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Old 01-17-2022, 04:21 PM
fpuhan fpuhan is offline
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Default The "Secret" of Phrasing | Why Am I So Bad At It?

I have a fair number of songs in my repertoire. Some I play the way the original was done. Some I have "made my own." Then, there are the others...

I've been working on some Clapton numbers as he performs them on his latest release The Lady In The Balcony. I have been a Clapton fan for decades, and having heard that his physical battles with peripheral neuropathy have left him struggling to play guitar, his performances on this work are even more impressive! Watching the YouTube videos, I can see that he no longer has the reach and the dexterity that once garnered him the nickname "Slowhand." But you'd hardly know it because he's got such a mastery of the fingerboard, and an impeccable sense of phrasing.

I can pretty much play some of these note for note, but they don't sound like Clapton. In fact, they don't sound like me, either. I don't have perfect timing (otherwise I'd be a drummer), either, but I just can't figure out how he does it.

Is phrasing an intuitive thing, or is it something I can get? I've been playing almost as long as he has, but I'm nowhere near his caliber.
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Old 01-17-2022, 05:37 PM
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Phrasing is not so much a measure by measure process. Think further ahead to more extended lengths of time. You can anticipate what is coming rather naturally when you know how to play a piece really well and motor memory is established so that you can be more concerned about flow and feeling than finding the next correct notes to be played.
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Last edited by rick-slo; 01-17-2022 at 07:45 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 01-17-2022, 06:32 PM
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Can you sing the lines you're trying to play? You don't have to be able to sing well, but truly hearing the sound in your head, which singing will help verify, is a first step.

It's hard to say without hearing/seeing you, sometimes there are technique or mechanical issues. I've seen things as simple as people lifting their fingers too far off the fretboard, disrupting the flow. But without hearing you or knowing how you play, the first step I'd suggest would be making sure you truly "hear" the phrase you're trying to play. Take one of Clapton's phrases, loop it and sing along with it until you know it by heart and can sing it by yourself. Then play along with it. Try to get to where playing it is like singing, and not so much about what string/fret to play.

There is something unique about many players, and Clapton is one of those who can usually be identified with just a note or two, so you may never sound exactly like him, but you should be able to come close and at least do something equally musical.
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Old 01-17-2022, 07:13 PM
fpuhan fpuhan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug Young View Post
Can you sing the lines you're trying to play? You don't have to be able to sing well, but truly hearing the sound in your head, which singing will help verify, is a first step.

It's hard to say without hearing/seeing you, sometimes there are technique or mechanical issues. I've seen things as simple as people lifting their fingers too far off the fretboard, disrupting the flow. But without hearing you or knowing how you play, the first step I'd suggest would be making sure you truly "hear" the phrase you're trying to play. Take one of Clapton's phrases, loop it and sing along with it until you know it by heart and can sing it by yourself. Then play along with it. Try to get to where playing it is like singing, and not so much about what string/fret to play.

There is something unique about many players, and Clapton is one of those who can usually be identified with just a note or two, so you may never sound exactly like him, but you should be able to come close and at least do something equally musical.
That's good advice. Thanks for the suggestion!
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Old 01-17-2022, 08:00 PM
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I was having a lot of trouble with one of William Coulter's tunes, An Daingean. It just didn't click in my head. I must have listened to it a hundred times until it fell into place.
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Old 01-17-2022, 09:04 PM
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If you're the type who likes to quantify things and "see" phrasing, try phrasing your lines at any given downbeat within a measure. Make up a line and start in the "One" or the "two", "three" etc.

Then do the same but start on the upbeat. Try it on the one-AND, two-AND, three-AND etc. You'll be surprised how that same line sounds different each time and it might give you ideas and start to hear creative things in your head.

I think this is called rhythmic displacement.

The point is to use the same exact melody line and combine it with concepts such as call and response or A,B,A,C (C can be a crescendo).

It works great for me because it's so simple and you can recycle the same lines over and over while only changing one or two notes per line. You can use scales, triads, arpeggios, whatever you can think of and apply the same concept. If you can hit target notes as the chord changes, then even better.

For me phrasing wasn't intuitive. It requires a strong sense of groove so that you know exactly where you are at a point in time. When I first started out, I practiced counting out the beats at the same time I played. It was tough and still is, but a good awareness exercise. I realized that the reason why my lines were so boring was because I intuitively started my lines on the first downbeat. Very predictable and boring. One thing that really helped me is a metronome with some sort of visual so I can see where I'm at. Tapping your foot is also great. If you start your line at the same time when your foot hits the ground then you're targeting the downbeat, and vice versa. I think if you start your lines on the "AND" it sounds groovier.

Last edited by hatamoto; 01-17-2022 at 09:36 PM.
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Old 01-17-2022, 09:46 PM
mr. beaumont mr. beaumont is offline
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Phrasing is not timing. Post a quick video/recording. I can help.
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Old 01-17-2022, 10:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mr. beaumont View Post
Phrasing is not timing. Post a quick video/recording. I can help.
Phrasing shaped around tempo, tone, volume like in this example:
http://dcoombsguitar.com/Guitar%20Mu...yBillEvans.mp3
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Old 01-18-2022, 04:08 AM
Andyrondack Andyrondack is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fpuhan View Post
I have a fair number of songs in my repertoire. Some I play the way the original was done. Some I have "made my own." Then, there are the others...

I've been working on some Clapton numbers as he performs them on his latest release The Lady In The Balcony. I have been a Clapton fan for decades, and having heard that his physical battles with peripheral neuropathy have left him struggling to play guitar, his performances on this work are even more impressive! Watching the YouTube videos, I can see that he no longer has the reach and the dexterity that once garnered him the nickname "Slowhand." But you'd hardly know it because he's got such a mastery of the fingerboard, and an impeccable sense of phrasing.

