Archive for the ‘Rhythm’ Category

Happy New Year! 8 Musical Resolutions That Will Change Your Playing

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

A new year is the perfect time to look back at what you’ve accomplished in the practice room and to look forward  to what you still wish to achieve as a musician. It’s also a great time to make a fresh start, to realign yourself musically, and to set some new goals. So, Happy New Year!

…now what are you going to do to become a better improviser?

A while back we posted 100 New Years Resolution Ideas for the Improviser. These resolutions are great to choose from for your daily or weekly practice routines, however there are some major points that are truly pivotal in making you a better improviser. If you focus intently on these key elements, you’ll be able to transform yourself musically.

Here are 8 musical resolutions for the new year that will make you a better improviser.

I) Work on Ear Training

The #1 area of your musicianship that will make you a better improviser is your ears. Your success as an improviser depends on your ability to hear and understand the sounds around you: melodies, chord progressions, intervals, time signatures, the other musicians in your band, etc.

All of this goes directly back to your ears.

It’s important to intellectually understand the theory and construction of the music, but to truly play it you must be able to hear it. This means working on ear training.

Here are some articles that you should check out to improve your ears:

Read More

Harmonic Anticipation: A simple technique to break free

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Harmonic Anticipation

Many times when we’re soloing we get boxed in so to speak. We think that when we’re on a particular chord, we must play that chord and that chord only. We have tunnel vision and there exists little possibility.

One technique that dramatically relieves this boxed in sound and mindset is harmonic anticipation.

Anticipating a chord is quite easy: you simply anticipate the chord that you’re moving to by playing it before you arrive at it:


Anticipation is such a powerful technique because it achieves so much with so little. Just by playing the chord that you’re going to a little earlier, you’ll create a sense of forward motion, over the bar-line phrasing, and a feeling of excitement in your lines

How anticipation can help you

Like I was saying, we often feel boxed in by the chord changes. For example, here’s a sample of how someone playing over a Bird Blues may solo.

Bird Blues Boring

Pretty boring, huh? It sounds unnatural and boxy. Now, let’s take that same example and throw in some anticipation:

Bird Blues Anticipation

This is the same example except for the slightly modified resolution at the end of the line from G7 to C major. Now it’s a bit extreme to anticipate every chord, but you should hear and understand right away how much more exciting this line became from simply anticipating each chord by a beat.

Utilizing anticipation within your lines yields a more natural feel that can be heard and felt right away. And it’s easy to start … Read More

Using Permutation to Create Unlimited Musical Ideas…and Killer Technique

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Time and again, we’ve stressed on this site that scales are not the secret to jazz improvisation.

However, scales can be beneficial if you practice and apply them in the right way. Once you aurally understand and ingrain the vital aspects of the jazz language (i.e. phrasing, melodic construction, expression, harmonic application, time, articulation, etc.) the scales and theory that you study in the practice room can substantially improve your technique.

Not only that, scales coupled with a deep harmonic knowledge can infinitely expand your options for musical expression.

Whoa, wait a second! So scales are horrible and to be avoided at all costs, but they’re also invaluable for musical expression? I know it’s sounds contradictory, but consider how music is presented in most educational settings. The crux of this matter lies in the way that the majority of musicians view scales.

Most beginning players, amateur improvisers, and even some accomplished musicians see scales as 8 notes that either ascend and descend. That’s it. Not related to musicality or harmonic application, just another exercise to be practiced in all 12 keys because someone told them to. What’s worse, many frustrated improvisers use this limited view of scales as the basis for creating solos over chord progressions.

One of the major problems that people have in learning to improvise is that they turn of their ears and only think of scales in order to come up with a solo. This simply doesn’t work. Scales are for the practice room and should … Read More

5 Steps to Mastering Sight-Reading

Monday, October 10th, 2011

A reader recently asked:

At my college, to get into the lab bands you have to be a really great sight-reader. What are some ways to become a great reader besides just saying “read whatever you can.” I am decent at sight-reading, but I want to take it to that next level. How do I go about doing this?

