Speak, Don’t Shred

By Joe Gore

If you’re a technically fluent player who sometimes finds yourself getting a little too technical and fluent , why not try breaking the flurries of notes into shorter, speech-like phrases? Literally imagine you’re talking, mentally mouthing sentences and matching the rhythm with your fingers or pick. Your solo will acquire interesting, unpredictable rhythmic patterns. You might imagine a conversation with someone in your audience, or “read” the rhythms of the words from some nearby poster, menu, set list, or whatever. This technique also helps liberate you from the “muscle memory” patterns we’re all subject to.

5 comments to Speak, Don’t Shred

  • Ben Gray

    Amen! Master the art of “phraseology”. I read a great interview many years ago with Joe Walsh about playing in phrases, and some example players he listens to and was influenced by (like Leo Kottke, Eric Clapton, M). Really learning to phrase- and in context of the song (playing around with the main hook, or playing a counter harmony, for example) and play in “sentences” of meaningful notes- it really does make your solos more focused and memorable. Playing 32 bars of 32nd notes of three octave arpeggios while moving through successive modes certainly shows off technical prowess, and while there is a time and place for it- playing in thoughtful phrases, like speaking in thoughtful sentences instead of spilling out your vocabulary as fast as you can, will result in hitting those memorable solos that people will remember. Thanks for sharing this, Joe!

  • AWESOME tip! Expression is what music is all about and sometimes, we’re just slaves of our practice patterns and get away from the essence that is to communicate something with music (specially on the solos).

    Another useful related tip is to think the guitar as a percussion instrument. With that in mind, it’s less likely to follow linear patterns and get more innovative on the alternate rhythmic possibilities.

  • emoshurchak

    This is a key tip Joe. If you are wondering why your solos tend to sound too mechanical, it is probably the phrasing. Having said that, I think good phrasing is one of the most difficult skills for a guitar player to develop.

  • Paul

    In no particular order…

    CHORD TONES…..thinking about how the note in play relates to/sounds against the chord…you’re really helping build an overall harmony, not just ‘playing over the backing track.’

    Learn all your inversions of triads all over the neck, especially the groups that fall on strings 1, 2 & 3 and 2, 3 and 4. (It helps massively to know the names of all the notes on the neck.) This gives you a HUGE single-note, double-stop and triadic improvising resource.

    RHYTHM….guitar players and especially guitar magazines obsess about ‘what note(s)’. Important, but not as important IMHO as the ‘when and how.’ An experiment: tap the rhythm to ‘Jingle Bells’ to someone and see if they can identify the tune without pitch info..bet they can! And following on from this…

    METRONOME…use one. Start simply….semibreves, then minims, then crotchets etc..then just pick one note and play on beats 2 and 4, beat 2, etc, whatever combination…and the slower the bpm, the harder it is! You’d think anyone can play four position-one C maj chords..but try and play those perfectly evenly spaced, of absolutely equal duration, and then do that fifteen times in a row…thirty…..very hard.

    Work on rhythm guitar, especially funk. The best solos are by the guys with great groove skills…

    Learn to read music a bit so you can pick up some sheet music and play something you didn’t think of. I generally find that if someone else’s composition has stood the test of time and made it down the decades (or centuries) to my music stand, it’s probably full of better melodies than I can cook up off the cuff….

    Practice scales, arpeggios and melodies along just one string, then two etc. This forces you out of pattern playing. Take a simple melody and see if you can play it in three or more different places (and 12 frets up doesn’t count!) Playing nursery rhymes for your kids is a good one for this, as it also hammers home certain intervals into your ears..

    Perhaps most importantly: listen to players with good phrasing! BB King, Larry Carlton, Miles, Maceo Parker, Wayne Shorter, etc. NB: None of these guys play in a ‘scalar’ fashion.

  • Double D

    The night I started scatting all my solos (off the mic) was the day I took control of my phrasing. You don’t see my lips moving as much these days, but I still go there when ideas seem elusive. A great way to wrest control away from pesky, over-habitual fingers and get to playing some melody.

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