Lead Guitar Phrasing – Do This To Play Guitar Like A Pro
Emotion To Any Guitar Lick
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If you want to play guitar like a pro...
... there is nothing that’ll make your guitar licks and guitar solos sound better than improving your lead guitar phrasing.
What is lead guitar phrasing?
Guitar phrasing is all about ‘how’ you play the notes.
Most guitarists think that learning to play lead guitar like a pro is about learning cool guitar licks, and guitar scales.
(Or, perhaps – learning other people’s guitar solos note for note.)
But that’s not really true.
Emotion To Any Guitar Lick
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Being able to play guitar like a pro is about taking the guitar licks you ‘already’ know...
... guitar solos you ‘already’ play...
... and making them sound awesome with the lead guitar skills you already have.
This guitar phrasing article will show you how.
To begin, watch this video that shows you how to make even the simplest guitar licks drip with soul-satisfying emotion.
Now that you understand the basics of lead guitar phrasing, let’s go deeper.
Here are 5 more ways to improve your lead guitar solos and play guitar licks that sound pro:
Tip #1 For Learning To Play Guitar Like A Pro: Master Lead Guitar String Bends
Being able to bend strings well (during your lead guitar licks in your guitar solos) is the foundation of your guitar phrasing ability to play guitar like a pro.
Here are the key elements of great string bending technique:
1. Wrap your thumb behind the neck of the guitar to give your hand leverage when doing string bends.
2. Use your forearm to bend strings, not your wrist or your fingers. Turn your arm as if you are turning a doorknob. This not only makes it easier to do string bends in tune in your guitar licks, but also makes it possible to add vibrato to notes and make them sound great.
3. Mute string noise with the picking hand’s thumb and the unused fingers of your picking hand. This ensures that your guitar licks sound clean (which is a key sign of being able to play guitar like a pro).
Watch this video to see how to do string bends the right way:
Question: “Tom Hess, I'm having a hard time bending strings in tune. What should I do to fix this aspect of my guitar phrasing?”
Answer: First, make sure your lead guitar technique for bending is strings is correct. (If you are unsure whether your technique is correct or not – take guitar lessons from an expert guitar teacher.)
Second, you can practice bending strings in smaller intervals (a half step vs. a whole step, for example). That will make it easier to get the string up to pitch consistently. And once you master the basic string bend motion, you can play wider string bends in your lead guitar licks.
Third, you can make it easier to bend strings in your guitar licks and guitar solos simply by tuning down your guitar by a half step or a whole step. That will make it even easier to master bending strings and play cooler lead guitar solos.
For more advanced lead guitar phrasing variations with string bends, check out this lead guitar video.
Tip #2 For Learning To Play Guitar Like A Pro: Master Your Lead Guitar Vibrato
Good lead guitar vibrato (the kind you need to learn to do, so you can play guitar like a pro) is a series of rhythmic bends you apply to a note in a controlled way.
What does it mean to do vibrato guitar phrasing in a ‘controlled’ way?
It means to have your lead guitar vibrato be in tune and in time.
When your vibrato is in tune, it means you bend the string up the same distance each time and you release the string all the way back down (to the starting pitch).
And your vibrato guitar phrasing is in time if the pulses of your vibrato are in sync with the tempo of the song you are playing your guitar licks (and guitar solos) over.
Watch this video to see what it means to do your vibrato guitar phrasing in tune and in time:
When both elements are present, your guitar phrasing sounds good and your guitar licks drip with emotion.
Note: Vibrato is NOT about ‘shaking’ the string from side to side. This kind of vibrato lead guitar phrasing sounds nervous and out of control (which is the opposite of how your guitar phrasing ought to sound if you want to play guitar like a pro).
Watch this video to see the common vibrato mistakes you have to avoid if you want to have great guitar phrasing and play guitar like a pro:
Question: “Tom Hess, do I bend the strings up or down when I practice lead guitar vibrato for best guitar phrasing?”
Answer: When you bend the top 2 (thinnest) strings, push them up towards the ceiling. The reason for this is simple: the top 2 strings will slip off the fretboard if you pull them down toward the floor. That will make your guitar phrasing sound less expressive and make it hard to achieve a great lead guitar vibrato sound.
On the flipside, push the lower 3 strings (the thicker ones) down towards the floor. That allows you to get a more controlled vibrato and more emotional guitar phrasing.
Tip #3 For Learning To Play Guitar Like A Pro: Practice Using Lead Guitar Slide Variations In Your Guitar Licks And Guitar Solos
Doing lead guitar slides gives you a cool way to vary the articulation of your guitar phrasing. Instead of just picking the notes, slides help you achieve a more ‘legato’ sound in your guitar licks.
