Have you been practising your scales, your picking and your bends like crazy and your solos are still crap? I know mine are… I found a post on guitar blog Guitar Noise that is really on to something. The answer is phrasing – the division of a solo into small parts, alternating between fast and slow parts, changing tempos, small silences etc. The same solo with identical notes can sound like two different pieces with different phrasings.
On a forum where I hang out some people said that Chris Broderick sounds great when playing Marty Friedmans solos but really sucks when improvising. It’s obviously not for lack of technical ability – it’s that his phrasing isn’t actually that good.
The reasoning is very similar to linguistics – you can know a lot of words and have all your grammar down, but if you don’t practice speaking you will never sound natural.
So what’s the remedy? Guitar Noise has the analysis and an answer: practice phrasing separately from techniques like scales, bends and vibrato. The author, Tom Serb, suggests using a practice technique a guitar teacher of his used: solo using only one note. Yes, just one. Get or make a backtrack of a chord progression, select your favorite note from a matching scale and make a solo. How it sounds is going to be all in the phrasing. Make many different solos this way. When you can’t stand it anymore, you can select two more notes from the scale. Make a lot of new solos using these three notes over the same chord progression.
To me, this makes so much sense. This is how my soon to be 2 yo daughter practices speaking. She babbles away constantly, and her speaking sounds just like normal Swedish – only she doesn’t use a single existing word. When she uses one of the 15 or 20 words she does know they always come out like single-word sentences. Clearly she practises phrasing and vocabulary separately (and hasn’t even gotten to grammar yet).
Finishing off with one of my favorite solos of all times, and it’s all in the phrasing (starts at about 3 min in):