As guitar players we are always looking for arrangements of notes that we can use to impress our audience. There are several names given to these sequences of notes, such as lick, phrase, riff or hook. Each of these terms identifies a group of notes with a different function. A lick is a basic ingredient in a guitar player’s repertoire – kind of like spices in a kitchen – it can be used in many different ways to achieve many effects.
Blues music uses very simple melodies but solos, whether they be by a guitarist, trumpeter or keyboard player can depart from the simplicity of the main melody by means of the soloists use of licks. One thing about blues licks is that they are always easy. What grabs the attention of the listener is how the licks are strung together like pearls on a necklace.
A blues guitar player learns his licks from other blues guitar players. You can still go and find a blues player and learn from him but it in modern times you can readily obtain easy blues licks from websites that feature free blues guitar lessons or from one of the many guitar tab collections on the net.
One of the classic blues guitar solos of our times is Eric Clapton’s arrangement of Crossroads by Robert Johnson. The solo passages in Crossroads contain many easy blues licks beginning with a simple passage from C down to A. Try it now: put your first finger on the third fret of the fifth string, play it and then play the open fifth string. It’s only two notes, but it IS a lick.
So one thing you can do to acquire a collection of easy blues guitar licks is to do a web search for “crossroads guitar tab” and start fooling around with the notes. Find sequences of notes that sound good as stand alone riffs, play them in different orders, try them out with other songs.
A common problem with blues guitarists is that you can sometimes find that you are playing the same couple of riffs over and over again. To stop this from happening, you need to learn as many licks as you can. Make it an ongoing part of your guitar practice. You can also try playing the same licks with variations in the note values, using notes from different positions on the fretboard or any other new wrinkle you can think of.