How To Play Lead Guitar With Excellent Guitar Phrasing - Part One

By Nick Layton

Wish you knew how to make your lead guitar playing and improvising sound totally killer? You’re not alone. Many guitarists struggle with this and never truly learn how it’s done. Contrary to popular belief, playing great solos is not merely about playing fast or technical. Actually, it’s something totally different. You have to improve your guitar phrasing. In fact, to play nice sounding guitar solos you just need to play ONE note extremely well. From that one note you can expand and play some really awesome lead guitar solos and improvisations.

Self-expression is key to great guitar playing. Think of it like speaking to another person. Every word you say needs to be arranged in a clear manner (with the right tone and articulation) in order to get your point across. This is exactly the same in guitar playing. You won’t win your listener’s attention by talking in a completely monotone voice – so you shouldn’t do this in your guitar playing either. The most critical thing to understand about playing with good phrasing, is that you must focus on HOW you play your notes, rather than the notes themselves. With this in mind, here are the three most important guitar phrasing elements that all great guitarists have mastered:


Vibrato technique is very personal to the guitarist using it, so it is crucial that you create your own unique playing style with this element. Contrary to what many guitarists think, vibrato requires years of practice to perfect (both technically and stylistically). To get started playing with good vibrato for yourself, think about how you want to hear it played. Listen to how vibrato is used by your favorite guitarists whenever they are playing solos. Then go online and find videos of these guitarists playing live, so you can see how they move their hands to create vibrato. Next, do your best to imitate their style in your playing. Eventually, you will begin developing your own style (as you mix together the different styles of your favorite guitarists). As you work on your vibrato, remember this: There are tons of different ways to play vibrato. For example, neoclassical guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen has a slow and wide vibrato, while blues guitarist B.B. King has a very fast and narrow vibrato. Think about what sounds best to you, and focus on developing that sound within your style. . To work on improving your vibrato, practice applying it in musical situations (such as backing tracks or over your favorite songs). To quickly develop a great vibrato technique, work with an experienced guitar teacher. Also, remember that vibrato should be used on both bent and unbent notes.

String Bending:

Any great lead guitarist with good phrasing is also a master of creative string bending. Make sure not to overlook this crucial phrasing element in your own playing. By combining string bending along with vibrato, you will achieve maximum self-expression in your playing. The great part about this technique, is that there are countless ways to creatively bend notes. You can bend a half step, a full step, microtonally, with ghost bends, bend and release, plus countless other variations. Some players, such as Marty Friedman, bend their notes beginning from out of the key (such a half step below a tone of the scale) to a note that is ‘in key’. This creates a highly exotic sound. A creative and well-timed bend will instantly grab a listeners’ attention, however you must always keep these things in mind:

1. Always keep your bends ‘in tune’. When you end your bends too flat or too sharp it will sound very bad! Tons of guitar players make this mistake (many times without even being aware of it). To make sure you are always keeping your bends in tune, work with a guitar teacher who can help you play perfect bends every time.

2. Use many string bending variations to build your own style. To do this, start by playing 1/2 step bends, then add in various other approaches (such as whole step bends, bending at different speeds, etc.). Make sure to practice with every finger on your fret hand.


By using embellishments in your playing, you will add a lot of creativity and excitement to each note you play. Embellishment basically refers to the idea of using techniques to ‘embellish’ your notes and make them sound more interesting.

One embellishment technique is the ‘trill’. In the context of guitar playing, trills are done by rapidly alternating between one note and another note above/below it using hammer ons and pull offs. Of course, trills are just a general term for a variety of different legato techniques. They were frequently used throughout the Classical era and have also been incorporated heavily into rock and metal music by many famous guitar players. Another way you can ornament the notes you play is by using pinch harmonics (playing artificial harmonics with your pick over the pickups). Good pinch harmonics will produce a ‘screeching’ effect that makes a note sound much higher in pitch. This will immediately make any note stand out from any other note you are playing. Additionally, you can use your fingers to produce natural harmonics above the frets to make your playing sound more creative.

For an even more creative application of harmonics, apply them together with a whammy bar. There are countless other ornamentation techniques that I could cover here, but it’s best not to overload yourself with too much information at once. It’s more crucial that you master a few key techniques, so that you can use them effectively in your playing.

In this article, you’ve only learned three main elements of great guitar phrasing. In part 2, you will discover additional elements to help you improve your lead guitar playing.

Learn how to apply everything in this article by studying the audio samples and tablature in this free guitar phrasing lesson.

Author's Bio: 

About The Author:

Nick Layton is an experienced professional guitar player and composer. He is the author of several lead guitar phrasing courses.