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post #1 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-08-2001, 12:38 PM Thread Starter
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Phrasing - Can anyone offer any tips

I'm currently trying to improve my phrasing and I was wondering if anyone could give me some advice. What has helped you improve yours the most? What should I practice?
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post #2 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-09-2001, 06:32 PM
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Instead of playing what you know, try playing what you don't know. *Do things that feel uncomfortable first, as this is the only way to improve in my opinion. *Try playing vertically instead of horizontally.
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post #3 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-09-2001, 09:21 PM Thread Starter
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It's funny that you would say that Josh. That's what I do most of the time and most of the time it sounds like crap. Have you tried this before and come up with something good?. I'm trying to play more angular melodies and it's getting better, but I still can't make it sound really good. How do guys like Vai, Ron Thal, Allan Holdsworth, ect do it.
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post #4 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-09-2001, 10:19 PM
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Hmm... phrasing. That's a tough subject... it's a big part of any player's style. It's what makes a certain guitarist sound like him/herself (besides tone). For example, Satriani's playing is of course very legato and smooth sounding, where as Petrucci picks every note. It's almost instantly identifiable.

In my opinion phrasing is different from note choice but obviously theyre are equally important and you have to use both to create a memorable musical statement.

[Josh - in that sense I disagree with you because based on what I said in the first paragraph, my definition of phrasing is not what you play, it's how you play it. It's my opinion and I'm not trying to start flames, I just thought it would be good to add that. It sounds like a good way to extend beyond playing positionally and develop an interesting note-selection style though.]

Now I haven't heard you play and I don't know your approach to playing, but I do have some suggestions of my own. Try to make the guitar talk, or sound human - equate musical statements with real-world sentences. If you can imagine that every pick attack is like a consonant sound, and that every hammer-on/pull-off is like a vowel sound, you may be able to create some very interesting licks.

Lately I have been experimenting with my originality and phrasing - trying to further develop my own style. I use a DS-1 and it's very dynamic, so in conjunction with a combination of legato and picking, I like to use the whammy bar (for effect and pitch manipulation as well), my guitar's volume knob, and my Little Alligator volume pedal.

In my opinion, all-alternate-picking type phrasing is great for technique but sounds kind of repetitive if that is all you do. All-legato is nice but Holdsworth and Satch are known for this and I imagine it would be hard to sound original using all legato techniques.

It's very difficult to absorb your influences and not sound like a clone; originality is a difficult thing to obtain, so I wish you luck in the search for unique phrasing. -Justin
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post #5 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-09-2001, 10:25 PM
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Thanks Justin, that was really well put.

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post #6 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-09-2001, 10:30 PM
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Glad to know I helped someone.

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post #7 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-10-2001, 12:44 AM
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I need to mention two other things I forgot.

There are many more techniques besides legato and alternate picking. I don't know why that thought didn't hit me when I wrote that reply. But anyway, always think about what you could be doing to make notes more expressive - slides, pinch harmonics, grace-note articulations, bends, and of course the whammy bar!
For inspiration on this subject, check out the melody to Satch's "Surfing with the Alien." He does something to every note, whether it is subtle vibrato, a quarter bend, a slide, a full bend... There is no "plain" note to be heard.

In my other response I only touched on the articulation aspect of phrasing, but there is another equally important aspect: rhythm.
Sixteenth note rhythms/six 16th note groups all over the neck sound repetitive and boring - especially when combined with scales played in sequences, up or down, whatever. I'm not a Petrucci basher (as I may come across) - I think he's a fantastic guitarist - it just happens that I don't prefer many of his stylistic techniques.

Again, the human aspect is here for a real-world example: people talk in a rhythm, but it's not a regular one at all. If you listen to Zappa, he's said that human speech is the inspiration for his insane, harder-to-follow rhythms (e.g., Black Page #1). Now obviously if you attempt to improvise like Zappa composed, you'll sound like a Zappa clone so I advise against it. Try experimenting with different combinations of rhythms.

