Jazz Improvisation - January 23, 2005

Rhythm and phrasing - introduction

In the study of jazz improvisation (both in books and schools), there are two major components that rarely get the recognition they deserve: ear training and rhythm. Instead, the bulk of jazz education focuses mostly on theory -- learning what notes to play over which chords. While knowing jazz theory will help you to become a better player, I think (much) greater advances are possible through strengthening ones ear and rhythmic skills.

I've built a couple of tools (main tool , simple songs) and written a few blog entries that focus on ear training. While I certainly haven't covered all aspects, I've at least covered some of them. Now it's time to focus on rhythm! Or more specifically, let's focus on the development of rhythmic interest and phrasing.

FIRST, WHY AM I DOING THIS?

I've mentioned before that I was inspired to build this site after visiting some other player blogs. That's really only part of the inspiration. It wasn't until I attended a jazz combo recital at a nearby university, that I was finally motivated to put this site together.

As the student combos performed, I kept thinking of things that they could do to improve. One of the biggest issues, in my opinion, was the lack of rhythmic interest in many of their solos. The lack of interest might manifest itself as a solo with nothing but eighth notes strewn together, with no breaks. Or perhaps they did vary their rhythms, but they played everything with legato attacks and no dynamic interest (i.e. poor phrasing). In short, they didn't sound as good as they could have.

Generally speaking, the poor performances had nothing to do with note choices but everything to do with how they were playing those notes. I kept thinking: if I was their teacher, the first thing I'd do is focus on rhythm and phrasing. Since I'm not their teacher, and since I know there are many more players like them, I figured I could possibly reach them via the Web. As soon as I came to that realization, I started putting this site together.

I don't claim to be an expert (I certainly don't sound like one, just listen to my clips!), however I do believe the tools and exercises on this site are of value to anyone learning how to improvise. So take what you will, and leave what you won't ;-)

SO, NOW WHAT?

This post is really just an introduction to an upcoming series of exercises focusing on phrasing and rhythm. I hope to start putting together some exercises in the next week or two. Until then, keep working on theory ;-)

Comment by Eric

Now that I'm not in the master classes anymore I have more time to focus on different things. I will be watching your next few posts very closely. We both know that the things you mention above are items that I personally need to address in my playing.

Comment by Rick

The new rhythm study just went online, Eric. Please let me know if it helps you out.

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I practice and hone my skills with the goal of becoming a better (dare I say "good") jazz improviser. In this section, you can read about the methods I use to improve and you can listen to recordings of my playing. The recordings will help you determine if any of the stuff I'm doing actually works ;-)

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