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Jazz Rhythms – Common Comping and Soloing Patterns and Exercises

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

No truer statement has been made about what it means to play jazz and jazz.

Learning scales, chords, and arpeggios teaches you what to play, but it’s how you play these devices that makes you sound like jazz.

Studying jazz rhythms from a comping and soloing standpoint gives you the feel and swing you need to sound jazzy in any situation.

And, having that jazz sound in your playing is the difference between being satisfied and unsatisfied in the practice room and on the bandstand.

In this lesson, you study essential jazz rhythms to elevate the swing feel in your comping and soloing phrases.

These rhythms take time to master, but, they get you swinging with confidence over any jazz standard.

 

 

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Jazz Rhythms Contents (Click to Skip Down)

 

 

 

 

 

Comping Rhythms vs. Soloing Rhythms

 

The material in this lesson is broken down into two main sections, comping rhythms and soloing rhythms.

While rhythms are rhythms, such as 8th notes or quarter notes, certain rhythms work better when comping and others when soloing.

This is due to the speed and complexity in rhythmic soloing compared to comping.

As you work through this lesson, feel free to apply comping rhythms to soloing and vice-versa.

But, if you find that you prefer to study each rhythm and exercise and apply it to only comping or only soloing, that’s cool as well.

Also, rhythms are often written differently in jazz for chords vs. single notes.

Here’s an example of a chord chart progression using rhythms in the staff to indicate how you should play these chords.

This is similar to how you see rhythms written in a big band chart, or some Real Book lead sheets, when comping over jazz tunes.

In the examples in this lesson, you use TAB as well as notation, so won’t see slashes such as these.

But, they’re included here, as you see them in other musical situations when you expand your jazz guitar performance and rehearsal opportunities.

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 1

 

jazz rhythms guitar 1

 

In the next example, you see rhythms written in the staff of a jazz guitar lick in C major.

Notice that there are no rhythms in the TAB, to make things less cluttered and easier to read on the page.

Because of this, you need to read the notation of any single-note phrase you’re learning, even if there’s TAB, to get the rhythms for those notes.

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 2

 

jazz rhythms guitar 2

 

Now that you know the difference between reading single-note and chord rhythms, it’s time to learn about syncopation in your jazz guitar studies.

 

 

 

What is Syncopation?

 

Before you learn these jazz rhythms on guitar, take a minute to define one of the most important aspects of jazz rhythms, syncopation.

To keep things simple, here’s a short definition of syncopation.

 

Syncopation is playing rhythms on more up beats than down beats, the &’s of the bar.

 

Here’s an example that illustrates non-syncopated notes, the first two bars, and syncopated notes, the second two bars.

Notice that the first two bars contain rhythms on the down beats, 1-2-3-4, while the second two bars contain rhythms only on the up beats, the &’s of each beat.

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 3

 

jazz rhythms guitar 3

 

Here’s an example that illustrates non-syncopated, first two bars, and syncopated, second two bars, rhythms in a comping situation.

Notice that the syncopated rhythms don’t have to always be up beats, they just have to mostly be up beats to create a sense of syncopation.

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 4

 

jazz rhythms guitar 4

 

In this last example, you use non-syncopated notes in the first two bars and syncopated notes in the second two bars of a single-note line.

Syncopation is an important part of both your comping and soloing phrases, so practicing it in both situations is essential when learning jazz guitar.

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 5

 

jazz rhythms guitar 5

 

Now that you know what syncopation is, you’re ready to study the following jazz rhythms, which contain many syncopated rhythms.

When studying syncopation, count along and use a metronome until you’re fully comfortable with these rhythms.

Syncopation sounds hip in a jazz setting, but it can cause you to rush when applied to tunes if you’re not yet comfortable with syncopation.

To prevent this from happening, go slow, use a metronome, and count along with each exercise in this lesson.

 

 

 

Jazz Rhythms for Comping

 

To begin your studies of jazz rhythms, you learn and apply essential jazz rhythms to comping situations.

