Improving Your Phrasing. Part 4

5 Steps to Better Phrasing and Cooler Guitar Solos.

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Do you want to be able to express yourself more fully in your lead guitar solos? Are you struggling to apply all of the licks and techniques you've been learning? Most lead guitarists aren't lacking for more information. They are lacking the knowledge and ability to apply what they already know in a meaningful and expressive way. If this describes you then this article will help shed some light on how you can end the frustration now and start getting the results you've been wanting!

In my many years of teaching and interacting with other guitarists I have seen the following scenario happen in various ways more than a few times:

An aspiring lead guitarist (who we'll call Joe) starts out learning to play by devouring everything he can find on the Internet and in books related to lead guitar soloing. Joe is motivated and excited and is progressing at a good pace. He studies scales, patterns, modes, theory, and learns a lot of licks and solos from his favorite players. His friends and family are impressed at how fast Joe has progressed and now Joe wants to start his own band and begin recording his own music. Joe's technique is solid. His vocabulary of licks and knowledge of scales is better than average. He joins a band as the lead guitarist and is thrilled to have come so far in his playing and is ready to get his new band together and start performing on stage. But as the band starts rehearsing Joe is having problems coming up with cool solos for the bands songs. Everything he plays sounds like patterns and exercises and old clich's. All the practicing Joe has done does not seem to be translating into him being able to create killer solos. Joe is frustrated and embarrassed! So what does he do? He decides he needs to practice more and learn more stuffthen he'll be able to come up with better solos. But even after trying all of that it's still not happening. What is Joe doing wrong and why is he having so much trouble? The problem lies in the fact that Joe is unable to apply what he already knows to an actual musical situation. In short, he has practiced all of the right material; he just hasn't practiced applying the material.

Hopefully you can see that it's not enough to just develop your technique and learn a bunch of licks. Whether you want to form a band or create your own CD or even just play for your own enjoyment, investing time into finding ways to implement what you have learned is the key to your success. So, how can you begin applying the licks, scales and techniques you have been working so hard on and start creating cooler solos with better phrasing now? Here are 5 action steps you can take immediately:

1. Get 3-5 backing tracks in a style of music you like. Make sure that at least one track is in the key of A minor. Try and get tracks with different tempos and keys. These tracks should include at least drums and rhythm guitars and should be at least a couple minutes long.

2. Gather 5 of your favorite licks. These licks should be fairly short, 8-15 notes or so. Make sure you can play the licks cleanly and have them memorized.

3. Transpose all the licks into the key of A minor. For example, if you have a lick in the key of E minor try moving it up 5 frets or back 7 frets.

4. Now, beginning with you're A minor backing track, play your first lick over the track. How did it sound? Did it fit? Now try playing your remaining 4 licks over the same track. How do they sound? Chances are you are going to have to change something about the original lick to make it work over the track. You may have to adjust the way you phrase the lick. For example, the rhythm of the lick may not sync up with the track in which case you'll need to adjust it so it sounds more natural and fluid. Also, there might be some notes in the lick that don't sound good over the track. If this is the case you'll most likely need to change a note or two. Many things will most likely need to be adjusted. Everything from the rhythm of the lick to the width of your vibrato and bends, to the actual notes and speed of the lick.

5. Once you have adjusted all 5 licks so that they work over the A minor track begin playing them over the remaining 4 backing tracks. Now you are going to have to transpose the licks again to whatever key you happen to be playing over. Typical keys for rock and metal are A minor, B minor, C# minor, D minor, E minor and F# minor. Getting familiar with these keys is very important. Go through the exact same process with each lick over each track, adjusting as needed.

This entire process is what is called applied practice. Going through these 5 steps may be slow and difficult at first but the results over time will amaze you. If you practice this way consistently you will eventually get to the point where you can play any lick you know in just about any key or tempo that you want. In our hypothetical example above these are the phrasing and soloing skills that Joe needed. Learning more licks or improving his technique by practicing more was not the answer to creating killer solos for his bands music. And it's not the answer for you either. Technique is important and broadening your vocabulary is important but they are useless unless you can apply them to real music. Start improving your lead guitar phrasing and soloing today by going through these 5 steps and watch your skills skyrocket.

To get more help with creating great guitar solos and improving your phrasing skills check out these free guitar solo tips.

