Guitar Solo Phrasing 3: Unconventional Play/Rest Combinations

How To Improvise Intriguing Guitar Phrases

Now that we have learned how to improvise conventional phrase lengths as well as how to reverse those phrase to challenge the audience’s expectations, we can begin adding even more unusual play/rest combinations.  By using odd-bar combinations and groupings longer than the typical four measures, we can really throw a solo off-balance and put the audience on their heels.

  1. Play two measures, rest one measure

This is our first odd-bar grouping.  Three, five, and seven measure phrases can create a very off-balance feel in a solo, but when used appropriately inject the right amount of interest.  A convenient fact about using three measures phrases on a blues progression is that since the twelve-bar progression is divisible by three, the phrasing pattern repeats every chorus.

2.  Play four measures, rest two measures

While this is an even-bar grouping, the six measure length breaks the four measure phrase convention.  It won’t feel quite as surprising as an odd-bar group, but the asymmetry and extended length offer plenty of contrast.  A six-measure phrase also divides evenly into twelve, so the phrasing pattern is the same for every chorus.

3.  Play three measures, rest two measures

This is where things can get really tricky; a five measure phrase is an odd-bar grouping, but it doesn’t divide evenly into twelve.  It takes a lot of concentration to keep count of the bars, but this grouping injects a ton of interest into a solo.

4.  Mix these unconventional groupings

Be careful, and stick to the three- and six-bar groupings at first since they keep you on the same pattern every chorus.  Once you include a five-bar grouping, the pattern is no longer repetitive.

5.  Mix these unconventional groupings with the conventional and reversed groupings from the last two lessons.

Stick to mostly conventional and reversed groupings, injecting these unconventional groupings for a bit of intrigue.

6.  Spend some time improvising freely, loosely focusing on the topic of phrasing.

By now you should have a pretty good grasp on how to exploit phrasing in a solo.  Think about how your phrasing makes the solo both predictable and unpredictable.  Any of these unconventional play/rest structures can also be reversed to create even more intriguing ideas.