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Like last month, I’m going to include a little section from some recent guitar clinics I’m currently doing with fingerstyle guru Jerry Belsak and fusion wizard Philip High. One of the questions that comes up at clinics a lot is: “How can I learn to solo?” A lot goes into soloing well, but it begins with a basic understanding of the fretboard and some basic musical concepts (some of which we’ve discussed in the past, like melody fragments and octave displacement and variations on a theme), not just application of technique. The concept I’d like to touch on today is phrasing.

Phrasing is the thing that separates one musical idea from another and adds spice. It is of particular importance to shredders, because without it one just plays a perpetual barrage of notes. While that may be cool a time or two, it ultimately makes all your solos sound alike. Guys like Tony MacAlpine, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Scott Henderson, and Jeff Beck are absolute masters of phrasing, so if you like any of them, I’d suggest throwing one of their discs on and really listening to how their solos are constructed.

In the example below, you’ll make use of the A pentatonic minor scale. Notice how it plays a theme, then a counter, then repeats the theme, and then a variation on the counter. Notice also that the variation alters both melodically and rhythmically.

Grok the implications of the example, and consider (while remembering that “phrasing” is creating distinct musical sections within a piece [in this case, a solo within a song] in a dynamic and fluid way) concepts like theme & variation, melodic & harmonic & rhythmic variation, composition vs improvisation, overall structure of the song and solo, and the like. Try mapping out a practice solo over a basic progression (maybe from last month’s etude) and try to include fast passages, slow passages, rhythmic variations, and expressive flairs by using vibrato and bends. Like always, be sure to drop me a line and let me know how it’s working for you or if you have any questions.

See ya next month!


David M. McLean is the proprietor of Skinny Devil Music Labs, former guitarist of the avant-garde fusion-metal band Aurora-Sen, guitar instructor, and columnist for TinFoil Music Magazine (where he conducts interviews in the on-going series “Guitar Gods”). His new solo album, “HUNGER”, will be released later this year.

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