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Anatomy of a Lick

Part 1

Above we see graphic symbols that represent the ankle movements on A, B, & C pedals of a standard E9th tuning. This will allow you to isolate the left ankle. A good exercise is to make your ankle go through the movements. Sit at a chair with no guitar and try it. Can you make your ankle float throuh the above moves?

I also show the pedal moves beside the fret numbers. I also put numbers above each movement so we can dig into the the very basics of the lick. Lets get started with move #1.

Move #1 I would probably pick this using my thumb and second finger. The thing to remember is to look ahead when you're practicing. Pick move #1 and then block it before move #2. The small (T) stands for the thumb. The (2) tells you to pick the string with the second finger.

Move #2 I would pick this one with (1) & (2). Most would use thumb and second finger but I have my first finger already on the middle string because I pick block. I place my thumb, first, & second finger on adjacent strings. For this move it would be string 8, string 7 and string 6.

Move #3 Before we pick the strings for move #3 we have to block the strings from move #2. There are many ways to block and all can be developed as different techniques. I would pick this lick with the (T)thumb & (1) first finger. Looking ahead I see that move four is a pedal movement.

Move #4 The key to move #4 is to see that it is the pedal movement that gives us our sound. You pick the strings in move #3 and bend them in move #4. That gives us two eighth notes and we only have to pick once. See that as a time to move your right hand in preparation for move #5. Remember, you have to think ahead.

Move #5 First we have to block the sound from move #4. I would pick this with my (1)first finger & (2) second finger. Once again its because I have my picks on the strings at all times. This move sets the strings in motion and then move #6 is rocking off pedals B & C. We only have to pick once and pedal once but we get two sounds. At fast tempos, this rest for the right hand can be extremely important.

Move #6 Nothing but the sound of the foot coming off the pedals. The solid bar between fret numbers show us that a slide or pedal move is taking place. Looking ahead we see that all we have to do is block the sound from the pedal move we just made and use the exact same fingers to pick move #7. Take a look at moves 3 through 8. They are all the same pick the strings and then move the pedals.

Move #7 This is move #3 repeated. The key to the way I picked this is that I can make move #1 & #2, move my hand up for move #3, and then without moving my right hand use (1) & (2) to pick the adjacent strings. I would let the fingers that are on the strings pick them. When I pick block I leave my (T)humb, (1)first finger, (2)second finger and (3)third finger on the strings ready to pick the strings.

Move #8 This move is the pedals B & C bending the strings. Practice the alternate fingering that is shown. You could use many different ways to finger this lick, but each of those are a separate technique in themselves. Learn to isolate your movements. Break your licks and movements down into their smallest parts and put them back together. Then write some licks out in tablature, without using your guitar.

Part 2

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The lick below is shown with eighth notes. The fingering that you use is up to you on this one. Some may play it with the thumb and second finger, which is traditional. The important thing is to see other ways of picking this example. Let's take a look at each movement and analyze them.

The first move has us at the eighth fret picking string 6 and string 8. I would use my thumb and second finger but would have my first finger resting on the 7th string ready to play. After we pick those two strings we have to block them to get ready to play the next move. The method of blocking is up to you. Depending on your style, you can pick block, palm block, or left hand block.

The second movement could be picked with the first and second finger. I would use this so and not move my right hand to use my second finger and thumb as is the traditional method. Notice that the second pedal is pushed for the second move. There are no pedal slurs heard so you should pick the first move, block it, and at the same time everything is blocked push the B pedal and then pick the second move.

The third movement is the picking of the strings. I would use my thumb and first finger.

The fourth movement is the pushing down of the B & C pedal. The strings are not picked on this movement. The sound comes from the pedals bending the strings up.

I would pick the fifth move with my second & third finger. Traditional methods would have you moving your right hand up and using your thumb and second finger. I would keep my hand still and use the fingers that I have resting on those strings already. I place them their when I picked the third move. The less movement I have to make, the faster I can play.

The sixth move is nothing more than you releasing the B & C pedal. The thing to see is when you push the pedals down for move #4, you have them already in place for the next picking motion.

The seventh movement would be picked with my first & second finger. My right hand would not move for moves 3 through 7. Using the pick on my third finger of my right hand makes it natural to keep my hand still and let my fingers do the work. Notice that between move 6 and 7 you have to push the pedals down while the strings are blocked. Then you pick move number seven. The movements have to be done silently. You need to learn to look ahead and see what's coming next.

