Here are three very common, very useful rock licks. They’re all based around position 1 of the E minor pentatonic scale, played up in the 12th position. Each lick is made up of 3 or 4 notes which can be repeated as many times as you like until you’re ready to end the phrase.
If you want to play these licks at speed, then it’s important to get the fingering and picking accurate and consistent. Yes, it is possible to play these licks with slightly different fingering and/or picking if you prefer, but this is, for me, the most efficient and logical way to do it. Don’t worry if you can’t immediately play them as fast as I do; aim to play the licks evenly and accurately at a slow tempo and you will build up speed naturally over a period of weeks and months. It’s tempting, I know, to try and play blazingly fast right away, but you’ll only end up being one of those sloppily fast players.
Here’s a quick rundown of each of the licks:
This is a simple 4 note repeating lick played on the high E and B strings. The kind of thing Jimmy Page might play. Starting with an upstroke might feel a bit odd to start with but it means that you’re picking on the outside of the E and B string pair, which is really conducive to speed. I think I got this idea from Paul Gilbert, who’s worth listening to when it comes to picking technique. He could certainly out-shred me any day.
Another 4 note idea, this time across 3 strings. Once again, I’m using “outside picking” by starting with an upstroke. Jeff Beck uses this phrase a lot.
This one incorporates a couple of bends into a repeating idea. A very common phrase. I seem to recall Slash playing this lick in his Sweet Child O Mine solo. Your muting needs to be good for this lick to sound clean, so make sure you’re using both your fretting hand and picking hand to damp any unwanted notes and noise.
As I mention in the video, it’s vital that you get these phrases into your playing, to the point where they naturally pop out in the course of a solo or improvisation. So put on a backing track in the key of E minor and have a jam. Work on getting in and out of each of these licks, and combining them smoothly with other licks and phrases. Once you can play them comfortably as written, try playing them in other keys, in other areas of the neck, or with different notes. The music is below. If you want a hard copy, download it here and print it out.