The formula revolves around quite simple harmony with strong roots in the blues. The classic combo is a Les Paul and Marshall for a very direct and straight forward sound.

The main techniques are, as in blues, bending and vibrato but played with more distortion and also starting to draw on Major harmony and modes (a popular choice being the Aeolian).

Important bands are Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, AC/DC, and Guns ’n’ Roses.


Ex 1: The first lick is in the style of the father of Rock ’n’ Roll: Chuck Berry. This is probably the most common ‘old school’ lick and it’s built using the minor pentatonic with a couple of extra notes from the major. For extra authenticity, play with downstrokes only.

Ex 2: This lick shows how players such as Jimmy Page have incorporated and developed the previous idea. Again minor pentatonic in the upper register played using alternate picking.

Ex 3: This lick is in the style of Ritchie Blackmore. Even though the notes are different, the repetitive idea is still taken from Berry. Blackmore plays on the blues scales and adds the major 6th; a sound that is common in contemporary players such as Paul Gilbert.

Ex 4: This is a lick in the style of Eddie Van Halen. Eddie’s incorporated all of the previous ideas, but all executed with his incredible tapping technique. This lick is quite easy harmonically and it’s played almost entirely on one string. Play the first note, tap the 12th fret then, with the left hand, play a bend on the 7th fret while still tapping the 12th. Basically, don’t bend with the right hand, just tap; it’s the left hand that executes the bend.

Ex 5: This lick is in the style of a contemporary player such as Steve Vai. It starts with the minor pentatonic and moves to the Gmaj7 arpeggio (Mixolydian mode) to create a modern sound. At the end there are couple of slides (another trademark of Vai) to end on the b7 of the chord.


GT132 – 50 Licks To Go
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