Part 3

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Inversions & Numbers

The following example shows us picking a three finger grip. The result of the pedal moves and the slides gives us all three inversions of an F triad. This lick can only be done on a pedal steel. We can pick the strings one time and play all three inversions without having to pick the strings again. This slide and the strings being raised and lowered at the same time, gives us our characteristic sound of the E9th pedal steel guitar. The first movement is the picking of the strings 8, 6, & 5 at the first fret. This is a first inversion of the major triad. The next move is the slide and pedals changing the strings.
The F knee lever raises the fourth & eighth strings a half step. Practice this example as written until you can smoothly play it up the fretboard. You should keep a steady pace for each inversion. Another way to practice it is to pick each inversion and not let the slide be heard. You could also pick every other inversion.

Lets take a look at the numbers. The numbers represent the left hand movements. The frets we use are 1, 4, 8 & 13. One, four, eight, and thirteen. This gives us all of our inversions in the key of F. So to transpose this to another key we would simply add to the numbers. For the key of F# we would add (1) to each number. Everything else will stay the same. The numbers will change because we need new frets to change the key.

Learn to look at the right hand movements, left hand movements and pedal/knee moves separately. In the above example we can have a new lick by changing the left hand numbers and leaving everything else the same.

We can practice these inversions in every key. We do this by adding to the numbers. Here are the numbers and their keys. Remember, keep the right hand and pedal/knees the same. The left hand changes in this exercise.

Key F	1,4,8,13		Key B	7,10,14,19
Key F# 2,5,9,14 Key C 8,11,15,20
Key G 3,6,10,15 Key C# 9,12,16,21
Key G# Key D 10,13,17,22
Key A 5,8,12,17 Key D# 11,14,18,23
Key A# 6,9,13,18 Key E 12,15,19,24

Part 4

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We can expand on changing movements to make new licks. Below we see variations of the F inversions from our previous method. The key is seeing that more licks can be found right from the one that is tabbed out in front of you. When you look at tablature that someone has written, think about moving some of the basic ingredients around to make new moves.

As you learn the moves to the above lick, try changing the frets that the left hand move to and from. This will change the keys of the lick. When you use different frets, your left hand must move a different distance.

  • Play this lick in all twelve keys.
  • Play this lick using different right hand picking patterns.
  • Pick every move or pick and utilize the slide and pedal sounds.

Practice this move with different string grips. You could use any of the following three finger grips and have a new lick.

  • 3rd, 4th, & 5th strings.
  • 4th, 5th, and 6th strings.
  • 5th, 6th and 8th strings. (as written above)
  • 6th, 8th, and 10th strings.
  • 3rd, 5th, and 8th strings. (wide grip)
  • 4th, 6th, and 10th strings. (wide grip)

Another way to find licks is to play the above one backwards. Each lick has an opposite that is a new movement to learn. Your hands need to start on any of the strings or frets or pedals and hopefully you can train them to make whatever move you want, whenever you want. That's called improvisation.

The above move is written... Pick and slide. Pick and slide. Pick and slide.

The above lick is for a standard E9th tuning, with standard pedals.

Practice this is all of the keys. You can also work on changing which group of strings the right hand picks. Changing the grip will give you the added sound of using different gauge strings. The characteristics of the strings will determine which inversions or grips you use when you play these arpeggios. Keep practicing.

Part 5

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Another Variation

We use the example lick below to show one more variation of the inversions. The key is learning to slide and move the pedals in a smooth and coordinated manner. To practice all of these sliding moves, start real slow. Even exaggerate the slowness. Try to be in control of every aspect of these licks. Even practice each of the moves separately. You can use different banks of strings on the E9th neck so be sure to practice all the variations you can from any lick. Change the right hand. Change the left hand numbers. Start with the pedals down instead of up. Do the opposite move. All these can be ways to get your playing out of a rut. Change the rhythm and that will give you a new lick.

You can have a slide of any given distance and it can be any speed. You can also get into the amount of vibrato that you put on the bar. Think of things in as much detail as possible and soon they become less overwhelming.

This lick below mixes up the inversions. The key is to teach your left hand the different distances that it has to move. Make up exercises that allow you to make thousands of left hand moves. For example, you can start and the first fret and then move to every other fret.

It would read like this:

  • First fret to second fret.
  • Second fret back to first fret.
  • First fret to third fret.
  • Third fret to first fret.
  • First fret to fourth fret.
  • Fourth fret to first fret.
  • Continue up the fretboard in the same manner.

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