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Country Vocals Lessons: Riffs & Licks

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and Licks.
Love them or hate them, they can be
very powerful tools for a singer.
You don't have to use them at all.
Lots of wonderful singers never do
fancy licks or impressive riffs.
They just go from gorgeous tone,
an emotional delivery in telling
the story and we love it.
But if you're into digging into riffs and
you can find a lot of impressive power and
fun stuff to do with them.
For your listening list,
I recommend Reba McEntire and
country music, one of the most
Skilled riffers in country music.
Christina Aguilera, of course,
the woman has, I think she's got
one of the most technically
proficient instruments there is.
She's got such great control and
beautiful clarity in her licks.
For guys, one of my favorites
lately is Chris Stapleton.
But, of course there's
always Stevie Wonder if you
really wanna learn how to do
tasteful riffs and tasteful licks.
I think Stevie's, maybe,
the all-time best.
So, here's the thing.
You aren't born knowing how to riff and
You might be born with a very good ear,
and you may be an excellent mimic.
So when you hear riffs and
licks you're able to imitate them
very easily like a mocking bird.
People born with naturally
good ears are good mimics, and
they can hear something and
then physiologically their
body knows what to do without
a lot of conscious thinking.
That's a gift.
It's wonderful to be able to use it.
Most of us learn how to do riffs and
licks by listening,
hearing, being attracted to a lick or
a riff and
then figuring out how it was created.
Actually deconstructing the lick and
figuring out note for
note how that lick is constructed.
It's something that takes time and
patience and deep attention.
And you'll have to go slow, but trust me,
most people don't hear a lick and
automatically find themselves able
to reproduce it or imitate it.
Most people have to slow it down and
deconstruct it and
figure it out note for note.
The great thing about that process is,
not only does it help you learn about
how good licks are constructed.
How these very rapidly moving melodies, or
just extra melodies,
that move very quickly.
How they work and how they're made.
But they also are great practice in every
intentional interval inside that lick.
Being a distinct note and
making sure that you are controlling
your mechanism to make each of
those distinct notes very clear.
That's what makes a great riff or
a great lick effective,
it is not that it's just
this blurred shape of tone.
[SOUND] That's someone who's
not really great at it, right?
It was like just make
the general shape of it.
[SOUND] But what really gets us excited
and impresses us is when a riff or
a lick is, you can hear distinct
notes inside that melody,
and you know that they're happening and
they sound clear, but
they're going by so fast.
I actually deconstructed a lick
that I love of Chris Stapleton
on his song Tennessee Whiskey.
There's a great part in
the middle of the chorus and
he repeats this lick believe every chorus.
He does it in the key of A, and it's,
you're as warm as a glass of brandy.
You're as warm as a glass of brandy.
I love that lick.
But I wasn't able to nail it
the first few times I hear it.
I was like, what is he doing?
So I sat at the keyboard and
figured it out.
[SOUND] He's starting on the A.
note by note, I sat at the keyboard and
figured out listening over,
and over, and over to Chris's lick.
You're as warm as a glass of brandy.
It took a number of minutes for
me to sit down,
note by note and deconstruct that lick.
So I discovered by
breaking it down every note and
then the timing of his pattern.
And then he finishes it
by going back down.
That's how you learn
how to master licks.
It's not something that you just
are born knowing how to do.
Chances are,
you're gonna have to deconstruct and
study and then reproduce, slowly.
So that you can feel each distinct note,
where the placement for that note is,
and develop the muscle memory at
a slow pace to recreate it at speed or
at tempo.
You can actually write it out note for
note, again, like it's its own melody.
That's what a riff is, or what a lick is.
It is a distinct melody with very clear
notes that you can write out on a staff.
But they're happenings how fast that
they burst by you at lightning speed and
you're just left with this
breathless feeling of what was that
there was a flurry of excitement or
a flurry of emotion.
So these are very powerful tools that I
just want to make sure you understand.
It's something that you can break down and
master slowly and study.
It's not something that, I don't know
how to do that, I could never do that,
or I could never learn how to do that,
you gotta be born to be able to do that,
not so much.
You can develop the skills
by training your ear and
taking the time to deconstruct riffs and
licks so that you too can master them.