Guitar Tricks Blog
Posted: July 18, 2019

Phrasing - Musical Phrasing Explained!

phrasing - musical phrasing

Phrasing is how a guitar player presents their notes and licks within music. Usually musical phrases are short licks or notes, each separated by space, and are full of dynamics and emotion. B.B. King was a master of the blues and also used phrasing to create his signature sound. 

Think about phrasing like short sentences within a song or music. These phrases are usually lead licks that are formed from a scale and are played in bursts, depending on the tempo of the music. Another distinctive quality of phrases is the spaces in between. What does that mean?

Phrases are separated by spaces. The spaces are moments where the guitar is not being played. You can think of it like when someone pauses after a sentence. If you combine a short lick made up of 5 notes, and then leave pause for a moment to feel the groove of the beat before playing another combination of licks, that’s phrasing. 

Let’s take a look at an example from our Rock Level 2 course with Anders Mouridsen. 

Notice the space right after the 11th fret is played. The space separates these two phrases. You can break down the phrases even more by adding space between every two notes as well. Watch Anders go through this technique right here.

Now that you know a little bit about phrasing, and let’s take a look at musical phrasing in an actual song.

B.B. King’s most famous work, “The Thrill is Gone” is 100 percent one of the best examples of phrasing. This is due to blues legend’s signature style of playing short stabs and fills throughout the entire verse as he sings. Let’s take a look at a piece of music here.

Look at how there is a ton of space between notes. There are some phrases that are a small number of notes like those found in measures 49, 50, and 51. 

Then there is a big run that starts at the end of the 51st bar and runs through measure 52. This is phrasing at a technical level on the page. But remember, playing with emotions and playing with emphasis and using techniques like vibrato and bends also adds a lot to your phrases and overall playing. Learn how to play “The Thrill is Gone” right here. 

This was a quick overview of what phrasing is on guitar, and I hope you enjoyed it! Don’t forget to check out the lessons linked in this post and learn all about playing with great feel and letting the space fill itself in. 

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