This past week i have been in two very heated jam sessions and they have really inspired me to advance my phrasing. It feels like everything im playing sounds old and cliche. Another guitarist in the session after i had had a conversation with me was talking about how he was impressed with my improvement but i didnt feel like i ahd improved, after discussing why he used a chess metaphor saying that playing guitar was like playing chess, when you first start, you might be really good because you can think of moves that are way out of the box, but once you read a chess book or two, you lose the ingenuity you first possessed, but when you learn to change you're phrasing you are better than you are when you started. This made perfect sense and matched my problem perfectly, well a week later after this i had been really trying to get out of the box, and had done it, i felt like my playing was totally fresh, my phrasing felt great,but after going to the jam session the next day, it was like I had reverted to my old licks and am trying to climb out of the same abyss. I need to rediscover the mindset i had experienced the other night and wondered if anyone on the forums had some help. Im mostly in to Cream, Hendrix, Taste, and quite a bit of gypsy jazz, even classical, ive tried everything to get out of this rut and now ive fallen back into it.
Thread was moved to forum: Guitar Techniques
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Quote by Axelfox
Sometimes it helps me to not think of my guitar as a guitar. I try to learn vocal, sax, violin, etc. parts. They all have different voices than guitar but you can grab some of that and translate it into your playing. I'm usually not trying to think of a cool guitar riff, I'm trying to think of what would compliment the song. If I hear horns in my head, I'll try to cop some of that feel with what I'm playing.
You could try what Miles Davis did a lot... say your next phrase is 12 notes long. Vary your picking firmness from very soft to medium back to very soft so that that you don't even hear the first notes or the very last notes... just a swell of about eight notes that emerge from below listening level and then go back under.

This does a few things:

- it makes the phrase draw interest because you don't quite hear where it begins and ends - it more forces the ear to place it in the music
- it will sound different from the full phrase and suggest ideas - because the first note you really hear is a later note in the phrase, it may sound more like an inversion or different mode or some other shifted sound (even though it is the "right notes')
- when playing with others it has a similar effect on dynamics and feel
- a lot of stock phrases express most all their conceptual aspect with the first and last notes - suppressing those pulls the conceptual effort to the middle notes
- this is very easy to employ on what you already know - it is just a different mechanical expression with very nice musical results
Quote by reverb66
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It's interesting that this topic has been moved to the technique forum, as rhythm and phrasing have a lot of theoretical concepts involved.

Phrasing is based in rhythm. The time structure of what you're playing, as opposed to the pitches involved. By repeating the same, or similar phrase (time structure), your soloing (or song) will take on more memorability for the listener ... it reduces randomness ... and let's face it, a load of players will try their luck letting their fingers do the walking, with little thought, and often this is a blur of 1/16th notes, with no real shape. That's not phrasing.

Here's a few suggestions to consider, not when you're on the spot, but when you've time alone to think and investigate. The process of this appearing in your playing is gradual.

So, consciously decide how long a lick (or verse line) you want to use (e.g. 2 bars), and where you will start and stop. You;ll find that players you like will rarely start on beat 1 of the bar. Notice where they do start. Maybe on "2 AND", Notice where they end (Maybe on 3 of the 2nd bar) . The end point can make real difference between the phrase feeling balanced or unbalanced, cut short. Decide how you want to break the phrase up between the start and the stop.

Then decide some pitches to use to fill this phrase. On a repeat of the phrase, try anything from an exact repeat, to slight change in pitches, to a complete replacement ... but keep the time structure. Then try gradually changing the end of the time structure. And so on. Try different bar lengths. Try consciously using SILENCE ... one, two, a few bars, between phrases.

Decide how you'll enter the phrase (dress up the starting note). E.g. from a whammy bar release to the pitch, or a slide into it. Ditto for how you end the phrase ... a slide? vibrato? ...

This stuff is something that you can develop over your musical life ... rhythm is where to get the most uniqueness ... it's not note choice. There are zillions more rhythmic ideas than pitches available.

There is a load more to this topic, but hopefully this may help you. Good luck!
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Feb 18, 2017,
I'm going to add here that the problem, at least for most people when they get in to this state, is that they're letting their fingers run over licks they've played for years without really thinking about what they're playing, or at least not in much of any depth at least.  They key, and this is really what all the very good suggestions above are getting at, is that you need to pay more attention to what you're doing.  Really listen and think about how you want things to sound, where you want the rhythm to land, what notes you want to play.

As I said, the suggestions above are very very good ways of getting yourself out of what you normally do, but always remember: the keys are listening, and thinking.
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I think one good thing is you are aware of the problem and addressing it. I'd suggest also writing more in your mind at home while practicing. I got to a point where I'd hum things into a tape recorder, and then learn them either as vocal lines or guitar parts. I was never limited then by what I "knew" how to play on guitar if that makes sense. I constantly riff in my mind still to this day.
(to add a little more...wrote the original post on my phone at Starbucks this morning.)

you'll find too you can create chords and rhythms you might not really know the names of....but you are blending things you've heard and rhythms that
have stuck with you...so you might come up with a chord progression that is advanced and not know that what you are doing is actually clever or more advanced than your "go to" patterns of chords you actually know.

the one thing that will advance that whole idea is your musical diet...so what you are listening to will become part of that mental library and vocabulary.

this was one little weird trick I'd do when I'd write songs....say I'd put on a song I'd never heard before....so I'd listen for maybe 40 seconds and get a vibe where it's going...then I'd stop it...and start riffing in my mind where I thought the song was advancing to (actually where my MIND wanted it to go)...I didn't really know the rhythm or riffs of the song anyway...but it would create a dialogue in my mind...just hearing something/

it really will depend on your improv skills I guess...but have fun with it...and know you aren't going to mess up just going for it regardless.

so go for it!
Last edited by Nadda2 at Feb 27, 2017,
I have a similar problem, all the licks I used to play keep coming back to haunt me, so I try to mix things up and then what happens is little moments of joy but no transitions to the next bit.

Something that's helping me a lot was getting a keyboard to attach to my computer, I originally got this for drum and bass bits but wound up learning more music theory than I did on the guitar.
The way a keyboard is laid out makes it easier for me, applying it to guitar is refreshing me.
Thanks all, Nadda2, i found you're advice very helpful, especially the bit about "musical diet" ( I changed mine a bit, and if you havent heard of him, you really must look up davey graham!). 33db, I think i will give that a shot! anything to get out of this rut!. Im also trying to learn piano now, so hopefully that will help.
A few players that helped me open up my phrasing:

Bill Frisell - uses sustain and silence in a unique way :

Albert King : minimalist

Wes Montgomery : Freddie the Freeloader solo - hard to explain, but changes how you play

Mark Knopler : he has amazing phrasing

Grant green : sookie sookie solo - staccato pentatonics
I would add 2 things that changed my approach, l a r g e chord intervals and hybrid picking especially in the style of Eric Johnson.
Johnson plays partials of chords and often switches up the end notes on chords to dramatically change the sound.