Archive for the ‘Rhythm’ Category

The Beginner’s Guide to Jazz Articulation: Coltrane Techniques Demystified

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

The guide to jazz articulation

It’s the subtleties of articulation that make melodies come alive…

But, being so subtle, articulation is one of those concepts that’s difficult to grasp, or for that matter, even teach.

And it’s personal. Nearly every player has their own distinct method of articulating, which yields a different result.

With all this ambiguity, how can we start to get a concept of articulation and practice it?

As always, finding a clear model gives us a direction and starting place to understand what it is we’re dealing with, and of all the solos I’ve listened to, one sticks out in particular when I think of articulation…

The concept of varied articulation: Learning from Coltrane

John Coltrane has a wide variety of articulation techniques that vary from album to album, but his solo on I Hear a Rhapsody makes use of the primary 3 styles that he and other great players tend to use in a clear and definitive way.

It’s like this solo was made to be a study in articulation. It’s packed with way more information than we need to learn the fundamentals.

Go ahead and take a listen to John Coltrane’s solo on I Hear a Rhapsody:

If you listened closely, you’ll note that he’s not exclusively using one type of articulation. In general, as we’ll delve into shortly, he mixes 3 different styles of articulation, even within one phrase.

The 3 types of articulation are:

  • Hard articulation – an attack (tonguing for horn players) at the beginning
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10 Surprising Secrets to Jazz Phrasing I Learned From John Coltrane

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

John Coltrane Phrasing

John Coltrane is probably best known for Countdown and Giant Steps, or his earth-shattering intensity on A Love Supreme.

But often overlooked is the depth and beauty of his phrasing and lyricism.

When I first heard the album Kind of Blue, I was blown away.

And I still am to this day.

There is so much there. Every time I listen to it, I hear more.

One solo that has always hit me dead-center between the eyes is Coltrane’s solo on Blue in Green.

Bill Evans Quote Blue In Green

This solo transports me to another world…

But this is not the Trane that we think of. The one that’s pounding down the door, in your face, playing faster than what seems humanely possible!

No. It’s a different side of him, yet the intensity of his playing is still just as present.

And much of this intensity has to do with how he phrases.

What’s the secret behind Coltrane’s beautiful phrasing and how does he sound so lyrical?

Does Coltrane phrase like a pro?

Over five years ago, I wrote an article about how to phrase like a pro.

In that I shared four points about phrasing that pros do and amateurs do not:

  • Avoid starting phrases on beat 1
  • Break up the eighth notes
  • Connect one idea to the next
  • Play into beat 1 and beyond

They seem simple, right?

But, as many things go, the simpler they seem, the more difficult they are to put into practice.

Do pros … Read More

5 Skills You Won’t Learn in School, Skill Three: The Secret to Great Time

Monday, May 4th, 2015

The Secret To Great Time

Ever feel like something is missing from your solos?

You spend hours learning tunes and transcribing solos from your favorite recordings, you’ve memorized the chord progressions and diligently practiced the tricky fingerings, but when you listen back something is off.

And it’s frustrating because you can’t quite place your finger on the problem…

You’re playing the same songs, the same chords, and even the same notes, yet that player on the recording sounds shockingly better.

Each musical phrase is confident, each note makes you tap your foot, however your own playing sounds flat and unexciting.

The problem isn’t your grasp of music theory, it isn’t your note choices, and it’s not your sound. So what is it?

The culprit is your time.

One of the most ignored aspects of musicianship, especially for struggling improvisers, is what we call “time” – swinging, rhythmic feel, and groove. In fact, the core of modern jazz education is centered around an intellectual approach to harmony – scales, chords, and harmonic progressions…

Thelonious Monk quote

All of those classes and lessons essentially teach you how to count. You play four beats in a measure, you learn about dividing each bar into quarter notes, eighth notes, triplets, 16th’s…

But improvising isn’t just about playing the right notes at the right time, it’s about sharing a message, telling a story through music. To do this you need to develop the rhythmic element of your playing.

However, time often gets overlooked because unlike harmony, it’s hard to place into words or … Read More

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:

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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: 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

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