Like other lines of professions, music has its coded language. Musical language and terms break down into different genres. For example, in “guitar language”, terms like guitar lick, guitar riff, and melody may mean different things. 

In theory, these terms may be hard to understand, especially if you are a beginner learning to play the guitar. Many of the musical terms become clearer with experimentation and practice, as opposed to reading about them.

A guitar lick is an important part of a song that gives uniqueness to how a guitarist plays. In this article, we help you understand what a guitar lick means in simple terms, and how to apply it when playing guitar.

What Is a Lick In Guitar? (In Simple Terms)

A guitar lick is a series of guitar notes that are well improvised, to make the sound unique, without having reference to a certain song.

When you hear the term guitar lick, you might take it literally. Some guitarists have licked their guitars after a fantastic performance, but this is not what we are referring to. 

Performing a guitar lick is mainly used to spice up a song or to create an extra touch of music when playing. Guitar licks are played in small amounts, which could be why it is called a lick.

When Is a Guitar Lick Played?

Guitar licks eliminate the monotony of playing. If you are new to licks, here are a few instances where you can play a guitar lick:

  • For solo guitarists
  • For rock
  • Blues
  • Jazz
  • To change the mood of a song

Are All Guitar Improvisations Licks?

A guitar lick stands out from other improvisations. Not all alterations played by guitarists are guitar licks. Guitar licks can be played several times with added alterations to make them sound different each time.

Guitar licks can be played during the intro, and in the middle of the songs. The licks are altered to sound different each time they are played.

How to Alter a Guitar Lick to Sound Different

If you are solo and you want to make things interesting for your rock crowd, you should try licks several times.

To avoid being bored with the same lick, making a small alteration works wonders. For instance, you can add two notes to your lick to lengthen it. Making alterations are favorable for instant improvisation because they do not take much time to master.

The purpose of making guitar lick alterations is to avoid repetition. If a guitar lick is repeated severally, it stops being a lick and becomes a rhythmic element.

What Is a Guitar Riff?

A guitar riff changes a simple song to be unforgettable. It is usually a repeated phrase and becomes what identifies a song as unique. When a riff is not played in a song, it alters it to something different.

Guitar riffs are not done randomly, they are well-planned and composed to be the base of the song. Guitar riffs are created in such a way that they become what identifies a certain song.

Guitar Lick vs Guitar Riff

A riff is the main ingredient that makes up a song. It is repeated severally within the song to make it memorable. A lick on the other hand is a spice-up to a song and is not repetitive.

A guitar riff plays a major role in the foundation of the song and without it, the song is completely different. Although a guitar lick does a great job of spicing up the song, it can be excluded without making an impact on the song.

While a riff creates the mood of a song, adding a guitar lick makes the song interesting. A lick can be used to make the guitarist unique and show off their skill.

Riffs are also used in other musical instruments as they form the mood for the song. The guitar lick is a privilege only guitarists get to explore.

Consider the riff as icing on a cake, while a lick could be the little stars’ decorations that add to the icing or the sprinkles on the icing.


What Is the Difference Between a Lick and a Solo?

While a lick is a small series of chords played to spice up a song, a solo can have many licks played together with melodies.

Is a Bass Guitar Lick Different?

A bass lick is shorter than a guitar lick. There is no difference in the principles applied when playing a guitar lick, you only play the series of chords on the bass. 

What is the distinction between a guitar riff from a hook?

While the riff is a short, repetitive, and catchy melody that creates the uniqueness of a song, a hook is part of the song that gets the attention of the listener. Unlike a riff, a hook rarely recurs to ensure the impact is not diluted.

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