"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." – Proverb
Learn a new guitar lick from a book, video or teacher, and you feed yourself for a day. But learn to turn each lick you learn into many new licks and you'll have an endless flow of new licks to play every day.
Here is a set of lick changes that will let you turn every lick, every exercise, you learn into an abundant supply of many new licks to practice. Apply as many, or as few, of them as you like to create endless new licks and avoid the pitfall of playing the same things over and over.
1. Change Octaves
An easy change to practice is to play exactly the same lick an octave (or two) higher or lower. You'll develop your knowledge of the fretboard and of different scale positions as well as exercise your fingers with different fingering patterns.
2. Change Key
Simply move a lick up or down the fretboard and you change its key. This is another great way to build your familiarity with the guitar fretboard.
3. Change The Rhythm Pattern
Keep the original lick's note pitches but make some changes to the rhythm pattern. Rewrite the lick and replace some note durations with different values. Your new licks don't have to remain the same length as the original but if they do then they can be easily interchanged.
4. Change A Few Notes
You can also start to play around with the notes of the lick. Add an ascending movement instead of a descent, or vice versa, or try out larger or smaller intervals between notes. You can change as few or as many notes as you like.
5. Change Playing Effects
Experiment with effects to shift the emphasis and weight of notes around. Add, remove or change playing effects such as bends, slides, hammers and vibrato. You can also add chromatic movements to lead into notes from a half step (or more) below or above.
6. Reverse The Lick
This is a change that's quite simple to do, but might not be so easy to play. Put the lick into reverse order and play it backwards from the last note to the first note.
7. Shuffle the lick
Shuffle a lick by taking parts of it and changing their order, for example, reverse bars one and two of a two bar lick. You can shuffle beats within bars too.
8. Call And Response
Another good way to create new licks is to play the lick as a question and make up answers in call and response style.
Just play the original lick and then follow it up with whatever it inspires in you. In reality you will use many of the techniques described above when you do this, but the difference is that you learn to do it spontaneously. Remember to write down the licks you make up this way for future reference.
9. Change The Tempo
Here's a change that has to be included for completeness. It's a very simple change, and easy to overlook, but often the whole character of a lick will change, not to mention the technical challenge it presents...
Now you know nine ways to make up new guitar licks and exercises to practice. You can make up a lot of licks if you change only one thing at a time, if you combine two or more changes you'll create a huge number of new possibilities.
Put these tips into practice to grow your guitar lick vocabulary and create personalized licks of your own inspired by those of your heroes. You can apply these techniques to the licks you pick up from books and magazines, or teachers you follow. Multiply the benefits of all these sources by learning how to easily create dozens of new licks from every one that you learn from them.