Rut-Busters for Guitarists: Phrasing

(Image credit: Cindy Moorhead)

Welcome to Part 3 of my series of lessons, "Rut Busters for Guitarists." 

These lessons are aimed at breaking through barriers that might be preventing you from improving on the guitar.

Some of these lessons will simply give you some good food for thought, and some will be more hands-on. Written to help you get past that plateau, these lessons are here to help you mix things up and keep your relationship with the guitar an interesting one.

This third lesson discusses phrasing, giving you pointers on how to give your solos a musical, vocal-like quality and sound like you're playing something you meant to play, rather than stumbling upon some good ideas every now and then. Let's get started.

Great melodies breath. Like a horn player or vocalist, your solos should have pause for breath. No one enjoys listening to a person who won’t stop talking, nor do we enjoy reading run-on sentences. Taking a pause between phrases prevents fatigue for the listener but also gives you a chance to think about what you'll play next, ensuring that your next lick or riff will be a good one.

Music should be conversational. You should be listening to what the other musicians are playing and responding appropriately in your performance. There should be a quality of give and take.

Great melodies, songs and solos tend to have a “call and response” element. Some like to describe it as a “question and answer” quality. Listen to classic artists like B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Albert King for great examples of this in their vocal melodies and guitar solos.

This "question and answer” idea implies there are at least two phrases. Your initial motif, or basic musical idea, is stated, then a variation on that idea is played. To really create a “question and answer” sound, you’ll want the first phrase to end on a non-chord tone. This gives the impression that the phrase has not resolved itself and is incomplete. The second phrase provides the "answer" and should reiterate the motif, but resolve it by ending on a chord tone.

The accompanying video provides an example. I hope it inspires you to introduce a more lyrical approach to your guitar playing.

Guitarist Adrian Galysh is a solo artist, session musician, composer, as well as Education Coordinator for Guitar Center Lessons. He's the author of the book Progressive Guitar Warmups and Exercises. Adrian uses SIT Strings, Seymour Duncan Pickups and Effects, Brian Moore Guitars, and Morley Pedals. For more information, visit him at

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