Matt23 Four Bar Phrasing - Composition SI Lesson

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Four Bar Phrasing - Composition


SI Introduction

Hey GMC – I'm Matthew Craven.

I live in the UK. I'm 14 years old, and have played guitar for about 1½ years. Before that I taught myself to play a bit on the keyboard and my sister taught me some chord theory, which was very useful for the guitar. I also had lessons for the oboe, which taught me the basics of music, which was even more useful for playing the guitar. Soon after I started the guitar I gave both up, but I have started playing the keyboard again.

Some of my favourite guitarists are Joe Satriani, Buckethead and Andy McKee. I especially like Joe Satriani because of his fantastic phrasing and technique.

Some of my favourite bands are Dream Theater, Ozzy Osbourne/Randy Rhoads, Iron Maiden, and Rush. I also like quite a lot of modern metal bands, in particular Killswitch Engage. I also like odd songs by other bands of completely different styles. I am also a big fan of the Celtic style.

When I am not practising, I like to snowboard, compose, and play the keyboard.

Anyway, without further ado here's my lesson. I hope I can show you some cool phrasing tricks.

The Lesson



I am going to teach a little about a very important topic in this lesson: phrasing. Phrasing is what gives music a structure, and what stops it from being random melodies put together. If you compare music to writing, then notes are words, and licks are sentences. If you just put random licks together then it's the same as putting random sentences together; it doesn't make sense. Phrasing is being able to put licks together that do make sense, and relate to each other. In this lesson I am going to teach you a phrasing trick that Joe Satriani uses a lot, and that is used by many other musicians as well. It is quite simple when you get used to it, and can make your improvising sound better, as well as your composing. I have composed this lesson in an atmospheric, slightly spooky style. Even if you don't like this solo this phrasing concept is well worth learning as it is used in many other musical genres.

In this lesson we will be looking at:

  • Compositional techniques
  • Dynamics
  • Modulation
  • Phrasing

I have tried to include comments at different theory levels, so whatever you know, you can get something out of this lesson.

The Phrasing Idea In This Lesson

This phrasing technique, in the form I'm going to show you today, works over a 4 bar chord progression, with the chord changing every bar. The first bar and third bar chords must be the same, so you could use a chord progression like I-IV-I-V or, as we have in this lesson, I-VI-I-bV. Very simply it could even be something like I-V-I-V.

What we do is compose a melody over the first chord, then we compose a melody over the second chord that "answers" the first one. We then repeat the first melody in the third bar, and make up a completely different fourth melody to "answer" both melodies and finish off the phrase. So in the first bar we have our first melody. In the second bar we have a second melody that answers the first. In the third bar we repeat the first melody, and in the fourth bar we play a fourth melody that rounds off the whole four bars. We can also use this idea for riffing. If you don't understand this yet, don't worry, it should become clearer to you as you see it in practise throughout the lesson.

How I Made The Main Chord Progression

First I decided a key. I decided I wanted the lesson sort of spooky and atmospheric and so I chose Aeolian. I chose E as it is a key a lot of guitarists know well, so people are familiar with the intervals and notes of it.

I knew the chord progression was going to last four bars - because of the phrasing concept - and that the first and third bars were going to be the same. I also knew that to give the piece a strong feeling of Em tonality, which is what I wanted, I would have to start on Em. This meant my first and third bars would be Em. I already knew that using the minor sixth chord (Cmaj here) would sound good for the atmosphere I wanted and so I put that second. I chose Bb (the tritone) as the final chord as it sounds a little strange and contrasts with the rest of the progression. It also sounds quiet scary which is what I wanted. The tritone was actually banned for a while in olden times because they thought it was the "devil's note".


Key: E Aeolian + F# Phrygian
Time Signature: 4/4
Tempo: 120bpm
Tuning: Standard E

Chord Progression:




I hope you enjoy this lesson!

Video 1



Here is the first part of the lesson. As you can see we have the same melody in the first and third bars and different melodies in the second and fourth bars. The first bar goes mainly up in pitch (like we would do in speech if we were asking something), and the second bar goes mainly down. This is to achieve a "question and answer" effect in the music. I make the fourth bar different from the other bars so it is like an "answer" to the last three bars, as it contrasts with them.

