As almost any guitarist or other musician will tell you, playing is one thing, and composing another. It can often seem like writing your own material is a daunting challenge far beyond that of playing someone else’s music. In particular, writing great lead licks can be a difficult aspect of music when approaching it for the first time. However, there are a few simple steps you can take to begin writing your own great memorable lead lines.
First off, pick a scale that you like. It can be any scale, in any key. Just make sure it’s something that catches your ear when you play it. If you’re struggling to find one, pentatonic scales, harmonic minor scales, and diminished scales are great stand-by lead scales of many genres of music. Once you have selected your scales, play it in normal order, both forwards and backwards, several times, and at several different speeds. This will give your fingers a good feel of the scale, as well as get you listening for patterns you like before you even begin writing.
Next off, start improvising with your scale of choice. You can transpose notes, begin and end in the scale in different places than normal, and even repeat elements of the scale multiple times within the same playthrough. As you do this, listen for anything that catches your ear, and when you hear it, stop playing just long enough to write it down so that you won’t forget anything. Over the course of several minutes, you will likely be able to compile at least three or four different scale variations that, for one reason or another, particularly stood out to you.
Once you have found these, its time to start refining your general ideas into more regular music. Begin by playing around with the timing and rhythm of each small piece you have developed. Also, try combining elements of two or more of your potential ideas together with each other to make more complex and varied pieces. As you do this, and continue building on what series of notes in what order and in what rhythm sounds best to you, a single and definite musical idea will begin to form out of the continuous playing. There’s really no saying how long this can take, but chances are you will be refining these licks for several days or more before you really feel that you have gotten the best you can out of them.
While this is a very long and drawn out process, it will at least get you on the path to writing your own lead guitar pieces. And remember, the more you apply the music theory and scales you learn in your practice to making real music, the more naturally it will come to you. Writing great licks is hard, and even the best can’t always come up with something great, but by following these steps you will be able to take the first step in the direction of writing great lead licks and solos.