At its most basic level, guitar phrasing is the ability to turn scales and simple guitar exercises into musical riffs and progressions. Good guitar phrasing requires a wide variety of rhythm and lead techniques, and the guitarist must know what notes should be played over what chords.
Basic Scale Phrasing
Scale phrasing is knowing what notes to play over what chords. A common mistake that many guitarists make is to play random notes from a scale over top of a progression of chords. Sometimes this will sound good, but sometimes it will not. In general, you will want to highlight notes that are present in the chord or chords you are playing over. For example, if you are playing a lead line over an A minor chord, you should put most of your emphasis on the A, C and E notes. It is particularly important to start and end on one of these notes. Scalar notes outside the chord can and should be used at times, but you should try not to put major emphasis on any of these notes.
Techniques such as bends, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs and vibrato are all part of good guitar phrasing. Instead of just picking each note, try using hammer-ons and pull-offs to sound some notes, sliding to certain notes (especially useful if you are changing fret-hand finger positions) or bending up to them. Try adding vibrato to emphasized notes to spice up your phrasing. Adding vibrato to a bent note is an extremely expressive technique that many guitar greats use as a major part of their phrasing technique.
Chord phrasing is about rhythm and integrating interesting-sounding guitar techniques into your progressions. Constantly strumming eight or quarter notes will get boring for you and your listener. Good chord phrasing requires a guitarist to know how to mix different rhythmical patterns together. Picking each note of the chord in sequence instead of all at once is a widespread chord-phrasing technique. Using hammer-ons and pull-offs to sound extra chord notes is another commonly used phrasing technique.
The best way to learn about different forms of guitar phrasing is to learn how to play a wide variety of other guitarists' music. Pay special attention to what notes a guitarist plays over which chords. This can help tremendously with your scale phrasing. Look at the chord phrasing in the songs you are learning, even if you are mostly interest in the lead parts. Try to copy your favorite guitarists' lead techniques to see how they use basic guitar techniques to craft their signature sound.
- Fret Jam: Guitar Scale Phrasing the Basics
- Fret Jam: Guitar Chord Phrasing
- My Guitar Workshop: Lead Guitar Phrasing Lesson with Backing Tracks
- "Guitar for Dummies"; Mark Phillips et al; 1998
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