It goes without saying that sight-reading is an important skill to have as a musician. You sight-read new pieces in your rehearsals, you need it when you sub for a big band, and it’s a dreaded part of the audition process. It is by no means the most important skill to have as a musician, but if you want to be a “working” musician, it is something that you definitely need.

This is a great question, but it’s also one that often gets answered with the vague, apathetic answers that you mentioned. Telling someone to “just sight-read more,” no matter how well-intentioned, is not going to help them improve.

Sight-reading, like many other techniques that we develop as musicians, is a skill – a skill that can be learned and continually improved upon. Rather than putting yourself in a room and trying to blindly improve your sight-reading chops by doing it over and over again, look at the specific elements involved in this skill and work on developing them.

It’s Sight-Reading

Somehow, we’ve all had this idea put into our heads that sight-reading is this completely new skill that we … Read More

How to Phrase Like a Pro

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Phrase like a pro

Amateurs phrase in a way that sounds boring and boxy. In contrast, professionals phrase in a way that gives excitement and forward motion to their playing.

In this article I’ll explore some tendencies that I’ve observed in the recordings of my heroes. Of course, your personal observations would result in different conclusions, which is why I highly suggest you transcribe and find tendencies that you observe. One thing to remember as well: These are not rules. They’re just things to be aware of and experiment with.

To illustrate the techniques, I’ll use the following example:

original line

This is not a “bad” line and you will find similar lines throughout the jazz vocabulary, however, what we’re concerned with today is how to phrase in an exciting way and this line in isolation, as depicted, is quite boring. If you were to tag on an idea in front of it, or connect it to something else, immediately it would take on a new life, and that’s exactly what we’ll be talking about: how to take the ordinary and use it like a pro.

Avoid starting phrases on beat one

Amateurs constantly start phrases on beat one. This common way of starting a line allows the listener to easily predict where the next line will start. Consequently, there’s no interest to hold their attention and they stop listening.

Pros, while occasionally starting phrases on beat one, will more often than not start phrases on beats other than one. Instead of the original line, they … Read More

Developing a Concept of Swing

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011


A reader writes:

It seems like everyone is taught the standard “off beat” articulation of swing eighth notes, but I feel that swing is really much more complicated. Why is it that some players seem to swing so hard while others do not? What’s the secret to swinging hard?

Yes, everyone is taught the standard “off beat” articulation of swing eighth notes, and you’re right, swing is much more complicated than that. It’s not even that it’s more complicated. It’s that swing cannot be defined by anything that you can write down.

Let’s try to write some swing down

Listen to Cannonball and Trane play over Grand Central: YouTube Preview Image Cannonball swings so hard! He even comes right out of the gates with an incredible swinging line. Here it is notated below: Cannonball

No matter what you do to better notate this example, add any articulation marking you like, there’s no way it will ever resemble the hard-swinging-in-your-face concept performed on the recording. The magic of swing is an aural experience and that’s where it will stay. Trying to write down swing and learn it from paper, or trying to learn it from concepts and exercises described in a book is a fruitless pursuit.

Variables in swing

Listening to different players swing, you can observe a number of variables that each player uniquely expresses with respect to their style of swing:

  • The ratio between the lengths of adjacent notes.
  • The accent of specific notes.
  • The articulation of adjacent notes.
  • The precise placement
Read More

Four Ways to Reinvigorate the Practice of Technique

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

We often get stuck in a rut when it comes to practicing technique.

In the practice room we cover the same bases in our efforts to improve our overall technique. We run our major and minor scales in all 12 keys, we practice them in thirds and fourths and fifths, we use jazz articulation, we play with different dynamics, and on and on. These are all essential for improvement, but the problem here is that we often continue practicing these same technical exercises in an identical way, even after we’ve mastered them.

Note: If you aren’t challenging yourself – you’re not going to be improving.

Once you’ve got your scales and patterns together in all 12 keys and have even worked on getting them up to speed, it’s time to take your technique to the next level. Don’t keep playing those same patterns, thinking that they’ll lead you to a new level of technique! Start incorporating articulation, rhythm, time, larger intervals, and chromaticism into the mix to expand your musicianship along with your technical facility.

