Phrase Your Melodies!

I'm happy to be back with a column about phrasing. Phrasing is a powerful but often neglected tool to awaken your solos to life! There are many ways to make a simple melody more interesting. I'd like to show you a few of my preferred phrasings, hopefully to inspire you in writing your own melodies.

First listen to this melody. It contains all phrasing samples for this column in the original musical context, and it's taken from the tune "Uzume".

MP3 - All Phrasings

Ok, now let's start with a highly unusual kind of phrasing for a metal guitar style: Laid back.

Laid back - only in Jazz? No!

In case you've had the chance to listen to jazz music (I recommend that), then you probably know what "laid back" means. At least you'll recognize it quickly: It's kind of "playing behind the beat".

What does that mean? Does it mean to simply pick your notes late, not accurately on the beat? Well, that would be too simple, right? The notes must be picked a bit late, but in a pulse so that the music sounds untroubled and relaxed, or what is called "laid back".

To better hear what goes on rhythmically, here's the guitar melody only, with a metronome:

MP3 - Laid back - guitar only

Now listen to the same part in the original tune:

MP3 - Laid back - in the original tune

Do you hear the relaxed feeling? Try to phrase your own melodies this way! Listen to good jazz guitarists and you'll hear many cool phrasings.

Whammy bar

Those of you who've heard my album "Electric Storm" already know that whammy bar phrasing is one of the most important stylistic elements for many of my melodies. The key is to see the whammy bar not as a "mechanical stick" (to be shaken up and down), but as a real and "living" part of your guitar that allows you to express yourself.

To explore the possibilities of the whammy bar, try the exercise: "Sing through your guitar!"

Listen to the following melody and then try to sing the melody (sing 1 or 2 octaves lower).

MP3 - Whammy bar - guitar melody only

Now listen to the same part in the original tune:

MP3 - Whammy bar - in the original tune


2 over 3, 4 over 3...

Finally, a common phrasing method is to play, for example, two note phrases over a triplet rhythm. I'll call it "2 over 3". Here's a short example:

MP3 - 2 over 3 - guitar only

MP3 - 2 over 3 - guitar only, with a laid back feeling

MP3 - 2 over 3 - in the original tune

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me.

Dan Keller, Switzerland's Sultan of String, is a guitarist whose original compositions showcase his exotic metal fretwork.

His debut CD is entitled "Electric Storm".

Dan Keller