As guitarists spend the vast majority of their time comping in jazz combos, behind the melody and other soloists, having a strong rhythmic approach is essential.

In this section, you learn how to play essential rhythms, as well as apply them to popular jazz progressions and jazz standards.

Go slow with these rhythms, there’s no rush to learn them all.

Start with one, master it, and then move on to the next.

Over time, you build up your rhythmic comping vocabulary in the same way you build your soloing vocabulary.

At the same time, you increase your ability to function in a jazz combo situation, and have more fun playing jazz guitar chords.

 

 

 

 

Freddie Green Rhythm

 

The first rhythm in this lesson is inspired by the comping of the great jazz guitarist Freddie Green, and consists of steady quarter-note pulses.

Freddie was known for his rock-steady sense of time, and his use of quarter notes to propel the rhythm forward in the Count Basie Band.

Though it’s a simple rhythm on paper, using only one rhythmic duration, maintaining a steady quarter-note pulse is tricky.

There’s a tendency to rush on faster tunes, and then drag on slower tunes, so using a metronome is key when studying this rhythm.

To get you started, here’s an example of the Freddie Green rhythm applied to a ii V I VI progression using shell voicings.

After you can play this rhythmic example from memory, put on the backing track and comp over those changes with the Freddie Green rhythm.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing No Piano

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 6

 

jazz rhythms guitar 6

 

To take this rhythm further in your playing, here’s a chord study over an F jazz blues progression that uses the Freddie Green rhythm.

Go slow, use a metronome, and when ready, play along to the recording.

After you can play with the recording, put on the F blues backing track and work on comping with the Freddie Green rhythm over those changes.

The Freddie Green rhythm is an essential tool for any jazz guitarist to posses, and therefore it’s an essential part of any rhythmic practice routine.

 

Jazz Blues Backing Track F Blues Backing Track No Piano

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 7

 

jazz rhythms guitar 7

 

 

 

Charleston Rhythm

 

Now that you can play a steady quarter-note rhythm, you add syncopation to your lines in the following chord exercises.

This rhythm, called the Charleston, is built by playing a chord on beat 1 and the & of 2 in each bar.

When playing this rhythm, you use syncopation when you play the & of 2 in each bar.

Syncopation is a term used to describe playing on the up-beats of any given bar, the &’s rather than the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th beats.

Here’s an example of the Charleston rhythm over a ii V I VI progression, using drop 2 chords to outline the changes.

Work on memorizing this example, then comp over the backing track with the Charleston rhythm after the sample chords are comfortable.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing No Piano

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 8

 

jazz rhythms guitar 8

 

To take the Charleston rhythm further in your playing, here’s an A minor blues progression using that rhythm to outline each chord.

After you can play the study from memory, put on the minor blues backing track and comp over those changes using only the Charleston rhythm.

If you feel up to it, mix the Freddie Green rhythm and Charleston rhythm over the backing track to expand on these rhythms in your studies.

 

Minor Blues Backing Track A Minor Blues Backing Track No Piano

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 9

 

jazz rhythms guitar 9

 

 

 

Upbeats on 1 and 3

 

Moving on, you now up the syncopation in your comping as you place a chord on the & of 1 and 3 in each bar.

This syncopation is essential to adding a jazz sound to your comping, but it’s hard to keep steady in your playing.

When using syncopated chords like this, with no downbeats, it’s easy to rush the rhythm, or get lost in the form.

Because of this, counting along with your practicing is essential to mastering this rhythm.

After you can play and count confidently, start feeling this rhythm and not have to count as you apply it to tunes.

Here’s an example of this rhythm over a ii V I VI progression in C major using triads, or triad based chords, to outline the changes.

Start by working on the given example, then when ready, put on the backing track and comp using the & of 1 and 3 in your playing.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing No Piano

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 10

 

jazz rhythms guitar 10

 

To finish your study of chords on the & of 1 and 3, here’s a Summertime chord etude using three-note shapes and only that rhythm.

