By: Zack Uidl
Countless guitarists around the world find themselves using the same scales, modes, arpeggios, and licks for all of their lead playing. They use the same pentatonic scale run, the same triad arpeggio, use the same modes, and keep everything within the realm of where they are most comfortable. This becomes very evident with improvising especially. Many guitarists learn songs or pieces that were arranged for the guitar and not for any other instrument. This harmful trap enables the continuation of this problem. By applying phrases from other instruments such as saxophones, trumpets, and voices, you will expand your phrasing ability to capture new emotions and concepts to you guitar playing.
To begin with, we will explore the saxophone and the trumpet. By learning scales, modes, arpeggios, etc. that are applied by these musicians, you will learn one of the most over looked aspects of lead guitar playing, creating space. Many lead guitarists try to cram as many notes as they can into their phrases and try to do the wildest stuff they can. This kind of playing does have its time, but can be overdone quite easily. Saxophones and trumpet players have to breathe in order to play their phrases. This forces them to create space because they do, as apposed to guitarists, have to breathe frequently to play their instrument.
These musicians also use other scales, modes, and arpeggios that are not commonly applied to guitar, especially in a rock setting. If used in a rock context, the music will become completely original and will stand out from everything else. Examples of this include bee-bop scales, diminished scales, 7th, 9th, and 11th arpeggios, and variations of pentatonic and blues scales. Even though the pentatonic and blues scales are commonly played in rock and blues styles, they are played in different ways saxophone and trumpet players and this can add very interesting phrases to your lead playing.
Rather than relying on playing up and down these scales using steps, as many guitar players will do, they tend to combine steps with leaps during their playing. For example, when playing an Am pentatonic scale, the common guitarist will ascend and descend in the order in which the notes appear in the scale. This playing is using steps only. When a saxophone player uses the same scale, they most likely will combine steps, much like the guitarist, but will incorporate leaps into their phrases that will not follow the exact note-by-note order of the scale. (I step is moving from one note to the next while a leap is moving from one note, skipping one or more notes, and then playing the chosen note.)
Similarly, vocalists are very good to imitate, as they tend to use very melodic phrasing as well as fantastic vibrato. Singers do not tend to use bizarre scales and arpeggios as a jazz horn player might, but they do a very good job focusing on consonant pitches. This is very helpful for a developing guitarist because note choice is one of the most important concepts to learn. By changing one emphasis on a particular note, the entire phrase can drastically change. Listen to vocalists that have a great sense of note choice and of phrasing. There are many great singers whether they perform jazz, opera, rock, metal, etc. Work with different styles and find particular singers that are doing with their voices, what you would like to do with your guitar.
The vibrato usage of the vocalist is probably to most beneficial aspect to learn. It really helps a guitarist, especially in finding appropriate places to use for vibrato. To many guitarists have vibrato that sounds as if a mosquito is flying next to their ear. Vibrato is supposed to enhance the emotion and expression in a passage, not prohibit the passage from reaching its potential. The vibrato that vocalists use is very dramatic. When listening to your singer(s) of choice, notice where they use their vibrato. Many times, if a note is being held out, it will gradually build in intensity. It creates a voice for your guitar solos rather than just a lick. There are guitar solos that sound like they are singing to its audiences and there are solos that do not. Which do you prefer? I thought so. Practicing imitating vocal phrases will allow you to do just that.
In a world where music is highly competitive and looking for original creations, applying phrasing theories of horn players and vocalists will allow you to create music that will be a lot more interesting. Rather than using the same scales and getting tired of hearing yourself play, stretch yourself by going beyond the ordinary of guitar playing. The result will be extraordinary.