I play this section "mp" which means quite quietly. I do this so I can build up in volume throughout the piece.

You can see that I leave an 8th note rest at the start of each bar except the last one. Leaving a rest at the start of a bar is a good way to try playing as it introduces the chord before the melody plays over it. I don't leave a rest at the start of the last bar, as that has to contrast with the first three bars of the phrase.

You can see I use mainly notes of the chord of each bar, but that there are some other notes. In the first and third bars I use the 6th of Em as it has quite a spooky sound. In the second bar I use the major 7th of C as it has quite an atmospheric sound and adds a bit of flavour to the melody. All the other notes are part of the chord that plays in the backing.

How I Composed It

1st and 3rd bars: Here there is an Em chord in the backing so, especially since it is the start of the piece, and I want to create a strong tonality, I start on an E. Since this song has a sort of atmospheric, spooky feel to it I tried to introduce this by using the minor 6th. A lot of horror movie themes use the minor 6th to create a scary atmosphere. I also think the semitone interval is quite good at sounding scary (remember the Jaws music) so I use the 5th as well which conviently is part of the Em chord.

2nd Bar: Here I don't do anything very fancy, I just descend through 3 notes of the Cmaj7 chord. Again I start on the root note of the chord C to maintain a strong feeling of tonality. I go down so as to contrast with the first bar which mainly ascends, and dive with the whammy bar at the end to "round off" the melody.

4th Bar: Here, as the chord in the backing is quite dissonant, and for now I want to keep my melody quite consonant, I only use the root note, but to make it interesting, in 2 octaves. I also use the whammy bar to make the notes sound more interesting. I also deliberately didn't make this bar similar to the other two so it contrasts with them both.

Video 2



This is a slight variation on the first phrase. You will see that the first, second and third bars are the same as before, but the last bar isn't. In the last bar we are playing an E tritone chord which fits over the Bb chord, as Bb is the tritone of E. The particular inversion of the tritone chord that I use here is one of my favourites. You might want to remember that chord shape to use in your own songs.

How I Composed It

Here I will just write about the last bar, as it is the only bar different from the previous section.

4th Bar: Here I play one just one chord that lasts the whole bar. It is the first dissonant idea in the piece and so I don't want to go full out straight away. That is why I restrain myself to one chord. I pluck the chord using "glissando" to make it a bit more interesting though.

Video 3



You can see we're using our 4 bar phrasing technique again. It is the same chord sequence but there is a new melody.

We aren't leaving rests at the start of any bars here as this section is more full on than the last one.

I make this section mainly mezzo forte so it contrasts with the first section. So I can still build up a bit more I make some bits of it quieter.

You can see I use mainly notes of the chord of each bar again, but that there are some other notes. In the first and third bars I use the 7th of Em as the 7th chord is a common extension of the Em triad so the note doesn't sound out of place. In the second bar I use the major 4th and 6th of C, but they are just passing notes. All the other notes are part of the chord that plays in the backing.

How I Composed It

1st and 3rd bars: Here – since the tonality and chord progression of the piece have been clearly established I start on a B, the 5th of the Em chord, to make things a bit interesting. I then bend down from an E to a D, as if you finish on a note that isn't in the backing chord, then the listener wants a resolve and so it leads onto whatever happens next in the music.

2nd Bar: Here I start on C as it is the root of the chord, and you should try and aim to start any bar on the note of the chord in the backing. The main point of the four notes after is that they finish on A which is the note just below B (which will be the first note in the next bar). The A acts as a leading note to the B in the next bar.

4th Bar: Here I play another dissonant idea, slightly more complex than the first one. It is a Bbaug chord which I play in separate notes. To make it a bit more interesting I don't just play a basic arpeggio, I do some string skipping and play the notes in a more interesting order.

Video 4



This is just a variation on the previous video where again we are changing the last bar. The last bar here is a bit like the previous one, with a dissonant chord ringing, but here we have a different chord. What we have is a Bbdim5 that subtly changes to a Bbaug. We do this by changing the dim5 to an aug5. While the 5th is changing, the 1st and major 3rd are still ringing. Try changing chords like this: keeping some notes ringing whilst changing others. It is an effective way of playing chords and sounds better than just playing the chords one after another.