[Wild suggestion]
How about a 16th note triplet followed by four 32nd notes, then a heavily articulated eighth note, a 32nd note quintuplet, a quarter-note trill and lastly a sixteenth note septuplet to finish off the measure. Played with a combination of legato and alternate picking, plus other expressive techniques, and large melodic leaps at a leisurely 90 bpm. Now that's some tasty killer phrasing!
[/Wild suggestion]

And besides talking in irregular rhythms, we accent certain words, and change the tone of our voice sometimes to express ourselves. With a little bit of time and some experimentation (which I highly encourage) this is actually easily translated to and recreated on the guitar.
In addition to that we pause at commas, periods, colons, and semicolons - that's what rests are for! As above, this is obviously easily recreated on the guitar (just stop playing!) but like everything else requires practice to be used most effectively.

Sounding truly human is a real goal, and it's something that would be interesting to make as a part of your practice routine. A paragraph [edit: on the guitar] a day keeps the bad phrasing away! (lol sorry if that sounds cheesy but hey my brain is fried - I'm about to go to bed!)

Check out this awesome Vai article on polyrythms, metric modultion, and transcribing the human voice.

Hope my little 'column' (I sure write enough!) on rhythm in phrasing helped/inspired you.


(Edited by sixstringphoenix at 7:00 am on Aug. 10, 2001)
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post #8 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-10-2001, 12:44 AM
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One of the most important guitar techniques to remember is mastering things like bending, sliding, and vibrato. * There are times when a good bend or slide is all that you need to give your phrase a unique sense of character and style. *Sure, it is something that we should already know and master..... right? *But sometimes, if you're anything like me, we can get too hung up on alternate picking and legato exercises that we easily forget the importance of the basics. *I've seen a lot of shredheads out there who can do monster sweeps but can't bend a damn note or do a decent vibrato. *Totally not cool. That's why I try to make sure that all those basic elements stay part of my regular practice sessions.

I have to agree with sixstringphoenix, alternate-picking every goddamn note can a bit repetitive. To me it sounds too mechanical. *It is always good to try mixing both legato and speedpicking techniques together (take Michael Romeo and Shawn Lane for example) *Favoring one technique over another will always inhibit you from developing as a guitarist.
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post #9 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-10-2001, 10:29 AM
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Phrasing to me has always been not only what you play, but what you DON'T play at times. My favorite musician for this area is David Gilmour, no not the guy Jeremy knows , the guitarist from Pink Floyd, his phrasing and note selection are impeccable, he is a genius when it comes to adding the right touch to a solo. Phrasing is also using ideas such as point and counterpoint, or call and response, ala B.B. King or Stevie Ray Vaughn, granted most of these are more blues oriented, but I feel it makes the point. Bach used point / counterpoint often, as did many other classical composers. Phrasing of a solo should be considered as important as the note selection, you want it to fit the context of the song and rhythmically enhance or compiment the piece you're playing in. Hopefully this helps a bit.
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post #10 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-10-2001, 11:19 AM
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To add to Bamm's post..
I've always considered timing to play a big part in this also.
Where and when to place a particular note/phrase or passage is a very important aspect to look at.

This means you have to look more at the structure of the song as a whole, it's all a jigsaw. Each piece has it's specific place and they should all fit together to make the final product.
Just make sure you don't force the pieces of the jigsaw into places where they don't wan't to go, they should all fit comfortably together without any force at all to complete the whole picture.

*Whoa!!! Dig It Maaaan!*
*Phylosophical(sp?) Hippy Mode Off* :biggrin:

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post #11 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-10-2001, 01:55 PM
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Cheers six string,

lately I had become quite p'$$d off with how I play and your little piece here is quite inspiring and has made me jump up and grab my jem.

I picked up a poetry book and just started reading with the guitar (i.e. reading in my head and using the guitar as my voice) , got some amazing melodic phrases and rhythmic patterns but found it extremely difficult, really really really extremely difficult, espescially the vowels and consonants pick legato thing.