Nick Layton is a Washington state based guitarist, instructor, recording artist, author and touring clinician. For more information Nick can be reached at nick@nicklayton.com

2009 Nick Layton All Rights Reserved

24 comments sorted by best / new / date

    crushingmetal
    stilt37 wrote: Mc.Mc wrote: this site is way too guitar-oriented lmfao
    I know! It's just guitars this, guitars that, you'd think a site called Ultimate Guitar would have less emphasis on guitars! Obviously this guitarist, instructor, recording artist, author and touring clinician doesn't know anything about music!
    DeadxEndxEmpty
    The funny thing is MY problem is almost the polar opposite of this. I can solo my ass off, but my lack of technique prevents improvising solos. Every solo I have has been painstakingly composed to sound amazing.
    Kwote
    As usual on point Nick. I have your other courses with Tom Hess and think they're all very great. No doubt this new one will be too.
    Melvin7727
    Mc.Mc wrote: this site is way too guitar-oriented, do u think about music when u come up with ur articles? licks are not real, rock music is killing the true art, i hate it
    Yeah, I agree. I am going back to Ultimate-bass.com
    lespaulmaster
    Great Article Nick, this is about where I'm at! It's my fault though because I haven't been implementing what I've been practicing. Keep your articles coming after all this site is called the Ultimate Guitar and being able to improvise is the main part of a being a great Guitar player!
    hiddeninromance
    I disagree Huevos; completely. Muscians in the 50's and 60's were the best. This is because there wasn't the infrastructure set up for an instrument like the guitar to be taught; no lessons, no tab sites. Musicians learnt to play by listening to records in booths, or going to shows and learning by ear. This gave them an incredible musical knowledge, most report that they could learn a song by hearing it once in a shop and going home and figuring out the chords and melody. Similarly, there was no studio technology then (a truism, I know) but musicians would have to get stuff in one take usually, there was no overdubbing and perfection was crucial - Bob Dylan's backing bands regularly had never even heard the song, they were told it was in G and had to start by a couple of takes they had it down.
    huevos
    Mc.Mc wrote: this site is way too guitar-oriented, do u think about music when u come up with ur articles? licks are not real, rock music is killing the true art, i hate it
    A bit ironic, but doubly ironic for being trooful (while appearing ignorant). Music was incredibly dumbed down in the 50's & 60's, when Average Joes could become celebrity musicians. I prefer my music with a hint of elitism. You don't have to be technical/complex to be good, but spamming the hell out of the music scene has done no good. I blame the blues, and praise jazz. Isn't that a tiny bit ironic?
    GisleAune
    Mc.Mc wrote: this site is way too guitar-oriented, do u think about music when u come up with ur articles? licks are not real, rock music is killing the true art, i hate it
    When reading this comment i thought, he must be playing bass and according to his profile, he does. this is www.ultimate-GUITAR .com, so there are many guitarists around here.
    Dream Floyd
    Good, but why are certain keys imposed onto rock? A musician can write in any key they want...
    Mc.Mc
    this site is way too guitar-oriented, do u think about music when u come up with ur articles? licks are not real, rock music is killing the true art, i hate it
    kingofdudes161
    kingofdudes161 wrote: Dream Floyd wrote: Good, but why are certain keys imposed onto rock? A musician can write in any key they want... I do believe the word he used was "typical" meaning an average generic metal song.
    EDIT: or rock song
    kingofdudes161
    Dream Floyd wrote: Good, but why are certain keys imposed onto rock? A musician can write in any key they want...
    I do believe the word he used was "typical" meaning an average generic metal song.
    tommaso.zillio
    Great article, Nick. Practicing a set of licks over a backing track seems obvious, until you realize that you should apply this systematically to EVERYTHING you learn, and not just bang up an down randomly on the neck
    Afterhours
    Pretty good article, but you didn't get much into "phrasing" itself. Playing over a backing track is a good idea.....that's what I do.
    ChadCrawford
    Great article Nick. I have experienced this same struggle and I think your solution makes a lot of sense.
    Nick Layton
    Hey Dream, those are just the most common keys...if you want to wail away in Bb minor more power to ya!
    Darkblast
    Exactly what I'm struggling with... But this isn't a great article on fixing the problem.
    akosiehm
    nice article sir, i have already some licks, and some backing tracks, all i need to do is to practice those licks, i always improvise when playing with backing tracks