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Fill-in Licks

“Fill-in licks” (or simply “licks”) are blocks of notes that can be used in many different situations. Instead of reinventing the wheel with every new song and learning an entirely unique arrangement, the use of licks allows you to plug in blocks of notes at certain places where they will sound good. Learning to improvise on the banjo is mostly a matter of learning licks and using them wherever they fit into songs until it becomes somewhat second nature. The licks that follow are just a few examples.

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G Lick #1

The lick is the first measure really. Each of the licks below have been arranged to provide an exercise that can be practiced repeatedly. The midi files repeat the two measures several times. Oh, the second measure is a simple lick in its own right. It can be used as kind of a breather between more difficult licks or whatever.

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G Lick #2

The following lick is one of the most popular in bluegrass. It works well  in Cripple Creek and about a thousand other songs. Be sure to do the slide with the middle finger of your left hand.

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G Lick #3

Another one of the most popular licks, this one is best known as the lick in Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Notice that you begin by playing the 2nd string with your index finger, then on the second beat you play the 2nd string with your thumb.

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G Lick #4

This lick uses a slide and a pull-off on the 3rd string in a regular forward-reverse roll. Again the second measure  is added to allow some space while repeating the lick in the exercise.

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G Lick #5

This lick uses a combination of a pinch and a backward roll.

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C Lick #1

The following exercise really contains two licks. The first measure is a G lick that can be used when going to a C chord in the next measure. The second measure contains the C lick. Be sure and hold a C chord and just move your left hand fingers as necessary.

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C Lick #2

The first measure below is another G lick that can be used when going to a C chord. The beginning of the C lick in the second measure is a continuation of the forward roll that started halfway through the first measure.

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D Lick #1

This D lick contains a commonly used partial D chord. Hold down the 3rd string 2nd fret with your index finger and the 4th string 4th fret with your ring finger. The second measure goes back to a G chord so in repeating this exercise you will be switching between D and G chords on every measure.

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D Lick #2

This simple D lick uses a D7 chord position and a forward-reverse roll.

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