Why Phrasing is way more important than you ever have thought of ...

Have you ever encountered the following problem? - You practice a solo/lead part which you always wanted to play or need to play with your band, but although all the notes are on the right spot and played at the right time, you have the feeling, that there is something wrong, somehow you can play as accurate as you want, but it just doesn’t sound like the original…. 


Believe me, I have encountered this problem hundreds of times in my life never knowing exactly what it was, that held me back from playing like a virtuoso. I always assumed, that it’s just the „style“ in which the original guitarist plays and that I need to practice more in order to reach that particular level of virtuosity. 


In a way I was right - of course I had to practice more, because if I would have been able to play that part exactly like my idol, I wouldn’t need to practice more. At that time I should have asked myself the following question: Will playing the same notes over and over again lead me to my ultimate goal (to play the solo like my idol does)? Well… if I went on some further years with that  approach, then probably yes. But I wanted to be able to play that part immediately and not wait for three more years.


It took me a while to realize, that if I want to play in the style of a famous guitar player whom I consider as my idol, I will have to dig deeper into his technique than just playing the right notes with the right fingers on the right place of the fretboard. 

The keyword here is PHRASING! Generally spoken, phrasing is the use of all means possible to make your guitar sound like the human voice, or in other words it simply brings life to your playing. 

Here are some exemplary phrasing techniques, that are used all over the place in every style (you probably know them all):

  • Vibrato
  •  String Bends
  • Slides
  • Harmonics
  • Hammer ons / pull offs

Now here is a little task for you:

Grab a solo which you are pretty comfortable with (no matter which style, it may be everything you like), try to play it without all these elements above and see what it sounds like…


Isn’t that pretty boring or even lifeless?


I had played guitar for many years and always thought that I don’t have to practice phrasing and in particular vibrato. I considered this as something every guitarist figures out for himself while playing over the years and that there is no need to practice it in isolation. 

Believe me - I was totally wrong!!


Only after I had found a real professional teacher, I learned that practicing phrasing techniques lifts your guitar playing to a whole new level. I’m not exaggerating here - the difference I recognized in my own playing after I started working on that matter with focus and isolation was like day and night, it blew my mind totally and I keep asking myself until today „why didn’t you fool start working on this earlier?!“


Not that the other teachers I have worked with didn’t show me some phrasing stuff and techniques, but they failed in a completely different way: They were just unable to make clear to me how important this topic is and that this was exactly what was holding me back from playing guitar like a real motherf***!


So now when I want to play an original solo of one of my idols, I pay special attention to HOW the artist plays his notes and which phrasing techniques he uses. Then I practice single parts of it in complete isolation and try to play its phrasing as accurately as possible. 

Neglect this and you will never even sound like you want to sound - it will always be somehow good, but not freaking badass, believe me!


If you don’t know how to practice things like vibrato/bending etc. and struggle to find a point to start from, I recommend you to find a capable teacher who helps you to get rid of all these obstacles. That teacher will also be able to help you identify which phrasing techniques your idols are using and even more important, he will help you to apply and integrate them into your own playing/improvising. This way you will not just be able to cover an original virtuoso lead part but in the longterm be able to improvise or create your own soli in that particular style.


Just imagine how great this would be!



This article was written for rustonguitarlessons.com owned by Chris Hirsch, the most on fire guitar player I have ever met :-)