Rhythmical Variations Of Guitar Phrases: The Missing Element

When you improvise you use always the same few "trusted" licks and you are tired of them? And no matter how many exercises you learn, you can't seem to use them in "real life" playing? Let me help you overcome these problems.

When you learn to play an instrument such as the guitar, there are some areas of musicianship that appear obvious that you have to practice: technique, speed (if you're into that), scale/chord knowledge, etc. At the same time there are some areas of musicianship that DO NOT seem obvious. These are the areas that most people take fro granted as they should be "natural". For the present article I need mention only one: rhythm.

Everyone is convinced they have good rhythm. Everyone is convinced that rhythm is natural, and it's a matter of "feel". And that's why nobody practices it (or at least, practices it enough). Fact is, not mastering your rhythm - meaning, being able to control in detail the timing of the notes you play - is reason number 1 why most people have problems implementing "exercises" into actual real-life musical situations. They simply try to play the exercise as they learned it and more often than not the exercise will not fit the rhythm - groove, feel, call it however you want - of the song they are soloing on.

Luckily, there are exercises that can help us mastering our rhythm skills. What we want to be able to do is:

  • to play old licks in a new way my controlling their rhythm and
  • to be able to "modify" the rhythm of the "exercises" we know so they can fit in any musical situation.

In order to do this you need to be able to manipulate the rhythm of what you play by displacing the accents in a phrase. Rather than giving you a long explanation on how to do that, I have prepared a video so you can hear immediately what I am doing on a couple of simple examples and replicate everything on your guitar.

Now that you have seen the video, I suggest you take up your guitar and start playing some of your "go-to" licks. Yes, the ones that you dread playing because you have played them too much. Then determine if you are playing them in "threes" or in "fours", and learn them the other way as described in the video.

The beauty of this approach is that you do not have to learn anything new to sound fresh: you can play the very same things you were used to play and they will sound different. Or, as one of my past teacher said: "don't learn 1000 licks. Learn 10 and find a 100 ways to play each one of them!". Enjoy!

Tommaso Zillio is a professional prog rock/metal guitarist and composer based in Edmonton, AB, Canada.

Tommaso is currently working on an instrumental CD, and an instructional series on fretboard visualization and exotic scales. He is your go-to guy for any and all music theory-related questions.

Tommaso Zillio

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