Music is About the Line

Contrary how music theory is taught (harmony first), music is about the line. That is, the chords are nice, but the melody and counter melodies (the lines!) are king.

That means that us guitarists have to work extra hard to connect and shape lines in music. I’m sure many people have noticed that we play an instrument that doesn’t lend itself to easy legato playing. Nor do we play an instrument that needs breath, so our phrases’ dynamics are not shaped naturally by airflow like a singer or wind instrumentalist.

Three Tips for the Line

  1. Sing your melodies and bass notes. It will really give you a sense of how each voice works and sound by itself. This goes along with…
  2. Play each voice separately. As guitarists, we get really caught up in chords. Try playing a melody alone and shaping it beautifully, then putting back into everything and trying to get it to sound the same way. Incredibly hard, but rewarding.
  3. What to hear a really musical line? Listen to vocal music. The voice is a great instrument: to sing higher, the vocalist has to use better breath support and more air — they get louder. As the pitch rises, so does the volume level. The opposite is true as well. Not only that, but listen to how a vocalist breathes between phrases, and steal that skill.

Posted on in Musical Interpretation and Musicianship


  • Cary Terry

    Chris, these are excellent points. I will pay close attention to how and when I breath to try to make lines more musical. Thanks!

  • Lee Atkinson

    I completely agree: music is about the lines. I find this especially to be true when starting in on a new piece. I’ll blow through it a couple of times sight-reading, and then get serious. But when I isolate the melody line, for example, I will suddenly find myself fumbling in unexpected places. I think this just proves that I get too caught up in the mechanics and haven’t understood the MUSIC!