Triple your musical vocabulary in months

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"Wasn't that a nice trick? I mean lick..."

How do you put together a jigsaw puzzle? Do you look at the picture on the box, then pick a pice up in your hand and try to place it in the correct spot right away? Or du you find pieces that are similar and try to fit them together until you have something that makes sense? Most people choose the latter.

But because of our curiousity and drive to learn something new, we nearly always chose the first option when it comes to playing guitar. We spend hours and weeks learning a hard lick and when we finally reach the point of mastery, we go on to something completely different. Our skills become scattered, unconnected jigsaw pieces. It's almost as if we become magicians rather than musicians. We pull a lick out of the hat and say "Wasn't that a nice trick? I mean lick..."

Triple your musical vocabulary

We need to choose our path more wisely. When I started practising the things I teach in this article my skill level tripled in a couple of months. Seriously... Why? Because when this dawned on me I was a pretty skilled player, my repetoire was quite big but I hadn't utilised half of what I could really do with that repetoire.

When you learn a lick you simoultaniously learn the skills neccesary to play it. But the lick and the skills needed to play it are two different things. The lick is just one way of using those new skills you have aquired. What else can you do with those skills? Most players can double or triple their repetoire very fast if they start expanding upon what they know already.


"Progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something"

Robert Heinlein


Try to live by this rule:

"There are always at least 10 applications of any new lick or skill you learn"

And then push yourself to find those applications. Force yourself to think hard and long and to come up with new ideas, new ways to use what you have already learned. You can do a lot with very little, so while you are learning 100 unrelated licks someone else is finding more and more applications to the 10 he knows already!

Try this arpeggio sequence and come up with your own chord progressions. Find ways to use this technique in a blues scale or how about outside the arpeggio context. come up with as many applications as you possibly can. Then combine them and practice going from one to the other without pausing.

Simple ideas with a radical effect

Here are some simple ideas that you can use to expand what you know:

1. Change it!

Play different notes. Are there any of the notes in the lick that you can change easily? Can you change a simple scale pattern into something with spicy intervals? Can you change a note every other time you play through the lick? Can you use string skipping to spice things up even more? Try to create at least 3 or 4 alternatives to the original lick by doing just this, then practice alternating between the different versions until it's easy.

3. Move it

Move it up the neck playing the same strings in different positions or move it up the strings in the same position. Or do both! Move it one step up the neck, then shift to a lower set of strings. Invent different sequences of moving the lick around. Then see if you can use the alternative patterns you developed under step one and mix it all together.

4. Change the scale

Play the lick in a totally different scale. Go from playing A-minor to A-blues, and then back again. Go from playing the lick over the notes of a major scale to playing it over the notes of a diminished triad. The same lick can sound completely different when it's played in different scales and arppegios.

5. Use different techniques

Could you use tapping to spice the lick up? Could you play some of the notes with hammerons and pulloffs instead of alternate picking? And what new options does that give you? Could you convert the entire lick into a tapping exercise and play it with wide intervals?

The Key Question

A key question to focus on and remember is this: "What else can I easily do with this new skill I've aquired?" The key word is "easily". Whenever you have aquired one more skill there are a lot of things that becomes easier to play. Find them and your musical vocabulary will explode! And the more applications you find and practice, the better you get at all of them. Because it's basically the same thing that you are playing over and over again.

When I discovered this, I had a lot of undeveloped techniques lying dormant in my treasury. When I started to develop those, not only did my vocabulary explode I also started to develop "flow" when I played. Improvising also got a lot easier. It became a lot more fun to play because I had so many options.

Apply it to scales and arpeggios

You can apply this powerfull principle to learning scale patterns as well. Instead of trying memorize 7 scale patterns in a week. Go for one instead. Then expand that pattern so it becomes a little bigger. Add som notes in the bottom and in the top. then expand further when you get a little bored. You can see a visual example of that here.

Your skills should develop like a circle that expands more and more, from the center and out. with every step you take the circle area expands exponentially. For every new thing you learn, you learn 10 other things and these things combine with the previous things you've learned, until you cannot believe the speed at which you develop and grow! This is for real. It's like, there's a point where you start getting better at a rate of 10 times than what you are used to. you start growing exponentially instead of linearly. The sooner you develop this as a habit of thinking and acting, the sooner you will reach that point.