Phrasing Tool: The Springboard (for Longer Lines)
In our quest to play guitar beautifully, we juggle all sorts of issues.
We work on our tone quality, rhythm, dynamics (swells and fades) and more.
As we get more intentional about how we connect melody notes, we notice common patterns. Then we can work out ways of handling them.
“The Springboard” is a musical device or tool that helps melodies move forward and sing more.
Goals of Phrasing
One of the top goals we can have for our phrasing is for the melody to last as long as possible. We call this “the long line”.
You’ll find tools and tricks for this in many other CGS articles. But they all have the same goal. And the goal is this: To keep the piece moving along, avoiding stops and unnecessary ornamentations that interrupt the “flow” of the music.
So instead of having many short musical phrases, the “long line” idea proposes fewer and longer phrases. We can connect the smaller musical ideas into larger ones.
The trick to creating larger musical ideas is to not stop the line. Anything that distracts from or “upstages” the melody breaks the line.
One common distraction is when we jump to a high note and play it loud.
The High-Note Trap: Firing the Starting Gun
When we accent a high note, it tends to sound like the beginning or ending of a phrase. (To accent a note is to play it louder than the notes surrounding it.)
Regardless of our intentions, when we accent a high note, it breaks the line. This is true 95% or more of the time.
Note: A “high note” as described here is any note higher than both the note before and after it. This can be in any range on the guitar, from low to high.
Elegant High Notes
Ideally, when we jump from a lower note to a higher note, the higher note retains a “floating” quality.
With our goal of a long line, we want it to sound like part of a larger musical idea. We don’t want the high note to sound like an arrival (an ending) or beginning of something new. (Unless it is, and we choose to communicate that on purpose.)
High notes should sound neither weak nor tentative. They should sound neither strained nor forced. (Think of the kindergarten soloist gasping a breath then shouting the high note).
“The Springboard” is a way to achieve elegant high notes. It allows the musical line to continue and maintain a soaring quality.
Introducing: The Springboard
“The Springboard” only applies when we jump up to a high note. In other words, not by one or two frets, as in a scale.
To use the Springboard approach, give emphasis (a slight accent) to the lower note. Then connect it smoothly (legato, no gap in the sound) to the higher note, which we play softer.
In the same way that we want to avoid the high note breaking the line, we also want to avoid anything too severe or abrupt in the lower voices. That said, we tend to have a bit more latitude in the lower notes of a line than the higher.
Rules Were Made to Be Broken
Will this musical device work everywhere all the time? Of course not.
But it will help to create more beautiful musical lines in a large majority of instances.
As with any rule, we can master it and use it as a default starting place. If we want to do something different in a certain phrase or even an entire piece, so be it.
There is no “Phrasing Gestapo,” and no one gets hurt either way. So we can choose to use the Springboard or not.
Here are some examples of The Springboard in action. Notice that very often the jump from low note to high note happens at a bar line. This is the most common place to see Springboard opportunities in music. (You can hear these examples in the video above.)
How to Practice the Springboard
So how do we master this little musical device? How can we form the habit and set our default intuition to use it?
Identify Opportunities in Your Current Music
To begin with, go through any piece(s) you’re currently working on. Find examples of low notes jumping to high notes. Remember, this is only for musical lines (not accompanimental or arpeggio sections.)
Mark them. Then practice them with a focus on the volume level of each note leading to and away from the high note.
Scan Unknown Sheet Music
We can also scan music we’re not currently playing. Whether it’s guitar music, or any other instrument, we can scan the melody lines and notice how the notes move.
We can look for places where the melody leaps up.
This is also a wonderful way to look for opportunities for other phrasing devices.
We can also use exercises to focus. We can train our hands to lean on the low notes and back off the higher notes.
Here are a couple of exercises. You could also create your own.
What Else Can a I Do for Guitar Phrasing?
Over time, we delve more and more into the world of phrasing and interpretation. And over time we gather more little tools and devices like this one.
The Springboard is for very specific musical circumstance. But others are more universal and more frequently appropriate.
- Know your musical voices. Then use balance to ensure that melody is always up front (and nothing upstages it).
- Master your default dynamics. Create habits in the way you swell and fade, and be intentional with the volume of each note.
- Connect your notes beautifully. Synchronize your hands to avoid gaps in your melodic lines.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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