How I Composed It

I will just talk about the 4th bar here as that is all that is different.

4th Bar: What I did here was combine a flattened fifth chord and an augmented chord. I started off with the first two notes of an augmented chord then played the flattened fifth (E) which doesn't fit in, so leads onto the resolving F# which completes the Bbaug chord.

Video 5



Again we have the same phrasing pattern, and again we aren't leaving rests at the start of the bars.

In the first bar I use notes of Em9, one of my favourite chords, but with a 4th near the end as that is the note that makes Esus4 what it is, so adds suspense at the end of the bar. In the second bar I use notes out of Cmaj and Csus4. Using these notes gives a certain sound that I like. One example of just these notes being used is the opening riff of "Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden.

In the second bar at the end you will see that I add in an F# note as it comes after a G and so is going down in the scale. If this pattern continued then you would expect the next note to be E, which it is. This is something you might want to try with your own composing, adding in notes that hint at what the next note will be.

How I Composed It

Here I play the whole section "mezzo forte". This is because it is the end of this build up. The reason I don't make it forte is so the whole piece can have a climax in dynamics.

1st and 3rd bars: When I composed this, I was thinking about using just notes of the Em9 chord. I chose the first four notes as they are a sequence I am familiar with and think sounds good. The next notes are chosen as if you let them ring they build up to a chord which I like a lot. A Gadd9/E to be precise. In the first section I don't let them ring though so there is something to build up to in the second section.

2nd Bar: I used mainly note of the C major chord here except I have one passing note. It is an F#, which is the 4th of C Lydian (the mode that C is in this piece). I used this note as it leads onto the G, the first time it is used, and leads onto the E (at the start of the third bar) the second time it is played.

4th Bar: This is a variation on the first melody I played over the Bb chord. It is an octave up though. I thought that a change from the dissonant ideas would be good, since the rest of the melody is quite pretty and atmospheric. This meant I could only use the Bb note. To make it more interesting again I put it in two octaves, but this time I made the high note a pinch harmonic and put some vibrato on it.

Video 6



Here we have a variation on the last phrase where again we are changing the last bar.

How I Composed It

I will just talk about the 4th bar here as that is all that is different.

4th Bar: Again I wanted to keep this melody consonant, but I tried to make it more interesting than just two notes. Here I play it in three octaves, and with the use of tapping, play it reasonably fast. I finish it on a D as although it is in a higher octave, it acts as a leading note to the upcoming E.

Video 7



Yet again, our phrasing pattern is here but this time we are using some pentatonics.

In the first and third bars we are using a lot of notes from the E pentatonic minor scale, though by playing with wider intervals, they sound less rock/blues than normal. At the end of the bar I've put in an F#, a note outside the E minor pentatonic. I do this as the next bar isn't pentatonic, and the next bar starts one semitone away from F#, so that note acts as a leading note.

In the second bar we create a nice effect by only using notes out of the Csus chords, i.e. the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th, although in this particular melody we don't use the 1st. Using just notes out of suspended chords gives the feel of suspended chords in the melody. I like this atmosphere for this phrase as it sounds more gentle than the other phrases.

In the last bar I use a bar from the start of the lesson, to remind the listener of the start of the song, and show how the music has developed. I also repeat something after having made up new things all the time before, to show something is going to change in the music soon. Repeating something the listener has almost forgotten is quite a nice trick in music so you should give it a go in your own compositions.

How I Composed It

Here I chose mezzo piano so this section contrasts with the next section which is played forte.

1st and 3rd bars: When I made this melody I was experimenting with playing the pentatonic scale using wider intervals than normal. This is a good thing to try if you are composing, take a scale and play it in a way you don't normally. I used the F#, which is not in the pentatonic scale, as a leading note to the next bar.

2nd Bar: Here I started on a G as it is a note of the Em pentatonic scale as well as the Cmaj chord so fits in with the melody well.

4th Bar: Here I used the first melody over the Bb chord from the beginning. The reason I repeated it is to break the pattern I have followed up until now, and make the listener more alert.

