I’ve been working recently on charts that I’m going to record for my first album (Mountain, Move.) and was looking over the changes to one of the songs. I was mentally mapping out some options before practicing and realized an important aspect to rhythmic phrasing that I haven’t shared yet. It’s really simple, yet one that I believe will help add value to your playing. If you’ve ever struggled with your lines rhythmically and felt like they’re always square even though the note choices were right…then this tip is for you!

In this concept of targeting the bar I’m going to use 4/4 time as our example. However, you can apply this concept to other meters as well. In 4/4 time we can split the measure a number of different ways, but we’re going to separate it into two equal parts. 

The beginning halves of the bar occur on beats 1 & 3. This is where the majority of chord changes happen (not all, but the majority) to land. The most common is on beat 1 and the second most common is on beat 3

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If you’ve taken some time to explore this site or have been following for a while, you know that jazz rhythm is full of syncopation. It’s what gives the music forward movement. If your lines have felt rhythmically square, there’s a good possibility that you’ve started your lines on the beat (1 & 3 or 2 & 4) as opposed to an off-beat (syncopation). Granted, some good lines DO start on the beat. However, if all of your lines start on the beat then you’re most likely running into phrasing problems and your lines will be pretty square.

I’m big on targeting-which is aiming at a goal note with purpose. We can apply the same concept to rhythm. If we want our notes to line up with the chord changes then we have to have our rhythm line up with it is as well. Let’s take a look at two different ways we can rhythmically target beats 1 & 3. Below are two examples of targeting beat 1 and targeting beat 3. Each one leads into the beat. The first example leads into beat 1 while the second example leads into beat 3.

Notice how each example is not started on a down beat, yet ends up anticipating beat 1 & beat 3? Below are two quick musical examples that should help give you a better idea.

If you apply this concept to your playing you will notice an improvement to your overall phrasing. It is equally important to use targeting concepts to target beats as it is to target the notes themselves.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added value and benefit to your playing in some way. If you haven’t checked out my books yet (Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose or Breaking the Monotony) I would highly encourage you to do so by going to my Digital Store. Also, don’t forget to check out the Lick of the Day on the homepage!

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