How to smoothly start a phrase.

When you are playing your guitar, improvising a phrase there are two points that matter the most. That is the beginning of the phrase and the end of it. Those two points are important because they are easiest to remember. Today we will focus on the beginning of the phrase, look at the purpose of it and the methods we can use to to achieve that purpose.

What is the purpose of the beginning of the phrase?

There is only one purpose and that is to capture the listener’s attention. To clarify, capturing his attention means that the listener wants to hear more of what you are going to play.

This is true even if you are the only listener. If the listener does not want to listen to you what is the point of playing this music? There is none. So get him or her hooked at the start of your phrase.

What can we do to achieve that?

Here are a few guidelines to help you out:

Start with a pitch that is consonant to the harmony. This will start your phrase with something stable from which you can go away and come back to. An example would be the notes C, E or G when you are playing over a C major chord.

Try starting on different beats than the first one. Instead of starting your phrase on the first beat of a new measure you could start a beat early or a few beats late. This will automatically give you a feeling of syncopation and can sound really good.

Accent your starting note by playing expressive phrasing techniques before it. Most prominent techniques are a big slides into the note, a rake of notes before you start or a pre-bent note that is gradually released.

How do I get better at starting my phrases?

Most importantly you should do it. But these three things have helped me in getting better about that:

  1. Listen to your favorite guitarists and notice what they do when they start a phrase.

  2. Take a phrase and start it with the different ideas mentioned above. Check whether the feeling of the phrase changes with the different starting emphasis.

  3. Experiment with all kind of approaches like a mad scientist and note down your findings.

Those points are not exhaustive, so keep your eyes open. If you have a guitar teacher that knows your strengths he or she could surely give you a hint on what you can do to get better at this quickly. Most importantly: Keep at it and have fun!

About the Author: René Kerkdyk is the owner of the first guitar-only school in Hildesheim, Germany. The easiest way to play the guitar starts at Rock Gitarre Hildesheim.