The most important elements of playing guitar

Make sure to practice this!

            In articles about PHRASING I will write about different elements of phrasing and its importance in music. Phrasing is one of the most valuable skills if you want to sound professional.

Everyone has his favourite guitar players, who are set apart from the rest by a certain feeling of playing, sound etc.

I dare to say that every one of us has learned some of our favourite solos note by note and... It just didn't sound the same way as the original. Why is that so?

I was asking myself for a very long time. My answers were all the possible excuses I could find. They have better guitars, some special effects, better amps, some secret branch of strings, picks, the list goes on and on. But the answer lays completely elsewhere. This holy grail is phrasing! So what is phrasing?

Phrasing is, simply put, the way how to play a certain note. If we just play a note on a guitar we have just that. The bare naked note. It could be played by a robot and it would sound the same.

So how could some guitar players sound so much different just by playing this one exact same note? They add something to the note either with left, right or both hands.

In this article I will describe two very important (if not most) elements of phrasing, bend and its older brother vibrato.

·       BEND

            One of the most distinctive elements of phrasing is bending. Simply put, bending a note is basically playing one note and bending a string with your playing hand untill the note reaches another, higher note.

Sounds easy, right?

Well, it is in theory, but a good bend is dependant of many different factors. First of all, you have to be able to hear the target note upfront and recognise it when you reach it. So, apart from knowing how to bend technically, you have to develop your hearing. You can practise that by playing a target note before you bend to it, and repeating it many times (different notes on different strings).

Most common bends are ½ step, full step, but also 1 ½ step. The other important thing (from being simply able to hit the target note) is to be technically able to bend in a way, so you don't mute the tone while bending, i.e. so the bended note doesnt lose its sustain.

For doing so, the hand motion for bending must come from the wrist, while your fingers are as still as possible. You have to "hug" the guitar neck with your thumb, so there is no space between your hand and guitar neck, thus create a "lever".

After that simply rotate the hand with still fingers towards the way of the bend.This is especially challenging for beginners. One more thing to say on this matter is, that it we usualy bend first 3 strings by pushing them away (upwards), and strings 4,5 and 6 by pulling them towards the bottom, but exceptions are not uncommon.

Also, when we're bending with our 3rd or 2nd finger, it's important that the other 2 or 1 fingers help. When we're bending with our index finger it might be easier to bend by pulling the string downwards instead of pushing it upwards.

I believe I should mention a pre-bend as well here. This is a note that we bend to a target note before we play it, so that we can release it to a lower note.

Since it is impossible to bend to a lower note (at least without a whammy bar, but that's a different technique) this is a useful compromise. But it's worth mentioning that this requires a lot of feeling, and it's much harder to master than the usual bending, since you don't hear the bended note before you play it.     

One more thing about bending. We usually bend to the next note in the scale we're in, in blues we it's also very common to bend to a minor 5th ("blue note"). But sometimes we can add a bit of tension to the sound of our playing by bending from a note which isn't a part of the scale.

You should start trying this in pentatonic scale, ending a phrase in root tone bended from ½ step down and go on from there. This kind of bending was a signature "feel" of players such as Jason Becker and Marty Friedman.

·       VIBRATO

            The element of phrasing that differs the most from a guitarist to guitarist is vibrato. It's also called the fingerprint of a guitarist. Vibrato is the most personalised way of playing a note, since is majorly dependant on the feeling of a guitarist.

Whether this goes for pitch hearing, agressivness, wideness, timing, ... Every guitarist who wants to sound good should master vibrato and different ways of how to apply vibrato to a note. If you can try to imagine a singer who sings just plain notes, you can see the importance of vibrato. Without it, the singing sounds cold and "dead". It's the same with guitar.

Technically we do a vibrato in the same or very similar way as bending, only repeatedly. What we must pay a lot of attention to is, that we maintain the same target pitch every time we "wave", as well as to release the note to the starting pitch(unbended string).

If not so, the impression of staying on the right note might lack. Also, we can do a vibrato by pushing the string (upwards), or pulling it (downwards). It's good to know how to do it both ways, but it also depends on the finger you're doing the vibrato with. With your index finger it might be much easier to to do a vibrato by pulling the string downwards(the same as with bending).  

Apart from pitch, a very important thing while doing a vibrato is to have a rhythm. If our vibrato lacks rhythm, it won't sound particulary good, but we also won't be able to play the next note in time. Most common rhythms for doing a vibrato are eights, sixteens and triads, but we can basically do a vibrato in any possible rhythm we want.

A very simple way of practicing the rhythm of vibrato is to play the starting and target notes in the desired rhythm and then try to repeat it with repeated bending => vibrato. Of course, we should not always be starting the vibrato at the beginning of the note, sometimes we can make a desired effect with waithing for a while before we start the vibrato.

This is called a delayed vibrato.

Another important thing is to be able to constantly travel between the notes. I.e. if our starting note is 0 and target note is 1, we should always be traveling from 0 to 1 and vice versa evenly, only touching the 0 and the 1 and then immediatelly go towards the other. Simply put, the vibrato should sound as waves, not as stairs.

Also, when we're doing a vibrato, we should always be pushing OR pulling the string, and never pushing AND pulling!


Another very cool and useful way to do a vibrato is to combine it with bend. This is technically more challenging than usual vibrato or bend, but the sound of well done bend-vibrato is worth the struggle. In bend-vibrato, we have two options of how to do it.

First one is to have a target note of the bend as 0 and target note of a vibrato as one. Basically the same as if we were bending from unbended string. The other way is that we use the target note of the bend as 0, the vibrato target note above the 0 as 1 and vibrato target note below the 0 as-1.

Basically, when doing a vibrato this way, we bend the string even further, but when releasing the string we go below the target note of the sole bend.  While doing so, it's extremelly important to be able to stop the vibrato and go back to the target note of a bend!

            At the end I'd like to say, that mastering bends and vibrato WILL improve the sound of your playing massivelly! So time you will put into practising this won't be in vain, quite the contrary, practising bend and vibrato is a lifelong journey, since there is no such thing as absolutely  perfect vibrato or bend every time you do it.

Even if it sounds as good as it can be, there is always space to improve it. You should try to implement it in your playing right away, even if you don't master it, the key is to repeat it as oftenly as possible, of course, by paying attention to all of the things described above, until it becomes a completely natural integral part of your playing.

Finding a the best guitar teacher who is aware of importance of good phrasing is also mandatory.

Article writen by Nejc Vidmar from