A lick is different from the related concept of a riff, as riffs can include repeated chord progressions. Licks are more often associated with single-note melodic lines than with chord progressions. However, like riffs, licks can be the basis of an entire song. Single-line riffs or licks used as the basis of Western classical music pieces are called ostinatos. Contemporary jazz writers also use riff- or lick-like ostinatos in modal music and Latin jazz.
A lick can be a hook, if the lick meets the definition of a hook: "a musical idea, a passage or phrase, that is believed to be appealing and make the song stand out", and "catch the ear of the listener". A lick may be incorporated into a fill, which is a short passage played in the pause between phrases of a melody.
For musicians, learning a lick is usually a form of imitation. Imitating style is as important as learning the appropriate scale over a given chord. By imitating, musicians understand and analyze what others have done, allowing them to build a vocabulary of their own.