Improve Your Guitar Phrasing By Exploring Rhythm
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...
- Note Choice (What)
- Rhythm (When)
- 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:
AUDIO: Example Phrase 1 played four times
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE:
In the audio recordings of the example phrases I have deliberately
left out expressive techniques such as vibrato. The reason for this is so that you can focus more
on the timing of the phrase. But keep in mind
that when you are improvising you should use expressive techniques to make it sound more like real
This is a two bar phrase that I composed using the notes we selected earlier. Notice that
it is being played over a chord progression that uses a C minor chord for the
first bar, and a G minor chord for the second bar. Playing the phrase over a chord
progression will allow you to hear what the phrase sounds like in a 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 listening to the phrase many times rather than necessarily
learning to play it.
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:
AUDIO: Example Phrase 2 played four times
Example Phrase 3:
AUDIO: Example Phrase 3 played four times
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
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 many other variations just by changing the rhythm. So that's why I recommend doing the
- Create a backing track by 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, so do not to skip doing this. :-)
- Improvise over the backing track that 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
- 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 worth doing on a regular basis. It is a 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!
Return To: Guitar Improvisation