What is guitar phrasing? It’s the nuance and expression that you put into your playing. The use of dynamics…playing loud or soft and everything in-between.
Lead guitar phrasing is the use of different guitar techniques, like hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends and vibrato. And it’s also your timing and rhythmic choices. The same set of notes can be phrased many ways to express different feels.
This video guitar lesson will help you improve your guitar phrasing. And specifically the timing you use in your guitar solo phrasing.
(Video Guitar Lesson)
Think about how 2 different people might interpret the same set of words. I could read this sentence in a monotone voice with all of the syllables getting the same rhythm. Or Robin Williams could read the same set of words with over emphasized flamboyance.
From one extreme to the other, but that is phrasing. Two actors can bring the same script to life in different ways. And learning how to improve your phrasing will help bring new life into your lead guitar playing.
In this guitar lesson I’m going to pick apart just one of the many aspects of lead guitar phrasing, and that is an issue involving timing.
The 2 Gears of Timing in Guitar Phrasing
When you are improvising on the guitar, there are 2 timing concepts I want you to think about for right now. The first is playing “with the time”, and the 2nd is playing “over the time”.
Playing “With the Time” – Guitar Solo Phrasing
In a nutshell playing “with the time” is playing neatly in the rhythmic framework of the background. Playing quarter notes, 8th notes, triplets, 16th notes etc. You can think of playing “with the time” like drawing on piece of graph paper and only drawing on the lines.
Playing “Over the Time” – Guitar Solo Phrasing
Playing “over the time” is playing outside of the normal rhythmic framework of the background. The analogy here is drawing on a piece of graph paper, but ignoring the lines all together.
In the real world of soloing you will often shift between these 2 concepts freely during the course of your guitar solo.
You will probably never just play “over the time” exclusively. You really need to resolve back into the rhythmic structure of the song in key places.
Many beginning guitar improvisers play “over the time” by accident. Not for creative reasons, but because they can’t lock into the rhythmic framework of the background they are jamming with.
So I would strongly suggest getting a handle on playing “with the time” before detouring off the rhythmic grid.
Off the Gride Guitar Phrasing with Jimi Hendrix
Some guitar players play “over the time” a lot. Jimi Hendrix is a good example of someone who did this. In fact if you have ever tried to play a live solo by Jimi Hendrix from a tab book, you may have been confused by the complexity of rhythmic notation.
Hendrix was not thinking about complex rhythms, he was playing “over the time”. That’s something that’s very hard to notate accurately.
So those complex rhythms that you see are an approximation of the pushing and pulling of the time that Jimi incorporated into his guitar solos.
“Over the Time” Guitar Phrasing is Hard to Duplicate
In fact I would have a hard time playing my “over the time” solo in the video guitar lesson above exactly the same way again. The “with the time” solo is another story, which would be easy to duplicate. I would also hate to have to notate out my “over the time” solo.
Practicing Your 2 Guitar Phrasing Timing Gears
Try and do your own experimentation playing “with the time”, and playing “over the time”. Download the MP3 Jam Track a little lower on this page to practice with.
It’s in the Key of G just going back and forth between a G7 for 2 measures and C7 chord for 2.. And a good safe scale you can use to improvise with would be a G Minor Pentatonic Scale.
G Minor Pentatonic Guitar Scale Chart
Practicing Guitar Solo Phrasing “With the Time”
The Quarter Note Guitar Phrasing Graph Paper
First just try playing simple rhythms. Even just playing the scale in quarter notes…on every beat. You are trying to train yourself to play with the time. If this is easy, move on. But if you are having trouble with this and the next couple of rhythms, spend a little time here.
The 8th Note Guitar Phrasing Graph Paper
Next try working with 8th notes. An 8th note is a half a beat. and if there were 4 beats in a measure, you would count the 8th notes as 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &. The & is halfway between the beats.
So now let 8th notes become the lines on your guitar soloing graph paper. Try just playing the G Minor Pentatonic scale in 8th notes. Maybe picking 2 times on each note at first, then 1 time on each note playing 8th notes.
Then try playing different combinations of rhythms, but make sure you are not playing on anything other than on 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.
The 16th Note Guitar Phrasing Graph Paper
And the last thing you want to do when playing “with the time” is to play 16th notes. That’s 4 times in every beat. How you count 16th notes is 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a.
Don’t worry about the counting. But what I want you to think about is that 16th notes now become the graph paper lines.
Try playin the G Minor Pentatonic Scale playing 4 times on each note playing 16th notes. This helps you get the feel for the grid work of 16th notes. Then like before, start to play around with other rhythms… but the key is that you can only play on one of these. 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a.
Practicing Guitar Solo Phrasing “Over the Time”
Next try and ignore the rhythmic structure. Try repeating a lick idea and speed it up and slow it down. Push and pull the time in your guitar solo. But also try and lock back in with the time so that it doesn’t just sound like you are marching to the beat of a different drummer.
“Poppy Funky” MP3 Jam Track in the Key of G
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Understanding Rhythms is a Key to Guitar Phrasing
There is a whole lot more to lead guitar phrasing, and a lot more to explore even with rhythms…but that gives you a few things to play with.
Even though this may seem unrelated, I’m going to recommend that you check out my Rhythm Guitar Mastery course. While it’s a course about strumming and chords, it’s also a very detail course on understanding rhythms. And that will drastically help you as a lead guitar player get a handle on how you can be more creative with rhythms in your lead guitar phrasing.