How to Develop Musical Phrasing Using Silence
At some stage in learning to play jazz guitar, every guitarist gets to the point where they know the fretboard well enough to play the right notes over each chord without getting lost in the form, but despite this, some how the phrasing doesn’t quite sound jazzy.
This is one problem I faced myself and see in many intermediate jazz guitar students that I’ve taught over the years so I’ve decided to put together a series of different lessons to help with this problem.
The next few lessons will focus on some of the best exercises I’ve found to develop better jazz phrasing, the first of which I’d like to share in today’s lesson is a cool bar rest exercise. Although this exercise is applied over a jazz progression you can use to better your blues guitar chops.
“You know what’s the loudest noise in the world, man? The loudest noise in the world is silence.” – Thelonious Monk
Musical Phrasing Exercise 1: Bar Rest Exercise
One trap that jazz guitarists can sometimes fall into is playing too many notes just to fill up space. A great exercise to avoid this happening is to leave a bar of silence between each phrase in a solo.
Put on a backing track or record the chords to a tune that you are working on and give this exercise a try. Start with a medium tempo tune no faster than 160 beats per minute at first.
Although, you might not play this way at a gig, not having as much time to play a phrase will force you to play less notes and more melodically. The exercise will also help develop your time and rhythmic chops because you will need to be very aware of where you are within the bar and form.
For the purpose of this lesson I have written out an etude that shows how this phrasing technique can be applied to the ‘Blue Bossa’ chord progression.
Before we look at the full thing, let’s break the form down into four bar chunks. Here are the first four bars of the progression. Notice that there are phrases in the first and third bars and the second and fourth bars have been left empty.
Blue Bossa Solo: First Four Bars
The 1st and 3rd bars show Dorian scale based lines over each chord. One thing that makes each of these licks sound like a phrase and not just like a scale is the fact they start on the up beat of the bar which provides a nice syncopated feel.
Also notice that both of these lines use the same rhythms, and that the harmony is slightly different within each phrase. This use of rhythmic repetition is a great basis for motific development which will be explored in more depth later in the series.
Blue Bossa Solo: Second Four Bars
Over the D-7b5 chord there is a line based off a descending Locrian mode starting on the 5th degree of the scale. The line over C-7 is a little more rhythmically ambitious showcasing more syncopated way of playing using guide tones.
Blue Bossa Solo: Third Four Bars
The line starting off this set of 4 bars is based off the honeysuckle rose clichÃ© which is a common device in bebop soloing. Again, there’s a cool syncopated lick over the I chord, Dbmaj7.
Blue Bossa Solo: Final Four Bars
Over the G7b9 there is a nice altered lick that could resolve well into the C-7, but to stick to this exercise I have kept it within a bar. Here’s the full etude.
Blue Bossa Phrasing Etude
To take this task one step further you can also try just using your thumb which will most likely result in playing less notes and more melodically too.
You could also try playing chords in the empty bars, so that you’re developing your chordal and single line chops. To learn more about this exercise, follow this link:
This type of melodic jazz phrasing is used extensively by greats such as Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Larry Carlton and Miles Davis. The space that these players use in their solos is as important as the notes the play.
One cool transcription task you can do that is a little extension on this is to transcribe the space in a solo rather than the notes. What do you think of using space in your playing? Share your thoughts below.