So you’ve got your super 6 strings dominant 7th b5b9#5#9 sweep picking lick down at 600bpm and you can’t wait showing it off to everybody! You start playing that monster lick over every altered dominant 7th chord you encounter and man you look so cool! After using the same lick for over a thousand times, you start getting bored. The excitement of the super sweep picking lick isn’t there anymore and it has become a part of your muscle memory. You would still play the same lick over altered dominant 7th chord but it’s all muscle memory and you know it! You’re not feeling the lick anymore! It’s just auto-pilot and you’re not proud of the lick anymore! You get depressed and since then you sold your guitar and lived a happy life ever after.
For those who haven’t sold their guitars, good. If you’ve actually sold your guitar, please try getting it back or get another one and try this. I’ve been through the over-used licks cycle before and I believe almost everyone did. Here it’s not about throwing the lick away and learn another lick, it’s more about using the lick in a different way. It’s actually a blessing to have a muscle memory of the monster lick we learned and abused because it is there and will be there for quite some time unless we totally don’t play it for a long time so chill out and don’t be depressed just because ‘Oh my god I only have muscle memory I’m not musical!’ Muscle memory is what makes you know how to play your instrument/s of choice and we’re constantly building up our muscle memory with more and more licks so be cool!
Okay. Enough of muscle memory talk so lets get down to business here. Lets get into this extreme case in the first paragraph. You only know ONE lick. You could learn other licks but lets just focus on this ONLY lick you know. The first thing I would do is to break down the lick into its individual notes and just focus on the sound of each and every one of them. Since the mentioned lick is a 6 strings sweep picking lick, lets assume it has 6 notes then (could be more but let’s make things simple!). Now whenever you encounter an altered dominant chord again, stop your hands from auto-piloting (in this case it would be sweep picking)! Just play one note from the lick, hold and listen to it. FEEL it. Feel how that note sounds with the chord. One thing worth mentioning about playing fast is that we often just hear a bunch of notes but we never get to appreciate the sound of each note. Now it’s the time to break them down and give those notes the respect they deserve!
To continue, do this with other notes from the same lick. Feel them. Put your soul into playing these notes slowly. As soon as you get more comfortable, try playing a combination of notes instead but don’t be tempted to do that old lick! Try rearranging the sequence of the notes. Soon, you should be able to form different licks out of the same notes but more importantly, instead of building licks, you should be able to PHRASE with these notes and that, is the essence of this post. This doesn’t apply only on guitars but any other instruments as well! It just so happens that I play the guitar so I gave a sweep picking example. I hope to do a video lesson to demonstrate this idea some time in the future so look out!
Abused licks are like abused phrases in languages. A particular phrase would sound cool if you blab it out once in a while but imagine saying ‘as far as I’m concerned’ every time you address yourself. “As far as I’m concerned, I like KFC.” “Mcdonald’s is the best as far as I’m concerned.” “As far as I’m concerned, I’m good looking.” It wouldn’t sound that pleasant would it? Of course there are always exceptions where a lick actually shows the identity of a player instead of just sounding overused and boring so, experiment! The key thing is, if you get bored of your own licks, it’s time to move on either by trying what I mentioned here or just learn more licks but try your best to keep that lick! I’ve lost quite a number of licks myself during my transition to jazz but well, I think my licks now sound much better anyway so everything’s good!