Im one of those shred people carlos is talking about, and it was getting me down, every thing sounds the same when I play it,


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post #12 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-10-2001, 03:05 PM
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Don't worry Devo - I strongly urge you to keep at it. Great phrasing is no overnight thing! I mean, look at Steve Vai. I think his phrasing is uncanny - it sounds most like a human voice to me (that was my inspiration for developing my approach), but it wasn't that always that way. He's come a long way since Flex-Able and that was nearly twenty years ago!

Again, I thank you all for enjoying and being inspired by my advice.

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post #13 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-10-2001, 03:16 PM
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I see phrasing as just how you articulate whatever message you are trying to convey. *It is just the same as how we speak or write. *It's hard to present yourself correctly if you only have a 25 word vocabulary... just as your ehortation can be towardly imbrangled if you say too much (see what I mean?).

So the best way I know of to improve your phrasing is to decide exactly what you want to say with you music and then SAY IT.

I vaguely quote a friend here...

Every day people ask "how are you?" but the problem is no one knows how to answer. *Music/art for some is the best way to answer that impossible question... look at it that way and maybe you'll be guided on the right path. *(of course you might just get more lost.. .hehe)
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post #14 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-10-2001, 05:16 PM
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"So the best way I know of to improve your phrasing is to decide exactly what you want to say with you[r] music and then SAY IT. " -J.R.

I think that's a great, simple way to put it, Josh.

The only problem with me is, I don't have anything to 'say;' I like to create intriguing, musical melodies (and solos - sometimes wanky but always with melody in mind of course!) that sound good but I'm having a hard time playing 'from the heart.'

Simply put, I got nothin' to say. I read from many articles - including one by Steve Vai - that the best way to say something, or 'play from the heart' is to take an experience and share it with music. The reward would be, that you and maybe even some others could relive the experience simply by listening.

Except, I don't have a lot of super unusual experiences to draw on. In contrast, if you read some of the old Vai journals on his site - from when he was a teenager - he had a lot of interesting things happen... Anything from a syphilis scare (which turned out to be false of course, *phew*!) to being too drunk to realize the 'tea' he was drinking was cooking grease...

Actually, one of Vai's "Martian Love Secrets" columns (which are in hypertext form on the site also) covers the topic of sharing an experience through music. "If it's windy outside, go outside; feel the wind against your body (perhaps naked) and imagine what chord or melody you would use to describe that." (Those are not his exact words, just paraphrasing from memory.)

For me, the most recent memorable experience was G3. But that would lead me to create another wanky piece wouldn't it? LOL. (Obviously I'm joking - I truly enjoyed G3 and it was a massive inspiration.)

So any advice? I'm not a sporty-outdoors type person so no suggestions about hiking Mt. Everest and sharing that in musical form. :biggrin:

Luck and inspiration to all,

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post #15 of 21 (permalink) Old 08-10-2001, 05:33 PM
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It doesn't take earth-shaking events to create good music. *Maybe you are looking to hard. *Look for the importance in everyday life. *I am going to try and not make this a big spiritual journey post... but seriously, pay attention to how your brain is working when you're walking through the woods. *Look for the music in normally unmusical places. *Sometimes I will be walking down the street and watch some squirrels chasing each other... or something equally silly... and that can be all the spark you need for a song or at least a short melody. *It's good to start small, then build on your skills from there.

I've had plenty of odd/important experiences in my life to write a novel about... but sometimes drawing from the same major experiences can be trying on yourself and the listener (you end up with music like Linkin Park.. .and entire album of bitterness over one ex-girlfriend). *You don't need to look at your music as a autobiography of your entire life... just an expression of what you're thinking/feeling at that moment. *Some character in some movie said that "life is a series of moments" and that's how you should start looking at your music... you may be passing up a lot of fantastic inspiration while waiting for the major life-changing events to occur.

Also, don't concern yourself with what Steve Vai or anyone else on the planet is writing about. *You want this to be your story... your expression... worry about what is happening in your life and make your writing/statement true to yourself.

Hope that helps get you on the right track.

PS - It's Jay, not Josh..
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