How to end a phrase in style

No matter what style you are you are playing in, there is one note that has a very special position and will keep in the listeners perception clearer than the rest. What note you play and how you play it will certainly affect this perception and will decide whether the listener likes that note but it’s position alone will make it stand out. I am talking about the last note you play. The contrast to the following (if brief) silence will make that note stand out like nothing else can. In fact the notes you play before are not nearly as important as this note. A small mistake in one of those notes leading up to the last note will usually not matter much, but if you play a wrong pitch and end on it you listeners will notice that. Without further introduction let’s talk about what you want to achieve with the last note and what you can do to emphasize this note.

What is the purpose of the end of a phrase?

Because of it’s special position in the phrase the last note is the one note that people will remember the best. So if you want people to remember your playing as great the first step is to focus on the last note. If they hear a great note at the end they will more likely judge the rest as great, too. So your purpose is to play a really expressive note at the end.

What can you do to achieve that?

Now that we know what we want to do (i.e. emphasize the last note of your phrase) let’s look at techniques that have this effect. Here are my three favorite methods:

Before you play the last note incorporate a bit of silence into the phrase. This will get the listener to think. Especially if you play a strong dissonance before the pause the listener will think: “Is that it? That does not sound right.” And just as he thinks that you resolve the dissonance and show that you knew what you were doing.

Employ vibrato. If I had to name one technique that made me fall in love with the guitar is the power of a nice vibrato. This is one technique that give the guitar a voice like expression which some instruments simply cannot achieve.

Slides – Mastering the skill of playing a really pleasing vibrato takes time, but I want to give you some elements that you can use to improve your last note today. Sliding into a note is much easier to do and can sound really good, too. One possibility is to play your target note and immediately jump down a few frets and slide into it again. If you do it right this can feel like a full stop at the end of a sentence.

Getting these techniques to work in the way you want them to work takes a bit of deliberate practice but the result is well worth the time. Have fun!

To get to know more about the author follow the link to Hildesheims first guitar-only school: Rock Gitarre Hildesheim. In his school René Kerkdyk teaches guitar and helps students of all ages to express themselves with the guitar.