I have learnt tons of licks, now what?

So, during the development of my picking technique I’ve been learning licks. Even a choruses of Django Reinhardt pieces, regardinh to technique I’ve been following the principles learnt in Volcano seminar and the Josho Stephan interview.

When it comes to improvising, I’ve many many licks I can use and I feel comfortable with. Yet I’m struggling to make it sound like they are all part of the same solo.

What should be my next step?

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You could try breaking down the licks to much smaller chunks and throwing them in between freer improvisation. If you have a library of memorized smaller chunks I think you can combine them on the fly more easily, with some small modifications if needed, and make it sound more organic.

Do you have a way to place the licks in some kind of framework, e.g. do you know how they fit within pentatonic boxes / scales / CAGED / underlying harmony? And when you are trying to improvise over a piece, can you identify what you could draw from (similarly scales/arpeggios etc) if you were to freely improvise?

Alright, seems as a good thing to do. Like small pieces of vocabulary I can use to create sentences.

Yes, I’m using the CAGED system to organize the vocabulary. This is how I have managed to “improvise” over chord changes so far.

  1. I learn the progression
  2. I play “the right” licks over the respective chords

Sometimes I manage to add variations to the licks I’m using, how I play then and in which time of the bar i begin or end it.

Troy shared a while back this video: https://youtu.be/UST4NsW9pKU the instructor there actually talks about linking a lick to one or many chord shapes on the freboard

I think now you should start practicing building your solos formally, so instead of just trying to play right stuff over right chords try setting a parameter like “I’m now going to play a solo two choruses long over x tune” and try to play it so it has a beginning, middle and end. You can do that by implementing contrast like short and long phrases, using single notes or chords, playing a lot vs using a lot of space, etc. I’d say the best solution would be to start taking lessons from a good jazz guitar teacher who pays attention to that kind of stuff, at least in my case it was a tremendous help. In this video Greg Howe talks a lot about this.


Do agree with this idea. Yet, it’s not an option for me right now. So, I’m planning to work on it and get as far as I could with the info I have at sight, until I can find a professor for live feedback

Okay. This sounds like an interesting exercise and I’ll try it soon, thanks a lot!

Alright. Will try this one out as well.

Bookmarked! Thanks for sharing it.

I struggle with this as well. I am not working on improvisation per se but I’m trying to get better at writing riffs and solos.

One “simple” concept I’m finding useful is this: memorable solos tend to be a good compromise between repetition and variation.

Too much repetition and it sounds boring, too much variation and it will sound like a collection of random licks.

A vaguely related concept is “call and response”, which is easier to illustrate with an example.

So you could have something like:

idea 1 (first call) , idea 2 (first response) , variation of idea 1 (second call) , idea 3 (second response)

Of course not all great solos follow these ideas, but this is one possible way to go about it

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Do you have the ability to loop a section of whatever audio you’re soloing over? Like, just a few measures so you’re constantly playing over the same chords over and over again? I wouldn’t be surprised if there is free software that does this now, but I have a loop pedal from digitech and of course my DAW (Cubase) has this capability. Soundslice is another option too. This could narrow the focus so you don’t have as much to think about while you stitch ideas together. You could gradually make the loop longer and longer. Also, you could tweak licks and make variations of them. Just a suggestion! Good luck on your journey!

One thing that I do is creating melodies/solo without guitar in my hands. It doesn’t have to be exact, with every note specified. Just a contour with some reference points is enough.
Also it helps to sing before playing.

Do you know WHY a lick is the “right” lick to play over a respective chord?

I’m trying to think of all the various things I’ve learned about improvising over the years, and honestly, the single most useful thing to understand I think is understanding enough harmony to understand why a certain lick sounds “right” over a certain chord, and then to be able to use that knowledge to make variations of that lick, or play lines that aren’t necessarily pre-rehearsed “licks” but know what notes you can resolve to to make them sound “right” or what notes might make them sound “wrong” if you resolved to them, but potentially “cool” if you hit them in passing, etc.