Floating Vs. Even Rhythmic Phrasing

Posted: November 16, 2012 by Paul H in Tips & Tricks
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I recently got this email:

Hi Paul,

I’m currently working through your Shred Guitar book and I have a question regarding “floating rhythms”.

I’m having a hard time grasping the overall concept. I don’t understand what makes a certain phrase “floating”. I know you’ve said it’s basically playing as fast as you can, but no matter how fast you play isn’t there always a set amount of notes per beat, such as Quintuplets, Sextuplets, etc?


Hi Ryan,

Ah, the mystery of sub-dividing the beat! Yes there are always a certain amount of notes per beat, but when “floating” the numbers of notes over the beat are not necessarily even or consistent like sixteenth notes, triplets and eighth notes etc. 

“Floating time” is a slang phrase I picked up teaching at MI in Hollywood. Not sure everybody uses this term. Let’s say you have a lick that you practiced and you can play it really well. Let’s also say, you have a certain groove you are soloing over and the lick doesn’t really fit. Then, you just play the lick over the groove at any speed, as fast, or as slow as you want. Ergo, you are floating the lick over groove. What makes this work is playing with conviction, and ending in solid time with a good vibrato. 

I heard Eddie Van Halen’s iconic solo from Michael Jackson’s “Beat it” in a doctors office last week. (Man, that song made it to background music in a doctor’s office!). Eddie’s first tapping lick in the solo is real fast and floats over the rhythm, but Eddie ended the lick, as I recall, with three 8th notes and a great vibrato!

Here are some audio examples to help you understand these two phrasing styles. Here, I’m playing even 16ths and triplets:

Here, I’m floating these licks at whatever speed, but starting and ending with solid time:

As you can hear, both solos are okay, it’s just “even” verses “floating”. I think, actually, the even time solo is a bit stiff and the floating one is a bit loose. Maybe my solo would work better with a combination of the two.

I like to float legatos (hammer-ons and pull-offs), blues licks and sometimes fast picking. Many great players including Yngwie Malmsteen, will pick every note very fast, cramming as many notes as possible into the phrase and then ending strong. 

When you see a solo transcription with seven notes grouped, then six notes grouped, and then maybe nine notes grouped etc. the soloist was probably floating the lick over the groove.

One tip: while floating, tap your foot so you don’t loose your place in the groove. You’ll need to exit your phrase in solid time and this won’t happen if you’re lost. I say, tap your foot anyway. Over the years when I’ve asked a student to tap his foot, sometimes he might have a bit of trouble with it, but he always sounded better!!

Check out George Lynch, Steve Vai and most of the shredders out there, many will float a lick here and there. What counts is how it ends up weaving into the song.

Float On!


  1. RyanzGuitarz says:

    Wow, I can’t thank you enough Paul. That was perfect. Very clear and easy to follow

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