I love Licks!  Learning licks is a great way to quickly feel confident learning the guitar.  There are all sorts of Licks book available, but the best one for a beginner is — “Hal Leonard’s Lead Licks” — because that book will give you 220 Licks and five playing styles and a CD to help you study.

A Lick, if you don’t know, is a short piece of music that you can play as lead or rhythm with your guitar.  Some Licks drive your fingers up the fretboard while others plunge your hand down low.

Some guitarists feel if you can master 10 Licks in your lifetime, you can successfully play around with them as a professional guitarist in live performance and sound good and efficient for the rest of your musical career.

I have Licks books for Country, Blues, Jazz, Funk, Rockabilly, Rock and Fingerstyle.  I like “Lead Licks” the best for beginners because once you learn one Lick — with one or two changes for styles playability — you can immediately play four more differently styled Licks.

Here are the five book Licks:  Rock, Blues, Jazz, Country and Outside.

The “Outside” lick is a Hal Leonard original described this way:

There’s even an “outside” version of each lick — a modern improvisational tool that started in Jazz but has also been employed by many “jam based” guitarists, which takes the listener on a brief voyage beyond the given tonality, or key, and then resolves, providing a “tension and release” that can be very exciting.

Who knew there was so much science behind learning a Lead Lick?

Mastering a Lick is, in many ways, more satisfying than learning an entire song, because, with a Lick, you have a defined start and finish.  A Lick can take 5-20 seconds to play, while a song can take three minutes or so to start and resolve.

Licks also get you immediately familiar with the entire fretboard.  You’re playing slides and hammer-ons and pull-offs all over the place and your fingers will get a good workout — but without overwhelming you or unduly testing your stamina.  The Licks guitar TABs are easy to read, and include a lot of white space so your eye won’t get overly seasoned or overwhelmed.

Lead Licks will work with any acoustic or electric guitar — and I know once you get started, you won’t stop Licking!

Hal Leonard also has a “Rhythm Riffs” book that in the same vein as “Lead Licks.”  You learn 220 Riffs in the Rock, Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Country and Funk styles.  That book also comes with a CD, and buying both books together will cover your Lead Licking and your Rhythm Riffing from now until forever!


  1. That’s not a lot of licks to master — but how long does it take to master a lick? I’m still working on being able to push down the strings just right so that I get an actual sound out of plucking the string instead of a muted blah. 🙂

    1. You’re in the stage when many new players give up, Gordon. They get frustrated by not being able to get the right sound and their fingers are getting a little raw. Stick with it! Don’t give up! Acoustics are harder to play than electrics. The strings have higher tension.

      I bought my first Licks book — “101 Must-Know Blues Licks” by Wolf Marshall — a year ago and I’m only on Lick 69. Of the 69 I have played so far, I only remember five that I like so much I’ve committed them to muscle memory. I try to play each new lick 10 times a day for a week. If it sticks with me, I play it every day. If it doesn’t stick, I move on.

      Mastering a lick takes me about three days. The first day is always awful and clumsy. The second day is a little better. The third day I pretty much have it memorized so I don’t get lost on the page and I can play it by feel alone. Then I work on increasing the speed. The CD plays the lick at speed and then super-slowed down so you can hear everything happening. I have the most trouble with licks that include both chords and hammer-ons/special fingerings.

  2. That sounds great, David. I like the idea of a super slowed down play for you. 🙂

    This guy’s not quitting any time soon! I play until it hurts and then I return to it a few hours later.

    1. Good to know, Gordon!

      Most of the learning book/CD combos come with two versions of a song. Fast/Slow and/or At Tempo with Guitar/At Tempo without Guitar but Full band. Neat choices.

      Playing throughout the day is smart. That gives your fingers a chance to rest and your head a chance to get synched back up with what you’re trying to remember and play.

      You might want to check out a couple Hal Leonard easy books: “Three Chord Songs” that will make you sound really good fast and it has a CD for play along — and “The Beatles for Easy Guitar Tab.” Both books are winners and add a lot of joy to the new guitarist.

Comments are closed.