How to Develop Better Guitar Phrasing for Beginners

How to Develop Better Guitar Phrasing for Beginners

Guitar phrasing is a massive subject. I could probably write a whole book on the subject, but if you are a beginner, there are a couple steps you can take to work on your phrasing to become a better guitar player. Since this article is for beginners I will address some topics that many of you who are more intermediate may feel is below you. Keep reading and get beyond those feelings and you will learn some new ways to improve your phrasing as well.

First let’s start with the definition of guitar phrasing. Guitar phrasing is how you play something. Phrasing can be broken down into a bunch of sub categories but it is most commonly broken down into Note Choice, Rhythm and Ornaments/Nuances. 

The easiest way to improve your phrasing right away is to work on Ornamentations and nuances within your phrasing. Ornamentations are the part of your phrasing that adds that extra spice to the note so you’re not playing it as simply, just a note. For those of you who are new to this, here is a list of ornamentations you’ve probably heard of:

  • Vibrato
  • Half step bends
  • Forward slide
  • Back slide
  • Double slide
  • Double stop
  • Staccato notes
  • Hammer ons
  • Pulls offs
  • Palm mutes
  • Pre bend
  • Whole step bend

So, the idea of an ornamentation is how you would dress up one note to make it sound like it’s more than just a single note being played. How can you develop better phrasing? Let’s talk about the steps.
How to Develop Better Guitar Phrasing for Beginners

Step 1: Learn ornamentation and work it into your playing.

This step should be fairly simple. The first thing you need to do is make a list of nuances/ornamentations you want to practice. There are lots and lots of ornamentations to choose from and as you get better you’ll also be able to make your own. You can choose from the list of ornamentations above or you can take a look at your favorite artist’s solos and find the ornamentations they use. The main thing is to make a list of ornamentations you’re interested in using in your playing. 

The second part of step 1 is to start improvising with them. Yes, it will sound clunky and probably not that much better than your regular improvisations but that is fine, that’s what it should sound like. The point of this step is to simply get you used to using them. You should have no problem weaving these nuances into random noodled phrases. When you can do that, you may move on to step two.

Step 2: Start combining two nuances together to make interesting and new ornamentations:

The trick to really interesting phrasing is in how you combine these ornamentations. Meaning, how you stack them on top of one another. You can stack them horizontally and vertically. When stacking them you will use only 1 note. Meaning don’t play fret 7 on the D string and bend it and then staccato a note on fret 9. That’s not stacking the ornamentations. Here’s a bunch of samples, in these samples you should be doing the ornamentations in the order I list them from left to right.

  • A half step + whole step bend (referred to as a zig zag bend)
  • A double stop slide
  • Bent note vibrato (bend a note then do vibrato)
  • Slide + staccato
  • A pre bend backslide

When you have a list of 5 or 10, two nuance combinations you like your next task is to get all those down to the point of mastery. Mastery, for those that don’t know is when these combinations become second nature. These combinations should be treated just like a regular vibrato. They are not licks, they are separate ornamentations in and of themselves. Sometimes you’ll want to end your phrase on a vibrato, other times on a pre bend backslide.

Step 3: Repeat step 2, but this time, you’re going to stack three ornamentations together like the following:

  • A vibrato staccato + pull off + staccato note (one of my personal favorites and a cool blues sound.
  • Pre bend backslide vibrato
  • Arpeggiated double stop unison bend 

Step 4: Keep going until you can add 4 to 8 nuances together and they sound awesome. The more nuances you can layer the better. It gives you more options and is really fun.

This beginning step is only on one note however when you’re done with this, you can start working on two note phrases and four note phrases as well. This is just the beginning if you’re looking to truly develop some masterful guitar phrasing.


About the Author:

Chris Glyde is a guitar teacher always looking for alternative ways to get great results for his students. If you’re looking for some new and fresh ways to grow as a guitar player then contact him for great guitar lessons in Rochester NY.