We guitarists have a luxury, that singers and saxophonists don’t have. This can also be our own curse or downfall. And that is this, we don’t have to breathe. Well ok we do all have to breathe in our daily lives obviously. (hope no one stopped breathing after reading this!)
But we don’t have to breathe in order to play our instrument. When you sing, or play saxophone or an instrument that you use your mouth to play you can’t go on forever. We can continue playing forever and ever if we wanted to.
In some ways this gives us freedom to do things that singers don’t have. But this also means that we have the tendency to play for the sake of playing or overplaying. Whenever guitarists have run out of ideas, or whenever we have an idea that we don’t like, our immediate reaction is to play more notes.
Because we can play forever, once we get to the point where we can play for long periods of time without getting tired we fall into that trap. This is why guitarists often are not as good as improvisers, or they struggle to come up with good ideas.
It can sound like we are just playing “at” people rather than playing “to” them. Whenever you are talking to someone, would you want them to just talk and talk and talk without ever pausing and letting you get a word in? No. This is the same thing with music.
1) Try to make a phrase that has a beginning and end. Try humming a phrase and finding that on your guitar. This will improve your ears, if that is too hard, hum a phrase and try to make another phrase responding to that phrase on your guitar.
This gets you to think in terms of phrases, not just playing loads of notes.
2) Take any idea you have and improve how you play it: this is known as phrasing. Why does a singer sound good every time (assuming they can sing in tune of course)? Because their phrasing sounds nice and lyrical. This is natural because they can’t sing forever so they have to sound good in the amount of breath they have left.
Take an idea you have and experiment with rhythm, how you bend and use vibrato on the notes, where you do this, adding slides and other ways of articulating the notes. This is just some examples of how to improve the way you play something. You can come up with plenty of ideas just doing this.
3) Take guitar lessons with a great guitar teacher that can help you develop phrasing in your playing. You can try and do this the long and hard way, by trial and error on your own. Or you can shave off years of your life and go to someone who has already done what you want to do and help you get there faster and easier.
Am I saying we can never play for a long time and sound good? No there is a time and a place for this. But using this wisely is what matters. Doing this all the time because we can is not going lead us anywhere nice.
About The Author
Jake Willmot is not only a musician, he is a guitar teacher in Exmouth. If you want guitar lessons and you live in the UK near that area, you may consider giving him a try.