Watch the Phrasing and Motivic Development online guitar lesson by Andy Timmons from Electric Expression
Let's talk a bit about phrasing. People have pointed out to me that they like my phrasing as part of my playing, and I guess that's a good compliment to have. To me it alludes to something being musical, because a phrase is a succinct musical statement. Then hopefully each statement as they happen relates to the other and makes some kind of musical sense. As I talked about earlier, learning melodies is a great way to learn about phrasing. Learning lines from other than the guitar can be real helpful too, especially in the jazz world if you get into jazz playing. Horn players, because they have to take a breath, will phrase a certain way. They can't play endless streams of notes that guitar players are able to do. Which I do a lot, certainly I've been guilty of running on so to speak. But it's cool to get lines from other instruments and other musicians besides guitarists. Which is easy to do just by listening to other records, I love jazz saxophone. I love listening to Cannonball Adderley and Charlie Parker is a guy that I learned a lot from when I was studying jazz and still do. So the basic idea is because they have to take a breath, they stop playing then they'll play the next idea and that's something that you can work on the guitar by simply breathing or you can either sing with your notes, or if you're shy doing that, just maybe be conscious of taking a breath and when you need to take another breath you stop that phrase and play another phrase. But I'm going to attempt to sing along with a couple of notes. I'm not the best singer, but you instantly start to recognize that it changes the way you play and when I think to do it I tend to like my playing better when I'm consciously doing this. Just because it changes your phrase lengths. So, let me just play a random phrase in the key of A minor. Now I couldn't really hear my voice that well over my guitar so I'm not sure how accurate my pitches were. But two-fold here, it's really handy because you have to breathe in between phrases so it breaks up the lines a little bit, but also if you do sing along specifically with the note, it trains your melodic ear, your phrasing ear. Where you need to know where you're going or what you want to hear because you're singing it. I think ultimately, that's my goal, I want to be able to play any melodic idea that I have. I want to immediately be able to apply it to the instrument and the true art of improvisation is exactly that. Now it might be phrases you've played before, which is fine.
Improvising is like any language. Essentially you're speaking a language. So, a great poet might be using words that he's heard before, but it's how he assembles them. It's how the poet puts it together, and that's what you're doing as an improviser. You're creating a piece of poetry, on a good day, where you might be using some of the same phrases, but it's how your melodic ear guides you and how you connect them that makes it unique and special to that moment. That particular event. So this is a great way of doing it. This is a great way of connecting that musical ear with your fingers and being able to get them to work as one, hopefully. That's, like I say on a good day, that's what I'm trying to do. By phrasing in a vocal way, that's a good way to work on that. I do a lot of what you might consider motivic development where I'll play a phrase and possibly just repeat that same phrase. As guitarists we can be guilty of running scales and playing in a certain way that may not have the most musicality to it. So sometimes by using motivic development, it gives you and the listener something to grab on to and that generally stays with the listener a lot longer than flurries of notes that might be impressive but maybe don't last quite as long in the musical memory. So, in a musical passage I might be playing a line, it's almost like I was trying to create an actual song melody on the spot. Something that's slightly repetitive that becomes memorable. That was just more of a rhythmic motivic development. So I took a rhythmic segment on a certain pitch level, took that same rhythmic idea and played it a different pitch level in a way of creating a bit of tension. I set it up and I landed on A, if I'm thinking A minor which I was, landed on the ninth and then gave it some release at the end of the phrase. So that could be done in other rhythmic ways. I love setting up over a series of chord changes, maybe some common tones that can work throughout the changes. There's a tune I have called "A Night to Remember" and the ending solo section. Another D minor tune. D minor to F major to B flat major and it's just a key that I love playing in, and those particular chords lend themselves to finding some common tones that I can create some of these motivic developments that I'm talking about. So let me play over that track for you and demonstrate some of these phrasing motivic development ideas. So just improvising there I got to a couple spots where you realized that I was applying some of the same things that we talked about with some of the motivic development. I may not remember specifically exactly what I did right now, because it was off the cuff. I'm hearing those chords go by in my head while playing a particular little motif and it can lead to a really engaging exchange between the listener and the artist. Explore some of those things. They can be very simple ideas, but they're really effective and really powerful and really draws the listener in. Hopefully that would be the goal at some point. Have fun with that.