Go slow, working each phrase one at a time before piecing them together to form the study as a whole.

After you can play the study with confidence, put on the Summertime backing track and comp over the tune using this syncopated rhythm with your chords.

 

Summertime Backing Track Summertime Backing Track No Piano

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 11

 

 

jazz rhythms guitar 11.2

 

 

 

 

Upbeats on 2 and 4

 

One of the most common jazz guitar rhythms is playing chords on the & of 2 and 4 in each measure.

Though it’s easy to play once you get the hang of it, this rhythm requires that you anticipate the next chord by half a beat in every bar.

For example, when you play a Dm7-G7 progression, the G7 chord first appears on the & of 4 in the Dm7 bar.

This type of anticipation sounds hip, but it takes concentration so that you don’t get lost on the form.

Make sure to count through the following example to get you started with chords on the & of 2 and 4.

Then, when ready, comp over the backing track using the same rhythm, counting at first then moving towards feeling the rhythm over time.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing No Piano

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 12

 

jazz rhythms guitar 12

 

To take this rhythm to a musical situation, here’s a comping study over the Miles Davis tune “Tune Up.”

Work this study phrase by phrase and then piece those phrases together to play the tune as a whole.

After the study is under your fingers, put on the Tune Up backing track and practice comping over that progression with chords on the & of 2 and 4.

 

Tune Up Backing Track Tune Up Backing Track No Piano

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 13

 

jazz rhythms guitar 13.2

 

 

 

Dotted Quarter Notes

 

The final jazz comping rhythm is the dotted quarter note.

Dotted quarter notes are built exactly like their name implies, you chain together a series of dotted quarter notes.

When doing so, it takes three bars to come back to the first beat of the bar with your chords, causing a high level of syncopation along the way.

Because of this syncopation, you need to count when working on dotted quarter notes for the first time.

From there, learn how to feel each dotted quarter and can count less when applying them to your playing.

To begin, here’s an example of a ii V I VI in C using drop 2 & 4 chords to outline each change with dotted quarter notes.

After you can play this example, comp over the backing track using dotted quarters to outline the progression.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing No Piano

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 14

 

jazz rhythms guitar 14

 

Here’s a chord study over the Herbie Hancock tune “Cantaloupe Island” that you can apply to your jazz practice routine.

After you memorize this study, put on the Cantaloupe Island backing track and practice comping over this tune using dotted quarter notes for each chord.

If you like to hear this type of comping in action, check out Jim Hall’s recordings, as dotted quarter notes are a favorite rhythm in Jim’s chord work.

 

Cantaloupe Island Backing Track Cantaloupe Island Backing Track No Piano

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 15

 

jazz rhythms guitar 15

 

 

 

Jazz Rhythms for Soloing

 

Apart from working on jazz rhythms in your comping routine, you can apply rhythmic exercises to your soloing workout.

By doing so, you’ll bring a secure sense of rhythmic control to your solos, as well as build your confidence with specific jazz rhythms in your lines.

The exercises in this section are designed to expand your knowledge of jazz rhythms, but also to help you develop these rhythms in your playing.

By working rhythms as you would melodies, you’ll be able to dig deep on a single rhythm in your playing, rather than constantly moving from one to the next.

This’ll create a rhythmic thread in your lines that both listeners and your band mates can follow, which creates a deeper connection to your audience on stage.

These exercises are easy to understand, but can take time to master on the guitar.

So, take your time, work one exercise for a long period of time, and when you’re ready move on to the next exercise in your routine.

And, most importantly, have fun!

 

 

 

 

Single Rhythm Exercises

 

One of the biggest hurdles jazz guitarists face in their soloing, is that you play “fast,” you play “slow,” but you don’t know the exact rhythms you’re playing.

This causes your lines to be sloppy and not rhythmically clear, or for your lines to not lock in with the rhythm section.

