The “Rest/Play” Approach
In our previous lesson, we learned the most conventional two and four measure phrase play/rest combinations. These phrase combinations will take you a long way; solos need to have some level of conventionality in order to be recognizably musical. Using only familiar phrasing might render your solos bland, however. In order to maintain the audience’s interest, improvisers must integrate surprising and contrasting elements into their solos. Reversing the order of playing and resting in our most conventional phrase combinations is an easy way to accomplish this. It may not seem like much, but listeners have certain implicit expectations of where a melody will begin and end that this approach flips on its head.
I’ve listed the reversed phrase combinations below, along with how they would fall over a twelve-bar blues. The blues makes an excellent template for practicing phrasing since its predictable, repetitive harmonic pattern creates very strong expectations. Take note of how these reversed phrase combinations feel while you are practicing them. That effect do they have? How could you use that effect?
As with most improvisational exercises, I recommend working on each combination discretely for a timed period of two minutes. This gives you plenty of time to become comfortable with the concept and begin experimenting. Once you have gone through all three reverse phrasing combinations, spend a period blending them with each other, then a period blending them with the conventional phrasing patterns. Finally, spend a period improvising while focusing on the general idea of phrasing.
1. Rest two measures, play two measures.
2. Rest one measure, play one measure.
3. Rest one measure, play three measures.
4. Mix the reversed phrase combinations.
5. Mix both conventional phrase and reversed phrase combinations.
6. Spend some time improvising, focusing on the general idea of phrasing.