Video 8



In this variation of the previous phrase, we are changing the last two bars, as there is a big change coming up so I want it to be anticipated. If I make something different then the listener will be prepared for a big change, and the modulation that is coming up will be more effective. You can see in the last bar that I change the chord that has occurred in the fourth bar of each phrase for the last 30 bars. I add in a crescendo as a build up to what is to follow. I also keep the notes in the last bar close to the note that will follow. They are also shared notes between the key we are in now, and the key we are modulating to. This is another thing you can try doing to make modulations sound smooth.

How I Composed It

Here I will give playing advice on the third bar as well as the fourth bar as they are both being changed, in this variation.

3rd Bar: Here I play the same melody but up an octave. I do this to start a build up to what is coming next.

4th Bar: Here I start on the same note as the second bar, but an octave up. I do this as the F# at the end of the last bar leads onto G very well. I then go up to A. The reason I go up is to create a build-up to what is coming next. For this reason also I include a crescendo here so the dynamics build up as well.

Video 9




Here we are using our phrasing technique but in a riffing context. We have modulated from E Aeolian to F# Phrygian. I chose the Phrygian mode as it has a very aggressive sound to it, which is why it is used in so much metal riffing. If we were still playing in E Aeolian then the F# would be F# Locrian. I chose F# Phrygian as it has only the 5th different from F# Locrian so the modulation sounds smooth.

Throughout each bar we have a note that we keep returning to, similar to a pedal note (one bass note that stays the same). This is a common trick in metal riffing as it means you can play a melody in the riff while showing the chord that's playing at the same time. This is especially useful in metal bands where you might only have the bass to show the chord, and that might not be heard very well over the guitar. We keep the rhythm the same in the first three bars so they all have something in common, but we change it in the last bar as that should be different to the first three in order to "answer" them. At the end of each bar the chord changes. This is to lead onto the next chord.

You may notice that I play in E Phrygian in the last bar. Small one bar modulations like this can be quite effective. Remember though I am only changing two notes here from F# Phrygian. If you try this, try to keep the scale you are temporarily modulating similar to the original scale.

How I Composed It

I made this section forte as it is the last section so should be the climax of the piece. I also made all the bars roughly the same rhythm so they fit together well. .

1st and 3rd bars: Here I planned to often return to the note of the chord of that bar, as is done in a lot of metal songs. If people just played one chord all bar though, riffs would get quite boring. So I added in a E (7th). I chose the 7th as it has quite a meaty, heavy sound, which is what I wanted in this riff. I finish the bar on a G chord to lead into the next bar.

2nd Bar: Here I play with a G chord as it is the "Phrygian note", the one note that makes the Phrygian mode different from the Aeolian mode, and shows what key we are playing in. Throughout the whole bar I generally descend in pitch to show that we are going down in the next bar, not up.

4th Bar: I play with the E (7th) chord here is because, as I have said before it has a meaty sound, which is helped by the fact it is played with open strings. It is less delicate than what has been played before so works well as an answer. I add in the F to make the bar sound more aggressive, and for the same reason pout in the fast descending legato run. I also do this to break up the rhythmic pattern I had followed up till then. Breaking the pattern like this makes this bar more of an answer. I finished on an F chord as it leads into the F# chord that follows.

Video 10




Here we have the last part of the lesson, and it is extremely similar to the previous video. Only the end of the last bar is changed, so the song finishes on F#, as that is the root note of this part, and therefore is the note that will sound most finished.

How I Composed It

I will just talk about the 4th bar here as that is all that is different.

4th Bar: Here I play the bar all the same as before except instead of the legato run and F chords, I play F# chords. This is because this is the end of the piece and so I need to finish on F# so the piece sounds finished.

Backing 120bpm mp3

Four_Bar_Phrasing.gp5 ( 11.38K )

Tab pdf

I hope you have enjoyed this lesson, and learnt something useful about phrasing, and composing too. Try to use something you have learnt here straight away, that way you won't forget it. Also, try and use the phrasing idea I introduced here in your own composing and improvising, as it can make songs and solos sound a lot better, and more structured. Above all remember to have fun with this lesson!

Please feel free to PM, email, or post any questions or comments you have about the lesson.

Good Luck!