There are many ways you can make a phrase even better by looking at articulation and ornamentation. However, even if you did not focus on any of that, (which you should) there is one concept that you can rely on to make your phrases much more interesting on it’s own.
And that is: creating rhythmic variety
Of course that is obviously not the only thing you should focus on as how you articulate the phrase and what ornaments you have in the phrase are extremely important. If you always articulated the phrase the exact same way and you just use vibrato in the exact same place and you use it exact same way your playing will eventually sound predictable and bland.
Down the line you will naturally play in certain ways over others as that is part of expressing yourself in your own unique way, but in the beginning stages when you are an intermediate player trying to get better at soloing, ideas of different ways to play your phrases will help you along the way to developing your own style.
In this article I will be covering ways to improve your rhythmic phrasing.
Even meter phrasing
This is basically locking in with the beat regardless of the rhythm. The opposite of this is floating rhythm and another way to use non meter rhythmic phrasing is rubato rhythm which we will cover later.
If you are an intermediate rock or metal player, or even some of you advanced players and perhaps some blues players may struggle with this and not realise it, though this problem is more common with intermediate rock and metal players.
A lot of you likely stick to playing straight eighth notes, straight eighth-note triplets or straight note sixteenth notes. Some faster players may have even stuck with sixteenth note triplets.
This is because you started playing and you got used to a certain way of playing and now you always play that way.
While playing straight rhythm is perfectly fine and sometimes it is great, at times you may feel that you start sounding the same all the time because even if the notes change, the rhythm is the same.
Now fixing this is not that hard: simply add different rhythm groupings in the phrase you have, to make it sound more interesting. Here are some examples:
start off with eighth notes then add sixteenth notes
start off with sixteenth notes then add eighth note triplets
start off with sixteenth note triplets then add eighth notes then add quarter notes or minims.
I am sure you are starting to get the idea. And this is mixing just 2 types of rhythmic groupings. Mix 3 types or 4 types together within the phrase and the phrase has just been made more interesting.
Of course don’t always mix all types of rhythmic groupings together in every phrase either, as this will also get boring and sometimes it just works better to have a straight rhythm phrase. I will not list every example as you need to come up with your own.
You will find that as you change the rhythm of a phrase, the length of the phrase also changes. Either it is longer or shorter than it was before. This is perfectly normal and does not matter too much when you are working on your phrasing.
Obviously, when you are writing the solo you have to consider what is going on under what you are writing.
What is the rhythm guitar and bass doing? What are the drums doing? What are the keyboards, synth and every other instrument and effect doing? You need to consider this otherwise your phrases will not fit with the song and therefore the phrases won’t work with the song.
Also- Being aware of what the other instruments are doing can really give you great ideas for what phrases to write. For example if the drums are doing a certain rhythm you can create a phrase that follows or accompanies that rhythm. This can be done for any instrument.
Another great thing about this is simply by changing the rhythm in the phrase and nothing else you can create many phrases and you can even combine the phrases together to make an even longer phrase!
What to do with this to improve your phrasing
create your own phrase using 1 of any of the rhythmic groupings above then add on to that phrase with another rhythmic grouping then repeat this process a couple times. Create at least 5-7 phrases and do this exact same thing.
Sometimes you will not want to do even meter phrases and that is fine. This is merely opening your mind to rhythmic groupings available to you that you may never have used before.
After you have done this, experiment with the phrases you have just created by adding different value rests at certain points (quarter note rest, eighth note rest etc.) this can create a different feel. Which brings me to another powerful rhythmic concept and that is:
Most of the time when people listen to music they often listen to music that plays in time with the beat. However in some styles such as Reggae, Progressive music styles and blues the music is often done in a way so that the music is not in time with the beat.
By playing less than a whole beat at the beginning of a bar (eg an eighth note) then playing a crotchet you are effectively creating an unexpected accent in the off beat as opposed to the downbeat that most people are used to hearing.
Playing a note ever so slightly before or after a beat is another form of syncopation. Even sustaining a note over the fourth beat of 1 bar to the first beat of the next bar is syncopation because it produces an unexpected accent.
For those who want to try and complicate the previous exercise can try and make phrases that incorporate syncopation. Feel free to use this in whatever style you are playing even if your style doesn’t do this often, that is what makes you different!
Rhythmic displacement– advanced players pay attention to this one
For anyone who wants to do something harder or is already ahead of the things discussed so far about rhythm, you can try using rhythmic displacement.
Take a 2, 3, 4 or 6 note phrase to start with and repeat it in a different rhythm. (eg. 6 note phrase played in sixteenth notes or a 4 note phrase in eighth note triplets)
This creates an unpredictable effect as a different note is the start of each beat.
You can do this with a 3 note phrase, 5 or 7 or any other note groupings and do this.
Example: A 7 note phrase can be played in sixteenth note triplets, sixteenth notes, eighth notes etc. and same with 5 note phrases.
In the next article I will talk about how to use floating rhythm and rubato rhythm effectively as opposed to even meter rhythmic phrasing
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