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

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 of each sequential note
  • Slurred articulation – slurring (no tonguing for horn players) a group of notes together
  • “Jazz” articulation – the commonly taught way of articulating by attacking (tonguing for horns) on the upbeats and slurring into the downbeats, here’s an example.

Most of the time, teachers will say to use “jazz” articulation on everything, but a close look at the masters, and you’ll quickly realize that their lines sound a lot more interesting because they’re not adhering to this ...

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