Technique isn’t only limited to how fast you can push your fingers down on your instrument. Just as important are the technique of rhythm, articulation, and time. When you can combine all of these ideas musically and creatively, you’ll be playing much more interesting lines.

Instead of practicing the same patterns with the same rhythms and articulations over and over again, as you’ll find in many improvisation books, simply alter your approach to these … Read More

Using Polyrhythms in Improvisation

Monday, July 18th, 2011

As melodic improvisers, we are naturally focused on the harmonic aspect of what we are playing. After all, there’s nothing worse than playing wrong notes, right? Our minds are so concerned with what key a tune is in, what note choices work well over a specific chord, and how to navigate a difficult progression, that other aspects of musicality tend to be ignored.

As a result, the rhythmic aspect of our improvised lines tend to be the first thing that is thrown to the wayside as we solo. It’s goes without saying that notes and chords are important in creating a great solo, but your time and rhythmic conception are just as essential to expressing yourself musically.

For non-drummers, developing an advanced sense of rhythm can be quite an undertaking. To go from the perspective of only worrying about keeping time in 4/4, to playing successfully in odd meters or even using polyrhythms in your solos takes some serious practice. A reader recently wrote in on this subject:

I’d like to get deeper into rhythmic displacement. I’ve practiced three against four and five against four. It works so far, but I don’t get it to the point that it sounds musical and not just mathematical. I would greatly appreciate learning about some approaches to rhythmic displacement.

Master the basics

The key to progressing at any skill is to first master the basics. This proves to be true whether you are working on instrumental technique, playing over chord changes, or are … Read More

Exploring Space

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Exploring Space

Music is the space between the notes-Claude Debussy

The use of space is what defines our lines. Learning how to control our use of space allows us to define our lines precisely how we want to. To gain this control, we must focus our attention on where we rest.

Most of our practice time is spent playing and not resting. For many, it’s actually difficult not to play. It’s difficult simply because we haven’t spent time on it. The following exercises will focus on three areas of the use of space:

  • Using space after a line
  • Using space before a line
  • Using space within a line

Diligently practicing using space in these three different ways will expand the way you hear and play.

Using space after a line

The simplest use of space is the use of space directly after a line. Space after a line gives the idea definition and provides a logical breaking point for your next idea to begin; it gives the idea room to breathe and echo in the mind of the listener.

Sometimes we get so carried away playing idea after idea that every line runs into the next, making it sound like a run-on-sentence and then you add more material and maybe you add more  and no there will not be any space or even a comma just more more more material that runs and goes and bleeds into the next idea and..

We do not want to sound like that. Using space … Read More

Integrating New Rhythms Into Your Playing

Monday, April 11th, 2011

New Rhythms

Rhythm is often thrown to the wayside, in favor of working on harmony and melody. Perhaps this disregard is caused by a lack of understanding about how to approach this aspect of improvisation. Here’s a simple and effective process to find and incorporate new rhythms into your playing.

Step 1: Choose a chorus

You’ll need a chorus from a solo. Throughout the article I’ll use the first chorus of Miles Davis soloing on “So What” to illustrate the concepts discussed. Pick something that’s at a medium tempo, where the soloist plays distinct phrases with clear and interesting rhythmic ideas. Solos of Miles are perfect candidates.

YouTube Preview Image

Step 2: Transcribe the rhythms

When you transcribe, you do not want to write the solo down as you’re learning it. If I write a solo down, it will often be months after I’ve internalized the entire solo and can play it flawlessly. You always want to make sure you’re not depending on a written copy of the solo to remember it or to play it; you’re writing the solo down to strengthen your ability to notate what you hear and to analyze it more closely.

In this exercise you actually will write down what you’re transcribing as you do it because your reasons for transcribing are highly specific: to identify each rhythm the soloist uses, understand them, notate them, and integrate them into your playing. You’re not trying to learn language. You’re not worried about the melodic or harmonic components. All you’re concerned with … Read More

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