Phrasing fast VS playing fast

Scroll down to see tablature

The art of phrasing fast

Is it possible to play a solo that only consists of fast runs, without it getting boring to listen to? Some would say no. But in my experience there's a perpetually long haired swedish male who masters this art to perfection. Whether you like Yngwie Malmsteen's music and style or not, his playing is a treasure chest of ideas and insights that you can use to radically improve your playing, no matter what style or instrument you play. Though the man himself seems to be completely unaware of most of these insights.

Are fast and slow two separate things?

What's fast in your experience and what's slow? I used to distinguish between "normal" guitar playing which was slow and fast guitar playing which was, you guessed it; fast. I didn't think about integrating the two so you couldn't tell the difference. Until I started studying Mr. Malmsteen. Most other guitar players, and this goes for any style of music, has two "gears" that they play in:

1. Slow or semi slow melodic lines
2. Very fast runs.

If you listen to guys like John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola you'll hear this very clearly. Their solos consist of slow to medium paced melodic lines followed by an occasional fast run (Often accompanied by clapping and cheering from the audience) But you are not in doubt as to what's going on, the two are not blended seamlessly together, they are two separate things.

How to speed improvise

The same thing goes for most other guitar players out there. But this guy Yngwie has integrated the two completely and this enables him to get away with playing very fast solos that doesn't get boring. If you're reading this you probably like the fast elements of guitar playing, but my guess is, you wouldn't care too much for solos that only contain ultra fast runs and licks. Though fast is cool, it has to be blended with the slower lines in order for it to be interesting. Then why is it that Yngwie can get away with playing solos that sometimes contain 99 % fast runs? Well part of it is his ability to end and begin his lines on the coolest notes available in the moment, but that is just another element of today's lesson, which is; The ability to not only "play" fast but to "phrase" fast.

Blazing licks, created on the spot

One thing is to be able to throw in some fast runs once in a while, but another is to create phrases that contain both slow and fast notes, this is where the real power is. This is where you really get the most out of your hard earned skills. In today's video I give you an example of me playing, using only short phrases of fast and slow notes. I've also included some "licks" that you can look at to understand what's going on. But these licks are created on the spot. They are improvised if you will, and your focus should be to develop the ability to create phrases like this yourself, not to learn a bunch of phrases that you'll get bored with anyway. This is how to go about developing the skill of phrasing fast:

1. Learn and practice sequences

A lick is a series of notes that you find cool enough to want to practice. A sequence is a series of notes that repeat themselves through the scale. Pick any scale that you know, then start at the highest note in that scale pattern and play four notes down. Then start at the second highest note in the scale pattern and play four notes down from that. Continue like that until you run out of strings. That's a sequence, and you can create an unlimited number of sequences by using your imagination. Classical music is made up of these mathematical patterns moving through scales and arpeggios.

When you spend enough time practicing and mixing different sequences you develop the ability to create fast improvised lines on the spot. This won't happen when if you only practice licks. The next step is to spend some time mixing these sequences and you do that by playing around with them in different scale patterns across the neck.

2. Use legato and economy picking

Alternate picking is one of my favorite picking styles but it's the least usable for this purpose. you'll get results faster if you allow yourself to use a lot of hammer ons and pull offs to generate the fast parts of your lines. Because you don't have to synchronize these lines with the picking hand they allow you to have a lot more freedom.

Economy picking is my second choice for this purpose. Sliding from string to string connects the notes and creates a legato-like flow of notes that's very useful. And it's easier for you to do which makes it more likely that you'll actually use it.

4. Just do it!

The way to learn to do this is to do it. And here's how to go about it: Create a lick right now that has both fast and slow notes in it. Don't make it too hard or complicated. Build it on techniques you know already. Then repeat that lick ten or twenty times. Then create another one on the spot. Look for the cool notes to start and end the lick on and see how interesting you can make it. Then keep doing that over and over again. If you keep at it you'll eventually get it right the first time so you wont have to repeat the lines you create. This is the surest way to developing the ability to phrase fast. And it's a lot of fun for you to do! I can easily spend an entire hour creating lines that mix fast notes and slow notes, and coming up with cool beginnings and endings.

When you do this every day, you end up not distinguishing between licks and runs - they become one. There's no fast and slow anymore, there's just you playing and using whatever elements that helps you create the sound you're after.

Phrasing Fast VS Playing Fast Example 01

Phrasing Fast VS Playing Fast Example 02

Phrasing Fast VS Playing Fast Example 03

Notice how all these licks are not just runs but fast lines interrupted by slower passages. Create your own lines based on what ever skills you have at the moment. Then practice each line you come up with for a couple of minutes, then create a new line and do the same.