April 1, 2013

Wayne Johnson on timing & phrasing part 2

Hi Jan,
I've had a lot of people ask about my phrasing, so I decided to turn it into a major group of lessons which I have finally completed. I have taken the "nuts and bolts" of the Phrasing portions and combined them in a document for you. I hope this will be helpful. I think that phrasing is the most distinctive part of any musician's playing so it is vastly important. 

What Is Phrasing?... What is Good Phrasing?... How To Develop YOUR Phrasing...!
First of all... there is an element of personality & talent when it comes to phrasing.  It's not all learned.. which is the great thing about improvisation in general.  It is environmental & genetic!  It incorporates much more in your life than just learning to play an instrument! It is all individual and has to do with personal taste as well.  That said, there are specific things that make phrasing good.  And... for the most part, this is very dependent on your skills as an instrumentalist.  The better you know your instrument i.e. chords / scales / theory etc and how they work & weave through harmony i.e. chord progressions.. seamlessly... the better phraseologist you will be.   Put it this way, if you could play everything you hear and sing... with little effort... you would know your instrument very well.  That.. is not easy to do.   I find that I can sing lines over chord changes that make great melodic sense... all the time.  Trying to do that with guitar is not that easy because we have too much interference with all the "stuff" that we practice.  Here again it all boils down to knowing your instrument, good ear training and knowledge of the fingerboard i.e. harmony and theory. 

The extra pages I included on the diminished arpeggios & chords will help your phrasing a lot!  What the diminished arpeggio does is achieve a great deal of tension in a shorter amount of time than a full 7 note scale and these textures are literally available any place your hand already is!  Seriously.. you can add a little flair of diminished tension anytime without moving to another position.  It's just about knowing the notes and/or locations of the notes... i.e. the 3rd, 5th, 7th & b9th of the dom. 7th chord of the moment.  The diminished arpeggio is half of a total altered dominant  7 note chord and can achieve that kind of tension in just a few notes and in 4 times the places. 

Another key to good phrasing is "Guide Tone Lines" usage.  I've also included a page on these for the blues progression.  These are the very basic, important and defining notes of the chords and the movement as they go through the chord changes.  Predominantly the 3rd & 7th.. these are very easy to locate in every chord and an easy way to sound "solid" if you get lost or just want to take a break in your playing. A great sounding phrase incorporates these strong tones.. ending and/or beginning on them.  Check this page out and apply it to other tunes.

Lastly... phrasing is as much about not playing as playing.  It's about the space between your phrases... that's what makes your phrase stand out... the space before and/or after your phrase.  It all started with the vocal chords.  Singers and singing are the reason we have phrasing.  Singers can only sing for so long and then must take a breath.  It is a constant balance of singing and breathing.  Instrumentalists have always tried to emulate the human voice.  

As long as I've mentioned the human aspect of phrasing I'd like to dive in deeper.  So far I've talked about melodic phrasing and the physical part of phrasing.. breathing with space as to emulate a vocalist.  Now, let's address rhythmic phrasing. This is something that people don't really talk about and many players don't explore.  I'm going to use the singer Tony Bennett as an example here.  There is back phrasing and fore phrasing.  Tony is the king of back phrasing.. and Frank Sinatra a close second.  I love to do this on guitar. You actually hold your playing back and play slower than the tempo of the song... just for a bit... not too long.  You instinctually plan this out when there would be a natural place for a break (breath) so that you don't get to far behind the beat. You can then take a breath and start right in back on time. Another way to think of it is "falling behind the beat to create tension and you end your line.. that's the release.  Tony does this naturally with the written melody.  Back phrasing creates a very strong, sexy vibe.  

Tony Bennett is the king of back phrasing.

What I like most about back or fore phrasing is that since it is totally off beat.. it can't be written with notation... there are no symbols to exactly notate this.  The best one can do is to write it in natural time and then give a direction such as "Relaxed" or "Play Behind" or "Freely With Espression" but even here.. everyone's performance would be different.  Fore phrasing is just the opposite and I believe not as popular because it sounds rushed and used more as an effect.  Either way... rhythmic phrasing is an amazing way to develop an individual sound because no one does it quite the same. 

There is a concept called Target playing that will help develop the feel for back & fore phrasing.  In Target playing, let's say you are playing an improvised line.....you pick a note that will be a strong chord tone to end this phrase on as you think ahead to the coming chord changes.  This is your "target"!  You now can take more liberties in your improvisation... playing almost anything towards this target. You can play in time,  out of time, in the key or out of the key as long as you hit your target… the strong chord tone.  As well, these types of phrases work best if they are not drawn out too long.   As you hit your target, you've just sent a message to the listener that this phrase was totally designed and that you were not just "flying by the seat of your pants"…even if you were!  Chromaticism is a great way to start  "Target Playing" in order to develop your own individual phrasing.
Here's another way to think of Phrasing:  Just like we take a melodic idea out of key momentarily for tension and then come back into the key center (as when you are improvising), we can do the same with our "time" or rhythmic ideas.  We can slow down, speed up and even take it completely out of time… coming back into time.  This is usually a quick process that you can do many times over in a given solo.  It is not a one shot deal for any length of time or you will lose the listener.  Both elements, Melody and Rhythm, are considerations when "Target" playing as described above. 

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