Hey Jazz Guy,
I’m always playing the same rhythms, usually constant eighth-notes. How can I get more rhythmic variety in my playing?—Constant in Colorado Springs
Dear Constant, This is definitely an issue with improvising— especially for guitarists—because, unlike horn players, we don’t have to stop playing in order to breathe. One method for enhancing your rhythmic vocabulary is to force new rhythms into your practicing.
Here we look at two different rhythm concepts. In the first concept [Ex. 1], we are placing different numbers of notes into the same amount of space. In two beats we have one note (half-note), two notes (quarter-notes) three notes (quarter-note triplets) and four notes (eighth-notes). Ex. 2 is the same concept in four beats, using 5:4 quarter-notes and quarter-note triplets to get six notes. Practicing rhythms like this will not only make your time and feel better, but will free you from thinking in terms of eighth-notes only. The second technique can be thought of as the same amount of notes in the same amount of space, but changing the placement of the notes.
In Examples 3 and 4 we have seven eighth-notes, and one eighth-rest. By moving the rest from beat two to the and of two and so on, we break up the line. This is just a taste of an exercise you can do with all types of rhythms and rests, but it will really get you thinking with more variety and more space. Shedding these two concepts will greatly expand your rhythmic vocabulary giving your constant lines a few more starts, stops, and shapes.
Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the non-jazz world. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jake’s latest release is Patterns [Buckyball].