Swinging rhythms are the foundation and heartbeat of great jazz. Our first “Rhythm” video was a primer on how to play jazz rhythms. Click here to watch it.
In this video, we’ll talk about how you can use rhythm to effectively express yourself: your thoughts, your feelings, your personality, your unique story.
This simple phrase will help illustrate that process.
The melodic shape of that phrase looks like this:
We’ll use 5 different rhythmic variations to show how you can dress up that sequence of notes. Here are all 6 patterns in a nutshell.
We’ll look at each variation briefly after I describe how I developed them and the fabulous benefits you can derive from working this way.
Let me describe a practice regimen guaranteed to improve your ear, develop your chops, and stimulate your creative imagination.
It took maybe 2 or 3 practice sessions for me to map out those six rhythmic variations of this 14-note phrase. Try it yourself! By experimenting with that process, you’ll develop your own unique way to improvise, and you’ll discover a distinctive, personal creative spark already hidden within you.
I practiced each of those six variations in all 12 major keys. There are complete charts at the end of this post, if you want to work through it like I did. That will supercharge your ear, endowing you with what I call “hand-ear coordination.” And it will powerfully beef up your chops.
Whereas the original was rather languid and lyrical, this variation is aggressive, swinging, and syncopated. The tempo is faster, and the pattern uses four bars, instead of two. If you were doing a live show, you’d use this approach to create a moment with more spark than the original. In the exuberance of playing, I accidentally changed note #8 from a B natural to a Db.
Notice how the triplets give this variation a loping, rolling momentum, like cruising down a 2-lane blacktop in a ’56 Desoto. Changing the rhythm prompts you to change your phrasing. And you discover that different notes gain prominence as a result of the shifting rhythms.
This quarter-note triplet pattern reminds me of my Uncle George telling a funny story. His pacing is never rushed, but he knows how to double up near the punch line.
Bonfá and Jobim revolutionized jazz by bringing in that cool Brazilian straight-eighth bossa feel we all love. For the past 60 years, Latin grooves have added great versatility and variety to jazz gigs. Subtle use of accented notes make the samba sparkle.
James Brown, Sly, Tower of Power, and Average White Band popularized that funky groove which later found its way into the jazz fusion of Miles, Weather Report, and Herbie Hancock.
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Complete charts and recordings of these six rhythmic approaches in all 12 keys are provided below, if you want to add them to your practice session. But I encourage you to try coming up with your own ideas. By the way, I recorded all of these tracks without charts. You can learn to do that too with “New Ears Resolution.”
B flat instruments start at bar one and play through to the end. Concert key instruments start at the key change to four flats, take the d.c., and finish in one flat. E flat instruments begin at the key change to one flat, take the d.c., and finish in two sharps.