Welcome to this latest edition of my soloing strategies column and in this one we will attempt to discuss a topic that most consider unteachable. That topic is phrasing. Now I know that every player approaches soloing differently and that it is one of the things that make guitarists the wonderful snowflakes that we are. To me the two things that matter most are melody and composition. Adding bends, slides, and killer vibrato are also certainly welcome additions. How so? Read on.
One of the best things you can do to improve your phrasing on the guitar is to get rid of the guitar. No really, you need to get the guitar out of your hands and use your ears. When we play, we often times fall into the familiar patterns, licks and shapes that we always practice. We do this because we are comfortably with them and it is what we know. The problem is that the shapes, sequences, and licks we play often dictate our note choices, and not what sounds best. Here's what you do; make a loop of the section you intend to solo over and try singing a phrase over the section. This makes you play with your ear and your note choices aren't determined by what feels comfortable to your fingers. Then learn what you just sang.
Do this over and over until you have a solo section that is complete. You will find that the melodies you come up with by singing are much better than what you would have come up with by thinking of fretboard shapes. Add the licks and runs around the melody parts to make things more dynamic and exciting. Think of a solo as an action movie; it is a thrill to see an action sequence, but if the plot sucks you walk away feeling unsatisfied. A solo is no different; it has to have a strong melody (plot) and some ripping licks (actions scenes) to make it memorable and interesting.
The next thing that you need to make your phrases more dynamic is to play unique and unpredictable parts. Using slides and interesting bends can go a long way to making a decent melody something special. When you come up with the melody try thinking of cool ways of getting in and out of the phrase. I am a big fan of using slides to go from one part of a phrase to the next; it adds excitement and anticipation to the listening experience as long as you deliver on the melody front. Incorporate half step bends instead of just going straight to the note you are after, and if you feel particularly cheeky try going slightly microtonal ala Jeff Beck. There is a reason he is still a god after all of these years.
The last and probably most important thing is vibrato. You need to make your notes sing, and a good vibrato is the best way to do that. Most of the time when you hear a player and think that their tone is awesome, it is because they have killer vibrato. This is so important because it is like a fingerprint and it gives you your identity. Sure vibrato is a simple thing, but as with all simple things every little detail counts.
I hate to preach at you like this and not show you how I walk the walk. So here is a link to my Myspace page. Check out the song "Bodega" for an example of melodic phrasing, and "It's All About the Bling" to hear the more wild and dynamic phrasing.
Scott Allen is a 1996 graduate of the Musician's Institute, G.I.T. He currently teaches guitar to 65 to 70 students weekly at Northridge Music Center.
His latest CD is entitled "III", featuring his impressively fluid playing, with a style marked by an incendiary sense of phrasing.
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