Chord phrasing is about adding movement and more defined harmony to
chords and chord progressions. This can be in the form of lead
techniques such as hammer-ons and pull-offs within a chord shape or
extending and moving around a given chord shape.
The types of phrasing we'll be looking at are considered rhythm
techniques by many guitarists,
because they still underpin any lead harmony that might come in the
form of a solo. It's typically used as part of the overall chord
progression, helping to link the chords together more fluidly.
In the first part, we'll be looking at using hammer-ons, pull-offs and single string phrases
within chord shapes. See the below video for a good introduction to
using simple phrases in your chord playing...
Guitar chord phrasing basics
The easiest way to get a feel for chord phrasing is to start really
simple using open chords.
Take the open A minor chord form which I'm sure you're familiar with...
could simply strum/pick this chord as it is, but to make it more
interesting we could pick a string and create a simple movement using
two or three notes.
In the below example, I'm using the B string, alternating between its
normal A minor position (1st fret) and its open (unfretted) position,
harmony line around that A minor chord shape...
All I'm doing is lifting and refretting that 1st finger on the B string.
This is a really fun and simple way to experiment with chord phrasing
around open position chords. There are no rules, if it sounds good, go
with it. Remember, you can strum or pick these phrases, but picking may
help separate the harmony line from the rest of the chord more
Try practicing your chord phrases over a variety of drum
For example, phrasing over a funk beat will be different to a straight
rock n roll beat.
Using hammer-ons and pull-offs in chord phrases
The hammer on and pull
lessons in the lead section on this site
showed us the basic technique. This time we're going to use them in a
similar way to how we built the phrases above, around a fixed chord
form using one string at a time.
Below is a phrase built around the open C major chord. As shown in the
video below, I'm simply
hammering on the open D, B and high E strings to create some movement
in the chord...
Again, experiment with this technique with other open chord shapes you
know and see how you can spice up those basic chords.
Barre chord phrases
Barre chords typically use your
index finger as the base (effectively a
nut or capo), and you can use this to "catch" any pull-offs you make
with your other fingers within the chord shape. This allows you to
create phrases similar to those in open position.
Take the below barre chord shape. The index finger remains firmly
in place as our other fingers are free to dance around and create
Try and get all your fingers involved in the action. The more
you play around with this technique, the more the muscle memory will
develop and the more natural it will become as
part of your playing and songwriting.
In theory, all we're doing here is pulling tones from the chord's
associated scale in the same position. The only difference between a
chord and a lead harmony is that a chord uses several notes from a
scale at a time, whereas a lead harmony tends to only use on or two
notes at a time. Phrasing is about mixing them together -
building lead harmonies around a chord/scale position!
In the next part we'll look at chord phrases that
involve using more than one string at a time.
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