To help you avoid, or correct, this issue, you can practice single rhythm exercises in the woodshed.

By working one rhythm at a time, you always know exactly what rhythm you’re using in your solos, and recognize specific rhythms in your band mates’ solos.

Both increase your ability to improvise on the guitar in a jazz context.

Here are the steps to applying this exercise to your jazz guitar practice routine.

 

  • Pick a rhythm to study, such as quarter notes.
  • Solo over a tune or progression using only that rhythm.
  • You can use rests, but they must equal the rhythm you chose.
  • Repeat with other single rhythms in your studies.

 

When working this exercise in your practice routine, start with the following essential jazz rhythms.

From there, branch off into more advanced rhythms such as groups of 5 and 7 notes over one beat.

But, even without those advanced groupings, these rhythms build your knowledge and confidence with jazz rhythms.

 

  • Whole Notes
  • Half Notes
  • Quarter Notes
  • 8th Notes
  • Triplets
  • 16th Notes
  • 16th Note Triplets

 

After you work these rhythms on their own in your studies, feel free to mix a few together.

But, make sure that you’re doing this in an organized fashion.

Avoid just playing random rhythms; instead focus on mixing two exact rhythms in your playing.

This helps you become more rhythmically versatile, and know exactly what rhythms you’re playing in your solos at all times.

 

 

 

Rhythmic Motives

 

Another effective way to develop your rhythmic vocabulary is to work rhythmic motives in your solos.

These short phrases, often one bar or less in length, are rhythmic melodies that you came back to time and again in your solos.

In the same way that you come back to a melody in your solose, you can create rhythmic motives that do the same thing.

The exercise is fairly straightforward on paper, but takes time to become comfortable in your practicing and performing.

 

  • Pick a short rhythm to work on.
  • Solo over a progression using only that rhythm.
  • You change the notes, but the rhythm stays the same.
  • Repeat with other rhythms and other progressions.

 

Here’s an example of a short rhythmic motive played over a C turnaround chord progression.

To keep things simple, the line is built with a quarter note and two 8th notes, with a half note rest in the second half of each bar.

Using rests like this not only breaks up your lines, but makes it easier to hear and plan ahead when soloing over jazz standards.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 16

 

jazz rhythms guitar 16

 

After you can play this example, put on the backing track and solo over the progression using only this sample rhythm.

From there, come up with your own rhythms to work on in this exercise, as well as find other progressions to apply them to in your practicing.

Once you can do this comfortably with one rhythm, you can move on to the next exercises where you learn how to expand rhythms in your solos.

 

 

 

 

Reverse Rhythmic Motives

 

Once you can solo with a single rhythmic motive in your practicing, begin altering that motive to expand it in your solos.

The first way to go about expanding a rhythmic motive is to play it backwards.

This means that you take the rhythms in the original motive, and play them back to front in your lines.

For example, in the previous exercise you played a quarter note and two 8th notes.

So, the reverse of that motive would be two 8th notes and a quarter note.

Here are the steps to take when working on this exercise in the woodshed.

 

  • Pick a rhythmic motive to practice.
  • Solo over a progression with that motive.
  • Reverse the rhythms of that motive.
  • Solo with the reversed motive over the same progression.
  • Repeat with other rhythmic motives.

 

Here’s an example of the reversed motive from the previous section over a turnaround progression in C.

After you learn this lick, solo over the backing track using this new rhythmic motive in your lines.

From there, come up with your own original rhythms, then practice reversing them as you expand upon your ideas in the woodshed.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 17

 

jazz rhythms guitar 17

 

Now that you know how to expand rhythmic motives by reversing them, you can extend rhythms to full measures or longer in your playing.

 

 

 

Rhythmic Pairing

 

With your original and reversed rhythmic motive in hand, you can now pair those two ideas up to produce a longer idea in your solos.

To do this, you play the first motive immediately followed by the second motive in your lines.

