Phrasing like a horn player on guitar is something many jazz guitarists
aspire to. The fluid sound of the saxophone
in particular is both an appealing
and definitive sound in jazz. Transcribing
the notes horn players use is only part of
the equation. Equally important, if not
more so, is copping the phrasing used by
horn players. A whole lot of the magic is
in the articulation of the notes.
Ex. 1 is a typical jazz line over a minor
II-V-I in C (Dm7b5-G7alt-Cm7). It uses a
more traditional fingering on guitar, picking
every note. This gives the line a fairly
staccato sound, which can be cool, but isn’t
very horn like. In Ex. 1a we take that same
line and fingering, but play it in a more
legato fashion using slurs: hammer-ons,
pull-offs, and slides. This helps loosen the
phrasing up by moving away from the staccato
nature of strict alternate picking and
the line starts to sound more like how a
horn player might play it.
You can put some added vibe in your
legato playing by working out a fingering
that lines up the accents so they swing.
With eighth-note jazz lines, you generally
want to accent the upbeats—the and of
each beat. Here we break the bar down by
dividing the eight eighth-notes into four
groups of two, each group consisting of a
downbeat and an upbeat. Using the pick on
the upbeats and slurring the downbeat is
one way to play this type of swing accent.
In Ex. 2 we use this concept to play
the same line with a new fingering so the
upbeats are played with a pick and most of
the downbeats with slides, hammer-ons,
and pull-offs. The line now has more of a
natural swing to it because we are accenting
the upbeats with the pick, similar to how
a sax player uses their tongue on the reed.
Playing this way also gives the line a
nice arc, and a smooth, flowing sound. And
by grouping the notes in twos, it helps us
get away from the dreaded three-note-perstring
“unintentional” triplet articulation
that can be the pitfall of many guitarists
when playing legato.
Ex. 3 demonstrates how to use this technique
over a G7#9 chord. The first bar is a
blues lick with the accents on the upbeats.
The second bar continues with the same
articulation of accents and hints at the
symmetrical diminished scale giving it a
slightly outside sound.
Overdrive and delay can sound cool
with this kind of technique, but when practicing
legato phrasing I find it helpful to
play with a clean sound and with the delay
pedal switched off. I don’t like to mask the
phrasing with delay or with the compression
that overdrive adds when I practice.
Playing the lines without these effects lets
me concentrate on getting the articulation
smooth and even.
Keep in mind that if this approach is
new to you, it might seem a bit difficult
at first. With enough time in the woodshed,
however, this kind of phrasing can
become second nature, and be an effective
part of the way you articulate notes
on the guitar.
Chris Taylor is a New York based guitarist/
composer/producer with a diverse list of recording
and performance credits including Grover
Washington Jr., Randy Brecker, Lionel Hampton,
Celine Dione, Aretha Franklin, and Chaka
Khan, to name a few.