Hey Jazz Guy: Swing Feel & Articulation

January 30, 2014

Hey Jazz Guy,
I’m playing all the right notes, but something is still missing. How can I make my phrasing sound more jazzy? –No Swing in Norway

Dear No Swing,
Perhaps the most elusive and mysterious concept in jazz is swing feel and articulation. The concept has changed over time and many great players are unique in their phrasing and feel. However, there are some stylistic elements that if performed properly will send you way into the “jazz universe.” Our model will be the original bebop-type phrasing from which all jazz has descended. The first trick is to learn to hear the metronome on beats two and four. In the 1st bar of Ex. 1 we practice eighthnotes, accenting the upbeats. In bar 2, we practice playing triplets, accenting the third triplet and even removing the second one. Remember, the true swing feel lies inbetween these two rhythmic ideas.

Proper execution of triplets in a phrase will really make you swing hard. Take a look at Ex. 2. Notice how the first triplet is all downstrokes, like an in-time rake, ending with a downstroke on beat three. Then resume normal alternate picking. In the same example, the second triplet is slurred to give a “blurry” effect, like on a horn. When you practice scales, like in Ex. 3, practice both alternate picking and the slurred phrasing shown here. Lastly, practice “swinging” the quarter-notes. The slower the tempo, the more exaggerated the feel. Here we use some chords [Ex. 4] to illustrate the articulation of long and short quarter-notes. Listening to jazz is crucial to developing your ears in this area, so listen lots, practice patiently, swing soulfully, and jazz hard!

Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the non-jazz world. Send your questions to guitplyr@musicplayer.com. Jake’s latest release is Evolution [Buckyball].

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