I can pretty much play some of these note for note, but they don't sound like Clapton. In fact, they don't sound like me, either. I don't have perfect timing (otherwise I'd be a drummer), either, but I just can't figure out how he does it.

Is phrasing an intuitive thing, or is it something I can get? I've been playing almost as long as he has, but I'm nowhere near his caliber.
When listening to a recording of Clapton playing tap your foot to beats 1 and 3 , harder on 1 so you allways know which is the first beat and listen to where the stresses are. If you are playing the right notes, in the right places but it still doesn't sound right then it must be that you are playing all the notes at the same volume. Surly?
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Old 01-18-2022, 05:55 AM
Robin, Wales Robin, Wales is offline
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At least you have noticed that you don't have the phrasing right. That's a great start.

Personally, I think that you sort of need to give it time and experience.

Lets put it like this: If you were watching two games of squash, one between two intermediate players and one between two professional players, I bet you could spot which game was which - even if you had never watched a squash match before. It would be the timing, grace, economy of movement etc that would give the game away (literally!). The professional players will just have more time and headspace to play the game because their physical skills are so non-conscious.

It is the same with guitar playing. The more you practice the more the kinaesthetic/audio/kinaesthetic feedback loop will strengthen and the less you will have to think about playing. This then frees up capacity for musicality. So, if you want to improve your phrasing, get the physical aspects of playing squared away. Once you can play the piece without consciously thinking about it then you will have the capacity to focus on the phrasing.
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Old 01-18-2022, 07:30 AM
Andyrondack Andyrondack is offline
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Originally Posted by Robin, Wales View Post
At least you have noticed that you don't have the phrasing right. That's a great start.

Personally, I think that you sort of need to give it time and experience.
.
? The op has been playing guitar for a few decades already.
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Old 01-18-2022, 09:05 AM
Deliberate1 Deliberate1 is offline
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I am new to the guitar, but old to music, having played jazz clarinet and sax for well more than 50 years. I learned "phrasing" or musical interpretation by playing along with recordigs of jazz masters - Brubeck, Evans, Desmond, Stitt, etc. I developed an ear the old fashioned way - by listening. I still do it and highly recommend this as a way of developing an ear, which is the key to phrasing, which makes music meaningful.

I think of phrasing as the ultimate expression of musical intent. Derek's clip of Bill Evans playing his Waltz for Debbie is a case study, and the perfect example to make the point. A relatively simple melody that is brought to life by shaping and sculpting the presentation. Mr. Evans evokes the essence of the song as a poet brings life to the words, not through a "note for note" recitation, but by infusing them with the power of joy, or pain or whatever human emotion best brings the words or notes to life.

Phrasing is the ultimate state of musical grace. I cannot achieve that on the guitar because I am way too caught up in survival mode, with the mechanics of playing and the occasional discomfort of putting my old fingers to an unwilling task. Perhaps, in my lifetime, I will get to that mountaintop. Frankly, at this point, I am just thrilled to be making music in a thorougly different way.

But I have reached that plain with my horns because holding and breathing through them is second nature. Once I have the melody and changes in my head, I can move on to the interpretation which, for me, involves little conscious thought. It is a matter of feeling the notes and gluing them together in a way that is most sweet to my ear.

"I can pretty much play some of these note for note, but they don't sound like Clapton. In fact, they don't sound like me, either."

That insight is dead-on. You are closer to the mark than you may realize. You have the mechanical skills. You have the notes. You want to make music, not just play it. But if your goal is to make you sound like Clapton, you will remain frustrated. You are not Clapton. And by that I mean you cannot sound like him through your fingers any more than you could sound like him in your speaking or singing voice. You must (and want) to find your own voice.

May I suggest that you approach a song that you know intimately and throw out what you "think" it should sound like. If you have the skills, lay down a back track of chords and use that as a musical foundation so you can "hear" the song without hearing the melody. Then approach the piece as if it were entirely new. Play it slow, or fast, or both. Leave spaces where there were none. Emphasize or accent notes and trail off, or build the notes to a crescendo. Isolate a one or two measure phrase and apply different musical "filters." Most important, find the space between the notes and collection of notes. That is where the magic happens. We wind players have to do that (unless you can circular breathe). Our lungs make us phrase. We have to stop and refuel. That is the perfect opportunity for phrasing. So use breathing as a tool even if you do not have to. Close your eyes when you play. You do not need them to find your way.
Wish you all the best in your music-making.

David
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Last edited by Deliberate1; 01-18-2022 at 09:43 AM.
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Old 01-18-2022, 09:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Deliberate1 View Post
I think of phrasing as the ultimate expression of musical intent. Doug's clip of Bill Evans playing his Waltz for Debbie is a case study, and the perfect example to make the point. A relatively simple melody that is brought to life by shaping and sculpting the presentation. Mr. Evans evokes the essence of the song as a poet brings life to the words, not through a "note for note" recitation, but by infusing them with the power of joy, or pain or whatever human emotion best brings the words or notes to life.
David
Yes, I posted that clip and have done so before when the topic was about the use of a metronome which I consider a practice
tool on doing some exercises but not when playing many tunes where expressive phrasing breathes life into the music.
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Old 01-18-2022, 09:55 AM
Deliberate1 Deliberate1 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rick-slo View Post
Yes, I posted that clip and have done so before when the topic was about the use of a metronome which I consider a practice
tool on doing some exercises but not when playing many tunes where expressive phrasing breathes life into the music.
Apologies, Derek, for the misnomer. I have corrected it.
David
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Old 01-18-2022, 09:58 AM
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Apologies, Derek, for the misnomer. I have corrected it.
David
No problem.
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