Today we will talk about "Guitar Phrasing". Now I’m sure you’ve heard of this concept, but it can often be very difficult to really understand what this actually means. That is because phrasing is often a personal preference rather than necessarily a right or wrong answer, but as a blues player myself, I look to my influences for phrasing ideas. I look to B.B. King, Freddie King, Clapton, Buddy Guy and many more players to try to understand the term. The one thing all of these guys have in common is the way they structure their lead work... In sentences!
Sound a bit weird?! Well if you imagine that when you are talking to someone you have to take pauses for air and include punctuation in your sentences, otherwise the listener will not understand what you are saying! Well the same applies to lead guitar playing. Your first notes should have a definite pause before continuing to the next few notes, just like you would if you put a full stop or a comma in a sentence. To try and explain this more though-roughly I have recorded two audio files. Both contain exactly the same backing track, and exactly the same notes in exactly the same order played on the guitar. The ONLY difference between the two is that I have deliberately not used any punctuation or "sentences" in the first example. So let’s have a listen to that example now:
see mp3 - "no_phrasing_example.mp3"
Ok, so as you can here this sounds ok. The guitar playing is good (if I don’t say so myself!), the licks are cool and in general it all seems to fit. The problem with it is simply that there is so much going on that it lacks any real direction or character. It sounds as though the player has taken no consideration of the backing track or the style of the music, and therefore has not made a good, memorable impression with this lead part.
Let’s have a listen to the second track, where we have deliberately broken up that lead part into sentences.
see mp3 - "good_phrasing_example.mp3"
So what do you think? Better? Well that’s obviously an opinion, but I’m sure you get the idea. The phrasing here allows the listener to fully absorb the lead part, and understand it. If the listener goes away singing some of the part, or all of the part, then I know I have phrased it well.
So that should give you some ideas to work with. Next time you are at a jam night, playing along with mates, or even just playing with some backing tracks, try to think about your phrasing. Sometimes playing loads of notes quickly works well, but in general try to make sure those flurries of "flash" are surrounded by quality, well phrased ideas giving plenty of space and allowing yourself time to breath! Have fun!
Audio Files Here: Download.
Dan. Founder and Tutor of Brighton Guitar Academy