Phrasing

A lot of cool lead players like Steve Vai and Marty Friedman use a really cool idea called rhythmic displacement. What this means is that they are playing phrases with a different number of notes than the amount of notes in each rhythmic division.

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OK, a lot of cool lead players like Steve Vai and Marty Friedman use a really cool idea called rhythmic displacement. What this means is that they are playing phrases with a different number of notes than the amount of notes in each rhythmic division. For example, Figure 1 is "3 over 4" - 3 note phrases over groups of four: (N. B: Even though I've written 8th notes, play them as 16ths)
Figure 1:
    >        >        >        >        >        >
    ----------  ----------  ----------  ----------
    |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
E-|17-15-12-17-15-12-17-15-12-17-15-12-17-15-12-17----
B-|---------------------------------------------------
G-|---------------------------------------------------
D-|---------------------------------------------------
A-|---------------------------------------------------
E-|---------------------------------------------------
If you play this with a metronome set to even 16ths, you'll notice that by accenting the 1st note of every phrase (the A at the 17th fret), the accents are constantly moving, they're falling on different parts of each beat. Another common rhythmic displacement is 4 over 3, playing four note phrases over a triplet rhythm as in Figure 2:
Figure 2:
    >           >           >
    {  3  }  {  3  }  {  3  }  {  3  }
    -------  -------  -------  -------
    |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
E-|17-16-13-12-19-16-13-12-20-16-13-12-|-------------
B-|------------------------------------|--------------
G-|------------------------------------|--------------
D-|------------------------------------|--------------
A-|------------------------------------|--------------
E-|------------------------------------|--------------
OK, now for something a little tricky: 7 over 4! (Again, play em as 16ths and not 8ths)
Figure 3:
    >                    >                    >
    ----------  ----------  ----------  ----------
    |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
E-|15-13-12-------------15-13-12-------------15-13---
B-|---------15-14-12-------------15-14-12-------------
G-|------------------15-------------------15----------
D-|---------------------------------------------------
A-|---------------------------------------------------
E-|---------------------------------------------------
Anything more displaced than 7 over 4 is starting to get a little ridiculous. But if you're a real masochist, why not try this one? It's 4 over 5: (Again 16ths and not 8ths)
Figure 4:
    >          >          >          >
    {     5    }  {     5     } {    5     }
    ------------  ------------  ------------  ETC...
    |  |  | |  |  |  | |  |  |  | |  |  |  | 
E-|20-19-17-0-20-19-17-0-20-19-17-0-20-19-17---------
B-|---------------------------------------------------
G-|---------------------------------------------------
D-|---------------------------------------------------
A-|---------------------------------------------------
E-|---------------------------------------------------
- James W., wakefjl@sjc.vic.edu.au

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    EthanBrand
    Good article...I learned this subconsciously basically by playing solos and such...first solo that comes to my head is Atreyu's Lip Gloss And Black...
    verymetal
    its a bit hard to understand i think ur trying to say that u play three different notes four times for part of a solo
    light_rock
    Yeah, I'm not sure I get it totally but I think he means like this: take a set of notes, and play them over and over, and accent different notes. Di de de de, di De de de, di de Di de, di de de Di. Like that anyway. The other part I think he's trying to say is that a "measure" may only have so many notes, but the pattern to play has more or less notes than a single measure, therefore the timing of the accents on the diddy you're playing make the music more interesting.
    Dlawso
    You mean that one should repeat a figure? That is very common in MEtal soloing.
    dr.lecter
    Fantastic!!! This is like chemistry ingredients for Meshuggah! now only if I can find an article on that stuff in particular.....
    PRS2413
    ok lesson. I just skimmed it because i already use this technique in my own playing but may be useful for others. it may need clarification in some places though. I think that those having trouble aren't playing it with music behind their playing or even a metronome. it also may be that instead of playing the phrase like you wrote it, they are unintentionally playing triplets. An MP3 example would be extremely helpful for those who are confused. For those reading this lesson, and for the author, this lesson is not about repeating figures per se. Some of the confusion might have come from the misleading title. What's being taught here isn't "phrasing", but "syncopation". I will be using a repeating figure for an example that I hope clarifies some confusion (hopefully). One thing to keep in mind is that a basic repeating phrase begins on the downbeat. Let me rephrase the basic idea. lets say you are playing 1/16 notes in 4/4 time. The example phrase consists of 3 x 1/16 notes and is repeated over and over. The first note in each repeat will be accented. I will be using bold for the accented notes and a number (1,2,3 or 4) for each downbeat of the measure. 1/16th notes will be counted using the following sounds (or a number on the downbeat): "e" (pronounced like the -ee sound in the word "tree"), "and" (pronounced like the word "and"), and "uh" (pronounced like the -uh sound in the word "chug"). The phrase itself is not important, but it is important to see where the downbeat is in comparison to the phrase repeating. Lets take a look at one measure of the 3 note phrase in 4/4: 1 e and uh 2 e and uh 3 e and uh 4 e and uh the phrase starts on the downbeat of 1, but instead of repeating on the next downbeat , it starts up again on the "uh" of 1; a weak beat of the measure. this is an example "syncopation". looking at the second phrase repeat, notice that the downbeat of 2 (a strong beat of the measure) is not accented in the phrase and occurs on the second note of the phrase. I hope this helped some of you musicians out there and didn't just confuse you even more. If this is still confusing, you might want to learn a little bit of music theory. It is extremely helpful and will allow you to grasp concepts faster and easier. Good luck!
    PRS2413
    I just realized that the bold accents didn't come out all that clearly so for clarification the accents fall on the downbeat of 1, the "uh" of 1, the "and" of 2, the "e" of 3, the downbeat of 4, and the "uh" of 4.