Here are the most common lead guitar phrasing slides to practice in your guitar licks:
- ascending guitar phrasing slides. As the name implies – you are sliding into a higher note from a lower pitch. This is the most basic type of guitar phrasing slide nearly every lead guitarist learns.
- descending guitar phrasing slides. As the name implies – this is simply the reverse of the ascending guitar phrasing slides. If you can do ascending guitar phrasing slides accurately and smoothly – descending lead guitar phrasing slides won't be challenging at all.
- backslides. Many lead guitarists confuse backslides with descending guitar phrasing slides. They are not.
A backslide guitar phrasing ornament consists of 3 parts: First, you play the note itself. Second, you slide either up or down (in pitch) away from the note you are playing. Then, you quickly slide back down (or up) to the original note.
That said, even though I described a backslide as 3 ‘events’, it is still a lead guitar phrasing ornament of only ‘one’ note.
Watch this video to see how to do backslides the right way in your guitar licks and guitar solos:
- super slides. This lead guitar phrasing ornament is about sliding up 1 octave or more. These lead guitar phrasing slide ornaments can be either ascending in pitch or descending in pitch.
- re-articulation guitar phrasing slides. “Re-articulation” is a fancy guitar phrasing term that means: “play something again”. To play a re-articulation guitar phrasing slide, simply play a note and then immediately slide into that same note (from above or below in pitch).
Question: “Tom Hess, I'm having a hard time landing on the note I want to hit. I often land 1 fret higher or lower. What can I do?”
Answer: Make your eyes look at the fret you are sliding towards before you begin to move there. This will make it much more likely you’ll consistently arrive to the correct fret.
Tip #4 For Learning To Play Guitar Like A Pro: Practice Guitar Skill Integration
Second only to vibrato, guitar skill integration is the fastest way to learn to play guitar like a pro.
“Integration” means combining guitar techniques (and/or other lead guitar playing skills) to achieve more expressive guitar phrasing and more emotional guitar licks and guitar solos.
Here are some examples of guitar skill integration:
Example 1: Integration of different guitar techniques. The better you can combine lead guitar techniques (such as scales and arpeggios for example), the more creative you can be with your lead guitar phrasing when you are playing guitar solos.
The secret to integrating lead guitar techniques? Isolate the last 3-4 notes of the first guitar technique and the first 3-4 notes of the next guitar techniques. Then practice that isolated guitar phrasing fragment over and over until it becomes clean.
Watch this video to see how to practice guitar technique integration and play guitar lick a pro:
Example 2: Integrate guitar speed with melodic guitar phrasing. You can do this in 2 ways: Either you create a melody first (full of emotional guitar phrasing) and then fil it out with speedy guitar licks...
... or, you simply connect a faster guitar lick with a dramatic 1-2 notes filled with great guitar phrasing.
Want to see how it’s done?
Watch this video to see how to integrate slow and emotional guitar phrasing with speedy guitar licks:
Question: “Tom Hess, how do you fill out a slower melody (full of emotional guitar phrasing) with faster guitar licks?”
Answer: Simply treat the melodic notes (filled with soulful guitar phrasing) as sign posts that you connect with other (faster) notes. This guitar solo video shows you how to do this, so you can play guitar like a pro.
Tip #5 For Learning To Play Guitar Like A Pro: Refine Guitar Licks And Solos You Already Know.
After you learn a guitar solo you like, you’re done practicing it, right? WRONG!
One of the coolest things you can do when you learn a guitar solo is to create variations from it. That means: change the phrasing of the notes, the rhythm of the notes and/or a few of the notes in each lick of the solo.
Don’t assume that just because a solo was recorded a certain way that it can’t be improved. Besides, creating variations is a fantastic way to practice your creativity and it’s simply a ton of fun!
Challenge yourself to create at least 10 variations on each solo you learn and your guitar phrasing will improve massively!
Question: “Tom Hess, what if I don’t know any guitar solos yet? Can I still do this guitar phrasing exercise and learn to play guitar lick a pro?”
Answer: Yes, of course. Simply choose any guitar lick you want and take it through the same process of creating variations as you would with a full guitar solo.
Watch this video to seen an example of this process in action:
Now you know how to improve your lead guitar phrasing. The next step of learning to play guitar like a pro is transforming the rest of your guitar playing (everything from your guitar technique to music knowledge, creativity, guitar technique and more).
I can help you with that in my personalized Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.
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