blue horizons

Phrasing feeling stale? Learn how to break down the more vocal side of melody and rhythm.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Let blues vocalists inspire your phrasing.
• Get more mileage from your licks by varying their rhythmic patterns.
• Emulate the call-and-response style of such blues masters as B.B. King, Freddie King, and Magic Sam. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

“Phrasing” is a term that gets thrown around a lot when people talk about improvisation, and I remember being baffled by this as a kid learning to play. Especially when some rocker would sound off about how awesome his phrasing was in a Guitar Player interview and the next month all the jazz cats would write in to laud the phrasing of their favorite bebopper while unflatteringly comparing said rocker’s phrasing to the flatulence of various barnyard denizens. “Wow,” I would think, “this phrasing thing is clearly a big deal,” while remaining pretty oblivious of what the word really meant.

It turns out phrasing is basically just how you play the things you play. At its most fundamental, it’s where your ideas or licks start and stop within the rhythmic and harmonic pulse of the music. Getting into more detail, it’s your attack and tone and dynamics and personal timing—all the essential details that make you sound like yourself. But for the purpose of this lesson, we’ll stick with the first part: Phrasing is where you put the notes, relative to the chord progression going by.

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