Blues 5 - Soloing - Phrasing


In this Blues lesson, i'd like to discuss phrasing. Phrasing is the key to playing a beautiful and interesting Blues guitar solo!


In the previous lesson we've checked out the pentatonic minor scale and the blues scale. So we know which notes to play. Just as important, however, is WHEN to play and WHEN NOT to play.


A phrase is a musical sentence that has a clear beginning and end. It could be a long line, a lick or even just a short, two-note statement.

The length, direction and rhythm of your musical sentences, together with the length of the rests you leave in between your sentences, is called 'phrasing'. Phrasing is a very important aspect of playing guitar and can make you sound great!


If you were to play a solo as a continious series of licks and lines, without any pauses (in music they're called rests), your solo would be pretty boring to the listener.

Imagine someone talking to you in one continious stream of words, without pause. Annoying, right?


You need rests in between your musical sentences, like a singer has to take a breath after singing a line.

Schematically, your playing should look something like:


Play - rest - play - rest - play - rest.


How do you approach playing a Blues solo this way?


What makes a Blues guitar solo into a GREAT guitar solo?

- Unpredictability. What any good Blues player does is use a lot of space (rests) in a guitar solo. This way, you give the listener a chance to 'digest' or absorb what you've just played. Not just that; the listener does not know when you'll continue to play. You could come in at any given moment! This gives your playing the element of surprise. It also gives what you DO play more weight. Using a lot of shorter and longer rests in your solo sounds easy, but it's not. You have to consciously practice using rests, as our natural instinct as guitar players is to play all the time.


- Repetition. Repeating something you've just played is a great way to make your guitar solo interesting. The listener can recognize something they've just heard you play, which pulls in their attention. You can try repeating something you've just played, but changing the rhythm slightly, or changing the notes. This makes your solo even more interesting. Using repetition can make your solo FLOW NATURALLY from phrase to phrase. Don't overdo it though, as you still want your playing to be surprising.


- Contrast. Another great way to make your solo jump out at your listeners is using contrast. Look at the following contrasts, and practise them seperately by playing over the A Blues backing track:


slow - fast

loud - soft

high notes - low notes

long notes - short notes

long phrase - short phrase

bright guitar tone - dark guitar tone


Practise these contrasts one by one. Alternately play phrases at each end of the spectrum, eg. play slow, rest, play fast, rest. Do this for 5 minutes or so. Then practise the next contrast. Play loud, rest, play soft, rest, etc. Do this for all the contrast pairs and you'll have a good set of tools for making your solos much more interesting!

Jimi Hendrix phrasing Born Under a Bad Sign on youtube


Phrasing - listening example

If you want an idea of what a great Blues solo that uses unpredictability, repetition and contrasts sounds like, listen to Jimi Hendrix playing 'Born Under a Bad Sign', taken from the 'Blues' album.


It's a seven and a half minute guitar solo essentially, but Jimi manages to keep it interesting throughout, because of his phrasing and use of contrast!


That's it for this lesson, take care!


President Obama has great phrasing as a speaker
President Obama uses great phrasing in his speeches.