Welcome to Week #2 in the improvisation tip series. Starting this week, we’re going to discuss a few topics related to rhythm. In today’s music education, most people can agree that rhythm is one of the weakest areas for students. Today, I’m giving a “2 for 1” special on rhythm because I couldn’t decide which rhythm topic to start with! So let’s dive in….
#1: Beats 1 & 3. There’s so much to talk about with just this topic that I’ve decided my next book will be all about rhythm and this could easily be a chapter or two. In 4/4 time you have strong and weak beats (or tension and resolution). Beats 1 & 3 are the resolution and 2 & 4 are the tension (we clap on 2 & 4). The majority of harmonic changes happen on beats 1 & 3 (resolution). Melodically speaking, we want our lines to end on resolution (or targeted) points most of the time (unless you’re extending the line, etc). However, many struggling improvisors tend to start their melodic lines on beats that make their resolutions awkward. One way to resolve that problem is to feel 4/4 music in “half time” or by feeling the pulse on beats 1 & 3. This does two major things. First, it’s easier to conceive ideas at “slower” tempos. However, you will need to remember that while you’re feeling it slower…the changes are still going by at the normal rate. Secondly, by feeling beats 1 & 3…they give you great launching pads for your melodic line. Notice how many great lines you transcribe start on the “and of 1” or the “and of 3.” They also tend to make your line resolve in logical places. There’s more we can discuss on this, but I’ll save some of that for another week.
#2: Syncopation. When we hear the phrase jazz rhythm…the first word that should pop in to your mind should be-syncopation. Jazz is FULL of syncopation. It’s what gives the music it’s forward movement. I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone improvise, I want to hear more than just a string of eigth notes. Don’t get me wrong, continuous eighth note lines are important and every musician should be able to do them. However, they’re not the end all. If you look at a lot of the bebop heads that were written, very few of them were quarter notes and half-notes (like many of the American Songbook standards). They were full of syncopated rhythms (i.e. Confirmation, Donna Lee, etc). In an interview, Dizzy Gillespie was asked what he thinks about when he improvises and he said, “I fill my head with rhythm.” If you talk with those who were around Dizzy the most…they would tell you he filled his thought process with syncopation. For an exercise, take a song you know the most and forget about what you would do harmonically. Fill your head with jazz syncopation (if you need help, sing what a drummer would play or sing the rhythm to a bebop head). Keep that syncopation flowing in your mind and then start to improvise over the changes. For the first couple of times you will either revert back to your melodic sense (you stopped thinking the syncopation) or your lines will sound awkward and wont resolve in a logical manner. Don’t worry about it…because it’s an exercise. However, over time, the syncopated rhythms and your melodic sense will start working together and your lines will make sense and they’ll SWING.
Next week we’re going to continue on the topic of rhythm. Also, if you haven’t checked it out already, be sure to either click the link to your right or click below for more information about my book, “Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose.”
Jason Klobnak is a versatile trumpet player that has been performing as an active musician, author, clinician, composer and educator. His band, J's Ruckus, is Denver's blend of Post-Bop, Soul, Gospel, and Hip-Hop. They perform infectious and up-lifting originals for audiences hungry for a memorable live experience. J's Ruckus released their latest album, Suck Less, in March of 2020 and their first EP, Sermons, in July of 2019. Both were recorded live in front of an audience. Suck Less was recorded to a packed auditorium at Arapahoe Community College's Waring Theater in Littleton, CO. Sermons was recorded in front of a sold out crowd at the Soiled Dove Underground. The JKQ (the Jason Klobnak Quintet/Quartet) is Mr. Klobnak's Hammond B-3 centered groups. The JKQ released their third full-length album in March of 2018 called Friends & Family. It has been very well reviewed, on numerous Top 10 lists for Jazz radio stations across the country (including Denver's KUVO 89.3FM which named it May 2018's CD of the month), and in Jazzweek's Top 100. Each composition was written for specific family and close friends (that might as well be family). Their second album, New Chapter, was recorded in part thanks to the Pathways to Jazz Grant from the Boulder County Arts Alliance. In 2015 and 2016, New Chapter was in the Top 75 on the Jazzweek charts and on the Top 10 playlists for over a dozen radio stations worldwide. Their first album, Mountain, Move made the Best Recordings of 2013 list from AllAboutJazz.com by C. Michael Bailey. His very well reviewed Christmas single, Hark the Herald, in 2016 as part of a creative project with musicians James Roberson and Nathaniel Kearney Jr. Besides the JKQ, Mr. Klobnak is a B.A.C. (Best American Craftsman-custom trumpet), Denis Wick (mouthpiece and mutes) and Westone Audio endorsed artist (ES20 and Tru Customs). Mr. Klobnak has played and recorded for numerous groups ranging from jazz, soul/R&B, indie-rock/pop and gospel. In addition to performing, he has also written two improvisation-based books called Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony and is currently an adjunct professor and brass instructor at Arapahoe Community College. Mr. Klobnak holds a bachelor degree from Drake University (Des Moines, IA) and a Master’s degree from the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music (Denver, CO).
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