (yes, even the open-string guitar licks) to create many cool ideas for your guitar solos.

See what I mean in this video:

This (sequencing your guitar licks) also buy you more time to think when you are improvising rock guitar solos.

Case in point:

I once had a lead guitar student complain about having a “slow brain” when improvising rock guitar solos.

Which meant:

When he tried to play lead guitar licks and guitar solos, he felt like he couldn’t come up with guitar lick ideas fast enough.

My solution for him?

I taught him several lead guitar playing techniques for buying himself more time to think while playing lead guitar licks and guitar solos.

And guess what:

The “sequence” approach to expanding guitar licks you can see in the above rock guitar licks video is one of those ways.

Use it with open-string guitar licks I showed you at the top of this article to give yourself a lot more guitar solo ideas.

Why Open-String Guitar Licks Make You A Better Rock Lead Guitar Player Reason #4: They Make Use Of Modulating Pitch Function.

Believe it or not, the coolest part about the open-string guitar licks I showed you is…

… the open-string.

That’s because, when you play these rock guitar licks over a changing chord progression, they create what’s called:

Modulating Pitch Function

It is a term I created back in 1994 to describe what happens when you hold out the same note over two (or more) chords in a song or backing track.

For example:

Let’s say you are performing a lead guitar solo over the chords C major 7 - E minor - A minor add 9 and G7.

These chords all have 1 note in common: note B.

C major 7 has notes C E G B.

E minor has notes E G B

A minor add 9 has notes A C E B

G7 chord has notes G B D F.

If you hold the note out over all 4 chords, it sounds and feels different over each one.

That’s because B is the 7th of the C major 7 chord, the root of the E minor chord, the 9th of the A minor add 9 chord and the 3rd of the G7 chord.

And each of these functions sounds nothing like the others.

Watch this video to see and hear this concept in action:

Why Open-String Guitar Licks Make You A Better Rock Lead Guitar Player - Reason #5: They Improve Your Fretting Hand Position Shifting

To play open-string rock guitar licks well, you often need to shift positions with your fretting hand. And that means…

… you need a high level of excess tension control throughout your arm (and the rest of your body).

The secret is in relaxing your hand between notes as you play and practice the rock lead guitar licks from this article.

Question: “Tom Hess, that’s a lot of things to think about. How do I keep track of all rock guitar licks and guitar practice tips you gave in this article?”

Answer: Use the idea called “focus rotation”. It’s a great strategy for keeping track of all the lead guitar elements you are trying to focus on in a single practice session.

It works like this:

Make a list of all the rock lead guitar elements you want to improve when you practice these open-string guitar licks.

Then begin practicing. Focus on each element for 1-2 minutes. Then rotate your focus to pay attention to the next element of your focus rotation list.

2 minutes later, focus on the next element, etc.

This is the secret to practicing only one guitar lick, but improving many areas of your rock guitar playing with it.

Now that you learned about these awesome open-string rock guitar licks, what’s next?

The next step is to transform the rest of your guitar playing into totally awesome top-level playing you can feel proud of.

I can help you with this in my eGuide called "Guitar Mastery Decoded". This eGuide breaks down the process of playing guitar really well into "pillars" anyone can follow (without spending a lot of time practicing). And when you do - you'll take your rock lead guitar playing from “just ok” to being really awesome. Imagine how much better you’ll be when you know exactly what to do and how to practice to reach your guitar playing goals.

To grab the eGuide for free, click the “Yes, I want to improve!” button on the banner below.

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4 Pillars Of Guitar Mastery That Let (Almost) Anyone Play Guitar As Well As They Want

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Tom HessAbout Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.

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