Improve Your Guitar Phrasing By Exploring Rhythm

Rhythm is one of the most important elements of guitar phrasing. In this guitar lesson we'll explore how to change the rhythm of a lick to create new variations.

Ultimate Guitar

Hopefully you've had a chance to read through my Introduction To Phrasing article. In that article we talked about how I like to break phrasing into three key elements...

  1. Note Choice (What)
  2. Rhythm (When)
  3. Articulation (How)

In this article we're going to explore rhythm a little bit more. To do this we're going to take a group of six notes and play them in the following way...

  • We'll play the notes in the exact same order each time. This means that our note choice won't be changing.
  • We'll pick every single one of the notes.This will mean all the variations will have the exact same articulation.

OK, let's get started by taking a look at the notes that we'll be using. For this lesson we'll focus on using the following six notes from the C Natural Minor scale...

Don't panic if you haven't learned the C Natural Minor scale before. You don't need to know it in order to benefit from this lesson. Just learn the notes shown in the TAB. (Although it's not absolutely critical, you might also want to use the pick motions and fingering that I've recommended).

Now that we've decided on the notes that we'll be playing, and also how we're going to be articulating them, let's look at our first example phrase...

Example Phrase 1:

To help you get the most out of this lesson, I've recorded myself playing the phrases. You can check out the audios for this lesson by clicking here now.

This is a two bar phrasethat I composed using the notes we selected earlier. Notice that it is being played over a chord progression that uses a C minor chordforthe firstbar, and a G minor chordfor the second bar. Playing the phrase over a chord progression will allow you to hear what the phrase sounds like ina musical context.

I have also included the exact fingers and pick strokes that I used to play the phrase. Although I included these, just in case you wanted play the phrase exactly how it do, I recommend that you don't get too hung up on these. I recommend primarily listeningto the phrase many times rather than necessarily learning to play it.

Creating Variations

Let's now take a look at a couple of new phrases that use the same six notes. To create these variations, the only thing I did was to vary the rhythm that I used to play the notes. I'm still playing the exact same notes in the exact same order. I'm also picking all the notes with the same pick strokes that I used for the first phrase. This will help to make the articulation sound the same as the first phrase.

Example Phrase 2:

Example Phrase 3:

I'd like for you to listen to all three example phrases a number of times. Once you've done that, then I invite you to answer the following questions..

  • Which phrasing example did you like best? Why?
  • How does changing the rhythm affect the feel of the phrase?
  • How would practicing the same notes with different rhythms help your improvisation? How would it help your composition?

A Suggested Bit Of Homework

Although we only looked at three different phrases in this lesson, it's important to realize that you could make up manyother variations just by changing the rhythm. So that's why I recommend doing the following exercise...

  1. Create a backing trackby recording about 5-minutes of the chord progression Cm to Gm. Feel free to use any strumming pattern that you like. Be creative and have fun with it! Rhythm guitar is just as important as lead guitar, sodo not to skip doing this. :-)
  2. Improvise over the backing trackthat you've just made. Try to stick to only using the six notes you looked at in this lesson. The primary focus of your improvisation should be changing the rhythm.
  3. If you recorded your improvisation, which I definitely recommend doing, then listen back to your improvisation and write down what you noticed. What did you like about what you did? What are some things you could improve?

A Few Last Words

Forcing yourself to stick to the same notes and only varying the rhythm can be extremely challenging to do. But it is definitely worthdoing on a regular basis.It isa fantastic way to develop your rhythmic ability, which is an essential part of learning to improvise in a musical way. So be sure to do the suggested homework, and also be sure to have fun doing it!

About the author: Craig Bassett is a professional electric guitar tutor currently living in Melbourne, Australia. To get many more free articles and lessons designed to improve your playing, then be sure to subscribe to his electric guitar newsletter now.

6 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Good lesson. Getting my students to work out different rhythms as a part of the creative process in solos is definitely rewarding . . . for me and the student.
    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for having audio clips! For ANYONE learning guitar I think audio clips help tremendously. Great lesson!