Using the examples from the previous two sections, here’s how that would come together to form the longer motive.

 

  • Quarter Note
  • Two 8th Notes
  • Two 8th Notes
  • Quarter Notes

 

As you can see, the first two beats are the original rhythmic motive, and the second two beats and the reversed rhythmic motive.

Here’s how that looks on paper.

After you can play this lick, solo over the backing track and make up your own notes while sticking to the given rhythm in the example.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 18

 

jazz rhythms guitar 18

 

Now that you’ve seen a sample of how to combine an original and reversed rhythmic motive in your playing, you can make up your own to practice.

Here are the steps to build these longer rhythms in your studies.

 

  • Pick a short rhythm to study.
  • Solo over a progression with that motive.
  • Work out the reversed version of that rhythm.
  • Solo over a progression with that reversed motive.
  • Combine both rhythms to form a longer phrase.
  • Solo over a progression with that combined rhythm.

 

With this longer rhythmic motive under your fingers, you can expand upon this longer idea in your practice routine.

 

 

 

Reverse Rhythmic Pairing

 

As you did with the original rhythm, you can now reverse your longer, paired rhythm in your studies.

To do so, you use the following steps build this exercise.

 

  • Pick a short rhythm to practice.
  • Solo with that rhythm over a chord progression.
  • Reverse the original rhythm.
  • Solo with the reversed rhythm over the progression.
  • Combine the rhythms by playing the reversed rhythm first then original.
  • Solo with this combined rhythm over the chord progression.

 

Here’s an example of how to reverse a combined rhythm using the original rhythmic motive from earlier in this section of the lesson.

After you have this lick under your fingers, put on the backing track and solo using the given rhythm, but you make up the notes as you go.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 19

 

jazz rhythms guitar 19

 

Now that you can build and expand any rhythmic motive, go back and repeat these exercises with new rhythms that you come up with on your own.

You can also take rhythmic motives from transcriptions as you learn them by ear from your favorite jazz guitar solos.

When you’re comfortable with these exercises, move on to the last section of this lesson, learning how to transpose rhythms in your solos.

 

 

 

Rhythmic Transposition

 

Now that you have an original rhythm to work with, you can move this rhythm around the bar by starting it on different beats of each measure.

To begin, here’s a reminder of the original rhythmic motive.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 20

 

jazz rhythms guitar 20

 

Now, here’s an example of how this rhythm would look and sound when starting on the & of 1 in each bar.

After you can play this sample lick, put on the backing track and solo over the changes using the same rhythm, but improvise the notes.

From there, you can move the rhythm to other parts of the bar by starting it on beat 2, the & of 2, beat 3, etc. in your soloing.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 21

 

jazz rhythms guitar 21

 

Following the exercises that you did earlier in this lesson, you now combine the original rhythm and the transposed rhythm in your soloing.

Here’s an example of how that would look with the original rhythm in bar one and the transposed rhythm in bar two, repeating from there in the line.

Once you have this sample line down, solo with this rhythmic group while improvising the notes in your line.

Then, you can practice combining other transposed rhythms in your soloing practice routine from there.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 22

 

jazz rhythms guitar 22

 

The final exercise finds you pairing up your original and transposed rhythms, but this time you play the transposed rhythm first, followed by the original rhythm.

Here’s an example of this approach over a C turnaround progression.

Work this line in your studies, then when ready, solo over the backing track with the same rhythm, but you improvise the notes.

From there, you can expand upon this rhythmic exercise by applying it to other rhythms and transpositions in your studies.

 

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

 

Click to hear jazz rhythms 23

 

jazz rhythms guitar 23

 

As you can see, transposing a rhythm around the bar will allow you to create new rhythmic ideas from a single phrase.

From there, you can create dozens of variations by combining transposed rhythms and reversing those combinations in your playing.

Have fun with these exercises; though they may seem tough at first, over time they greatly expand your rhythmic vocabulary and improvisational skills on guitar.



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