There are two very fast licks which are found in Luttrell, a song by Tommy Emmanuel which is named after the town in Tennessee. In his instructional video for the song “Luttrell”, he talks about how to practice those licks.

How Does Tommy Emmanuel Practice Fast Guitar Licks?

Tommy Emmanuel stresses the importance of practicing a difficult lick over, and over again in order to play it fluently. Tommy also talks about the importance of playing a lick over, and over, and over again.

This way it becomes so familiar that you don't attach too much undue importance to the lick when you arrive at the point in the song where you have to play it. Unfortunately this method is time consuming, so we are going to look at other approaches that you can use besides mere rote.

The Two Fast Licks in the song Luttrell

These licks occur just before the transition back into the verse, and the final lick occurs at the very end of the song.

Obviously, we need to discover how to play licks fast without screwing up.

In Tommy Emmanuel’s instructional video to the song Luttrell, his method is to drill the lick over and over again. Tommy often talks about waking up early in the morning, sometimes at 6am, to begin his practice routine and warm up.

Photo of Tommy Emmanuel at a concert in Niort (France) in 2006. Taken by Nicolas DUVIVIER

But is there a more efficient way to nail these licks?

Repetition is important, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your toolbox.

Practice Hacks for Fast Licks

One practice hack I heard advanced from Noa Kageyama is practicing a dotted rhythm where the rhythm is straight.

You can either play a swing rhythm, where the first note is lengthened and the second shortened, or the opposite, a Lombard or “Scottish Snap”, shortening the first note and elongating the second. I like to use this technique on the parts where the coordination isn’t great between the two hands.

My Approach to Learning Fast Licks

My approach to complicated licks is to work out both the left hand fingering and the right hand picking pattern, write them down and avoid modifying them once they feel comfortable.

Unfortunately for me, Tommy Emmanuel doesn’t seem to adhere to this method. When he demonstrates playing the lick slowly in his instructional video, his right hand picking is different from when he plays it fast to when he plays it slow. In his slow version he does a sort of “double down” picking stroke which he does not do at higher speeds.

Tommy's slow Luttrell fingering

In Tommy’s fast version, the end of the lick is played significantly different, with the addition of two slurs over a much longer period.

Tommy's fast Luttrell fingering

For fast licks like these, I prefer to pick every note and avoid slurs. This way I don’t have to keep track of when to “interrupt” the picking to stop and do a slur.

But because Tommy’s versions contain slurs, I need to modify the fingering to remove the slurs and also make it possible to play with downward pick slanting.

The way I found is to move the G sharp note from the third string first fret on to the fourth string sixth fret. Easy to pick, but this makes for an extra stretch in the left hand. The trade off for me is worth it as I think this lick sounds cleaner, is easier to learn and most importantly, takes less time to practice.

Brett's Luttrell fingering

This brings us to the last lick in the song Luttrell.

The last lick can be divided into two parts: the first half is based on arpeggios and is not a scalar lick, so pure alternate picking is out of the question.

The latter half is trivial as it is purely pull-offs and again played without alternate picking. This type of arpeggiated lick involves minimal finger movement in the left hand, but requires a careful co-ordination when shifting.

Tommy's Mistake - Not Being Precise Enough

I’ve examined Tommy’s mistake in his instructional video when he ends up shifting too far and can’t recover the lick. So it’s crucial to practice shifting at lower speeds, and checking the exact distance that you have to shift. Count the number of frets that you need to shift in order to get the distance right.

Three steps to learning the lick in Luttrell

Here are three steps that you can use to learn a lick like this

  1. Exploration – find the fingering and picking that works for you, and stick with it
  2. Speed Ramp – Start excruciatingly slow, then speed it up. Practice playing it as fast as possible.
  3. Mastering. Being able to play consistently clean and not being nervous when this lick shows up. Here the “Scotch Snap” technique may help.

If you still mess up after attempting the lick from the beginning, start in the middle of the lick and play from there to the end.

For the tabs to the example in this article, check out the Free Resource webpage.

Tab Download