Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to read through my Introduction To Phrasing article. In that article, we talked about how I like to break phrasing into three key elements…

  1. Note Choice (What)
  2. Rhythm (When)
  3. Articulation (How)

In this article, we’re going to explore rhythm a little bit more. To do this we’re going to take a group of six notes and play them in the following way…

  • We’ll play the notes in the exact same order each time. This means that our note choice won’t be changing.
  • We’ll pick every single one of the notes. This will mean all the variations will have the exact same articulation.

OK, let’s get started by taking a look at the notes that we’ll be using. For this lesson, we’ll focus on using the following six notes from the C Natural Minor scale

Don’t panic if you haven’t learnt the C Natural Minor scale before. You don’t need to know it in order to benefit from this lesson. Just learn the notes shown in the TAB. (Although it’s not absolutely critical, you might also want to use the pick motions and fingering that I’ve recommended).

Now that we’ve decided on the notes that we’ll be playing, and also how we’re going to be articulating them, let’s look at our first example phrase…

Example Phrase 1:

AUDIO: Example Phrase 1 played four times


In the audio recordings of the example phrases, I have deliberately left out expressive techniques such as vibrato. The reason for this is so that you can focus more on the timing of the phrase. But keep in mind that when you are improvising you should use expressive techniques to make it sound more like real music! 🙂

This is a two-bar phrase that I composed using the notes we selected earlier. Notice that it is being played over a chord progression that uses a C minor chord for the first bar, followed by a G minor chord for the second bar. Playing the phrase over a chord progression will allow you to hear what the phrase sounds like in a musical context.

I’ve also included the exact fingers and pick strokes that I used to play the phrase. Although I included these, just in case you wanted to play the phrase exactly how I do, I recommend that you don’t get too hung up on these. I recommend primarily listening to the phrase many times rather than necessarily learning to play it.

Creating Variations

Let’s now take a look at a couple of new phrases that use the same six notes. To create these variations, the only thing I did was to vary the rhythm that I used to play the notes. I’m still playing the exact same notes in the exact same order. I’m also picking all the notes with the same pick strokes that I used for the first phrase. This will help to make the articulation sound the same as the first phrase.

Example Phrase 2:

AUDIO: Example Phrase 2 played four times

Example Phrase 3:

AUDIO: Example Phrase 3 played four times

I’d like for you to listen to all three example phrases a number of times. Once you’ve done that, then I invite you to answer the following questions..

  • Which phrasing example did you like best? Why?
  • How does changing the rhythm affect the feel of the phrase?
  • How would practising the same notes with different rhythms help your improvisation? How would it help your composition?

A Suggested Bit Of Homework

Although we only looked at three different phrases in this lesson, it’s important to realise that you could make up many other variations just by changing the rhythm. That’s why I recommend doing the following exercise…

  1. Create a backing track by recording about 5-minutes of the chord progression Cm to Gm. Feel free to use any strumming pattern that you like. Be creative and have fun with it! Rhythm guitar is just as important as lead guitar, so do not to skip doing this. 🙂
  2. Improvise over the backing track that you’ve just made. Try to stick to only using the six notes you looked at in this lesson. The primary focus of your improvisation should be changing the rhythm.
  3. If you recorded your improvisation, which I definitely recommend doing, then listen back to your improvisation and write down what you noticed. What did you like about what you did? What are some things you could improve?

A Few Last Words

Forcing yourself to stick to the same notes and only varying the rhythm can be extremely challenging to do. But it’s definitely worth doing on a regular basis. It’s a fantastic way to develop your rhythmic ability, which is an essential part of learning to improvise in a musical way. So be sure to do the suggested homework.

Have fun!

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