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The Secret To Lead Guitar Phrasing or How Not to Noodle Aimlessly

Updated on January 12, 2015
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Where Is The Logic?

Most good improvisors (whether they themselves know it or not) tend to create phrases that are either one, two or four measures long with two measures seeming to occur most most of the time.

Video Lesson On Two-Measure Phrasing

Lead Guitar Phrasing Lesson - YouTube

For the players who have learned some scales and licks but haven't figured out how to put it all together. This video goes into a lot of detail with some easy to follow examples

It Can't Be That Easy Can It?

Yes it is that easy.

When I was first taught this it seemd to simple to be true. I was used to listeneing to soloists and being blown away by the incredible creativity and just thinking how wonderful and connected everything was without realizing there was this underlying structure.

It's that simple. For 2 measures play some notes-stop. Next 2 measures play some notes-stop. Repeat

(When I say play for 2 measures that doesn't mean you have to play non-stop from beginning to end of each 2. You could hit one note and let it ring then stop before the next 2 and that would still be considered a 2 measure phrase. Even the solists that seem to rip non stop are changing their ideas every 2 measures)

Can it be other lengths? Absolutely anything is possible and when you understand the basics of this concept it will give you so much control over your phrasing that you will be able to do pretty much any type of phrasing you want.

How to make it interesting? Repetition, Rhythmic Variation, Note (Melodic) Variation, Bends, Slides, Hammer-On, Pull Off and Vibrato. The Phrasing Elements link will describe this in more detail.

Hearing Two Measures

A good way to practice is to record or have someone play a chord pattern that is 2 measures long and try to create licks that fall within the chord pattern. This way it easier to follow by ear.

For example /Ami/D/ and solo using a basic A minor pentatonic or A dorian minor scale.

A typical 12-bar blues would have six phrases each cycle. Blues is actually a really good way to hear the phrases during the vocals. The usual formula is 2 measure vocal followed by 2 measure fill.

  1. 2 measure: Vocal: Going down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees,
  2. 2 measure: Guitar fill
  3. 2 measure: Vocal: Going down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees,
  4. 2 measure: Guitar fill
  5. 2 measure: Vocal: Asked the Lord above for mercy, help me if you please
  6. 2 measure: Guitar fill

In the Clapton version the guitar fill is the classic riff everyone knows but it's the same idea whether it's a set in stone riff or an improvised fill, 2 measures is 2 measures.

Other blues tunes to check out:

  • Before You Accuse Me - Clapton
  • Red House - Hendrix
  • Sky Is Crying - SRV
  • Texas Flood - SRV

You have to get used to the idea of forcing yourself to stop by the end of the 2 measures and then starting a new idea etc.or variation/repetition of previous idea.

  1. 2 measure: New idea
  2. 2 measure: New idea
  3. 2 measure: New idea
  4. 2 measure: New idea
  5. 2 measure: New idea
  6. 2 measure: New idea


How To Practice Phrasing

Take a single chord and play a one-measure (4 beat) rhythm pattern and without losing time follow with one measue of a scale pattern. Even one note played in quarter notes works to get started.

I like to have my students play an Ami chord E Shape 5th fret followed by the Ami pentatonic at the 5th fret but you can choose any key you want.

After you are feeling the one measure phrase simple double everything. 2 measures of rhythm followed by 2 measures of scale pattern.

Suggested Listening

These have what I feel more obvious 2 measure phrases.

Black Magic Woman

Comfortably Numb

Hotel California

Stairway To Heaven (the 1st few licks)

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    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      We had fun playing your guitar lesson today. Thanks.