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Michael Casswell - Pro Concepts Season 1 - Part 2: Finishing A Phrase

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 2 **

Hi everyone. I've been asked to share with you some of the guitar improvisation techniques & approaches, concepts and ideas which I think are essential for taking your guitar playing to the next level. Hopefully they'll give you an insight into the world of professional guitar playing skills.

The word 'professional' means you playing your instrument, and someone, somewhere, paying you money for doing it. It also means being reliable, a nice guy, flexible, healthy and clean (in every sense).

As much as we can all be precious and arty about our playing and musical preferences, the bottom line is, we need to feed and clothe ourselves and keep a roof over our head. To achieve this wonderful scenario of being paid to play, there comes a point where you have to look at guitar playing from a bigger perspective - one that goes beyond scales, licks, speed and technique, all of which are great, only (and I stress the word only) if you can match it with taste, restraint, musicality, flare, tone, touch, vibrato, feel, rhythm, groove, ideas, excitement and dynamics.

The second list is longer and harder to achieve (and much harder to teach!) than the first, which is why most guitar mags, DVDs, books and YouTube clips tend to put the emphasis on the first list. Hopefully, this is where I come in. Each issue I'm going to try and illustrate on the guitar the real world stuff that seems to get ignored or skipped over, mainly because its really hard to illustrate, and because a large majority of players out there teaching, can't do it themselves!

The strange thing is, we all know it when we hear it. You could line-up ten experienced guitarists, playing the same part, with the same gear, and one of those guys will just have 'it' in their playing, and it will be because of list number two, not list number one.

I'm going to try and demonstrate these concepts with the accompanying video clips, probably with varying degrees of success, but hopefully getting the point across sufficient;y well that you can double check that your own playing is not falling into the traps I discuss. But do be critical, and listen carefully to your own playing. If you think it's 'good enough', then it's not. People pay you for excellence, not 'good enough'.

In this column, I want to try and address two concepts. The first is a simple idea called "Finish The Phrase".

Lecturing at a couple of the UK's guitar academies, I see this with students time and time again. When they improvise a solo, they seem to be so concerned and worried about what phrase or lick they are going to play next that what they are playing now has no end, or breath, or form to give it impact. The way you end a lick, run or phrase, gives a lot away about where you are musically as a player. So does how you open a phrase, but that’s another line of thought.

Concept number two is something I've called "Musical Weight'. It's about being able phrase simple ideas in such a way that they have some impact, or taste, or madness, or simply just cool. It's a really hard concept to take on board, and a lot of it comes from being able to think creatively, rather than logically, when improvising. I can't always nail it myself, but all the time I am playing, I'm constantly aiming for something creative, or interesting, which gives 'weight' to what ever it is that I'm going for.

I'm in the middle of recording my album as you read this, and this concept can be a bit of a nightmare, because you are always striving for that special something that gives it weight, and the whole process can be more than taxing. But I have to apply this concept, because I never want to sound bland, or mainstream, or formulaic .Masters of both these ideas are players such as Michael Landau, Scott Henderson, Jeff Beck, Steve Lukather, David Gilmour, Brian May, Larry Carlton, to name but a few.

I realise I couldn't have picked a harder subject to demonstrate, but this is the information no one shows you, so wish me luck!


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