One of the best thing about being a guitar player is not having to care what key you’re in!

Seriously, in this short video I’ll show you how you can take a simple lick (which might be new to you, so pay attention)…

And change it to any key you want.

Plus, I’ll show you how I learn licks so that I never care what key it’s in, I just play it.

Oh, and here’s the TAB for the lick in A, if you want it.

    20 replies to "How To Change The Key Of A Lick"

    • Henry Suddarth

      Thanks Griff excellent lick. Could please demonstrate how play licks to a very catchy tune title 20-75. I have tried my darnedest to learn it but combat injury to ears I am able to break it down. I have even try slowing down but no luck.
      CSM (Ret) US Army
      H Suddarth

    • Don Hall

      Us guitarists are so lucky…try to transpose a keyboard, brass or wind lick and you’ll be back to the guitar really quick! In fact, if you plan to jam with other instruments like the piano, or a sax, practice everything you know in Bb, Eb…the “flat” keys. Your non-guitarist friends will thank you because that’s where they play.

    • Jeff

      Griff, did you record this video at your new digs in Texas? I noticed the black background sans sound treatment on the walls. I think I can hear that you haven’t treated your space for sound yet. Overall it looks good. Glad to see you’re settling in (unless this is a “years-old” video and I don’t know what I’m talking about).

      • Griff Hamlin

        Yep, this is new and I’m in a temporary space while I build the real studio. It isn’t ideal, but at least it gets the job done for now.

    • Suzanne Shafer

      Ahhh! Finally…a lick that really resonates with the music in my head AND feels like one that an elderly beginner with slow fingers can actually learn AND will give me practice with two techniques (pull-offs and bends) that always give me pause.

    • Gary

      How do you know this is a 6th string rooted lick?

      • Griff Hamlin

        That is an element to the lick. For any lick, you should know where the root is and if you don’t then you will have trouble with the lick.

        • Jeff

          You beat me to the punch, but only by a minute or two

      • Jeff

        This is a very good question. I hope Griff answers it for you.

        To me it’s obvious that this lick comes from Box 1 (not box 3). And it also uses Box 2 for just 2 notes where you see the “6” notated on the “and” of the First Beat of both measures. The reason Griff used the “6” is to get the Major sound, otherwise it’s all strictly box 1. That “6” is the “Peak” note of the “House Pattern” a/k/a Box 2. BTW the position of that “6” is Nowhere to be found in Box 3 (relative to all the other notes in the lick) so Box 3 is not used in this lick.

        In Box 1 the Root note is where your first finger is on the 1st and 6th strings, respectively (and ring finger up 2 frets on the 4th string). And since Griff played the lick on the 5th fret, that means the note on 1st and 6th string is A. Therefore this lick is in A. As Griff demonstrated, if he moves down 2 frets, then his first finger lands on the third fret of the 1st and 6th strings. Those notes are G thus the lick is now in G after moving down 2 frets.

    • Gary

      For this lick as written, how do you know it is in A? Is it just recognizing the notes make an A chord? Or does it rely on the position of the A note on the strings? Or that it is in the general area of the 3rd box? How do you determine what key any lick in?


      • anon

        if you learn how chords are built–an open chord, for example, is a 3-notes triad (the root, plus third [major or minor], plus fifth), then you can recognize these notes from the scale to know the key. A major is made of A (root), major third (C sharp), and E (fifth) and he he starts by moving from the minor third (C) to the major third (C sharp)–a classic blues move–and then to the root on 5E and onto other notes in the pentatonic. From these note choices it’s easy to recognize this as the key of A.

        The same would apply to any key. So learn how to build chords of all types, learn the pentatonic patterns and intervals, and learn the notes of the fretboard and you won’t have any problem!

        • lee

          shouldn’t there be 3 sharps on the left to indicate the key?

      • Jeff

        This will augment my comment up one reply in this thread.

        The notes in this lick may appear as they come from Box 3 IF you only look at the 1st, 2nd, and 4th strings. However if you look at the notes on the 3rd string, neither of them is in Box 3. In this lick example, IF this was Box 3 then the notes on the third string would have to be “4” and “7” (not “5” and “6”). So if the notes on the 3rd string aren’t in box 3 then this lick isn’t in box 3.

        For this lick, the note on the 3rd string called “6” comes from Box 2 (giving the lick a major sound) and the note on the 3rd string on called “5” comes from Box 1 as does every other note in the lick (except for the “6”)

        • Ernie B

          Respectfully, do I really need to know all that? Personally, it bogs me down & opens the door to “frustration creep.” Surely, there is a reason to know, but it escapes me. Please help.

          • Griff

            Ernie, you need to know what key the lick is in, and that will usually help know the other stuff about the boxes and all that. Keep in mind that, if you learn a lick and don’t know what key it’s in, it’s useless to you. Anyone who teaches you a lick should tell you what key it’s in and that’s truly all you need.

      • Suzanne Shafer

        Gary, as compared to the other responses this is definitely a beginner’s answer, but maybe it will be helpful anyway. When I hear a song or lick and want to know what key it’s in, (1) I go to the 6th string and pluck up the frets one-by-one until I find the tone that seems to ground what I’m listening to. (2) Once I find it, if I don’t already know the name of that tone based on its position on the fretboard, I figure it out by walking up the string from the open position, naming the notes as I go. Then, (3) I play Box 1 from that fret/tone and if most of the other tones in it sound compatible with what I’m listening to, I figure I’ve found the right key. Then finally, (4) I hunt and peck out the lick in the Box 1 position and if the fingering is reasonably comfortable in that Box, I figure I’ve also found the right Box.

        Currently, the 1st and 6th strings are the only ones on which I somewhat know which notes are where, so I usually have to hunt and peck as described above if I can only HEAR a song or lick. But because I can read notes and could see the tab in this case, once I knew the lick is in A and saw the A on the 5th fret/1st string, I knew it had to be either Box 1 or 5, because only those two Box patterns have a Root on the 1st string—and if the Root is on the 1st string, it is also on the 6th, since tones are in the same position on both of those strings. I also knew it had to be Box 1 because the tab shows the G on the 8th fret/2nd string, and Box 5 in the key of A doesn’t use the 8th fret. If I hadn’t been able to see the tab/notes, I would have tried playing the lick in Box 1 first (because that’s the Box I know best and because it’s used so often), and if it didn’t play comfortably in that position, I would have tried it in other Box positions for the key. One can play this lick in other Boxes, but not via the pattern shown in the tab, and definitely not with the ease of the Box 1 position.

        Okay, that was long-winded, but hopefully I’ve described a useful process for figuring out keys and Boxes. I am diligently trying to achieve first name acquaintance with every note on my fretboard, and someday I may even be able to Name That Box just by looking at the notes. But in the meantime, this process is getting me where I need to go when I hear something I like. 😉

    • Dennis

      GREAT explanation. THANKS!!!

    • John

      Griff….Great lesson! I believe you could move lick up or down an OCTAVE anywhere on the fretboard ( not crossing 2nd string ) and still be same fingering , correct? JT

      • Griff

        Yes, you can move as far as you want!

    • Russell Eckam

      Thanks for a tasty lick. Simple explanation… know the fret board. Just have to move your finger to the fret / key you want to play in. As always tune it up turn it up play on. PEACE be well.

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