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Picture is Big Jay McNeely at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1951, by Bob Willoughby. It was originally black and white then colorized (c) 2015 by O. Young Kwon.

This blog is an adaptation of my class “musical structures” for dancers.  I hope you enjoy it!

What exactly makes something swing? Why does one song “swing” while another does not? Further, why does one way of doing a move swing while another does not? This is an excellent question you might have asked yourself, and in this blog I intend to shed a little light on some rather fuzzy concepts. Like most things related to jazz or dance there is a fancy technical explanation which outlines the basics perfectly, and a certain “something” inexplicable. This is what I call the Jazz Paradox: everything can be explained in terms of math and science, but chances are many of the pioneers of jazz didn’t necessarily understand the more mathematical underpinnings, though it’s fair to say some did. Most likely nowadays most people that play jazz understand most of these concepts pretty well.  The problem is that these mathematical aspects are approximations of the music.  The rhythms and pitches of jazz and blues are simply not notate-able with our system of writing music, so we rely on approximations.  I intend to show you how to get more ‘feel’ by understanding the technique.  I also want to share some of my favorite examples, so please watch the videos if you can.

1937 was somewhere around the height of the swing era, in my opinion, and every year that passes we have more musical influences in our ears. We lose more and more of the people that actually played swing music when it was popular, and a new generation learns to play swing-jazz, but with soul jazz, electric blues, swing, bop and trad jazz also in their learning trajectory and in their ears. Swing also has early roots in blues (which is why some songs are written with a blues form, more below.)  For this reason I think it’s important to see the musical form as a series of overlapping diagrams, cross-pollinations of influence, and evolution that doesn’t always make immediate sense.

The field song influenced blues, the marches and quadrilles gave us time signatures, and the theatre gave us ragtime.  Classical instruments like clarinet, trumpets, tubas and trombones came to fall in the hands of a newly free people, and what it made was some pretty amazing jazz.  The thing that was created by this amazing socio-cultural merger was both a product of influences, and of the time it came to be. Swing jazz music had a long life-span and stayed strong until World War II, after which the music just reminded people of a bygone era. During the swing era however,  swing music was appropriated and played for all audiences. Record companies demanded campy dance tunes and quick pop hits. Rounder tones, cleaner notes, smoother edges, or sometimes a “sugary-ness”. Whatever it is — plenty of music from the swing era played by swing musicians doesn’t have the swing we wish that it did have.

Even post war, swing had some life, but it was quickly drowned out.  For instance, many swing musicians that played great music in the swing era had contracts to fulfill with record companies, but at a time in history when their music wasn’t as popular, so they made albums trying to appeal to the masses or to an older, more tame audience, which is why you might find an album by a great swing artist that doesn’t really swing too hard.  In this sense, it’s hard to give a classification to everything. A classic example is Basie’s “Beatle Bag” album or Buddy Johnson’s R&B big band, which tried to fuse the older big bands with the new R&B sound that was popular post-WWII.

Now to be clear, what we can identify as “swing music” or a “swing band” is broad and varied. It depends a lot on who you’re talking to and how much they care about classifying and sub-classifying the music we love. For instance, ask a person on the street if Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is swing, and likely they will say yes. Ask someone who has been dancing 10 years, and chances are they’ll say no. Of course by a strictly technical definition chances are that it does swing, but thats often a swung beat, played with the “accent” of someone trained as a rock drummer, and again we get into the idea of something missing a certain “feel”.  And of course there are questions about the music being “era appropriate”. For me I’d prefer to dance the Lindy Hop to music which is very much in the spirit of the time in which the dance was invented.  My preference is 1920s Trad Jazz to early 50s R&B with a swing sensibility or modern bands that are strongly influenced by this era — this is what I’m referring to when I say swing music. Built into that definition, I’m going to point out the subtle differences that will:

  • Help dancers dance better to each variety of music, and more in tune with what’s going on in the music.
  • Help DJ’s make better choices about the swing music they dance to.
  • Make you a better competitor and choreographer.
  • Make your social dancing the difference between walking around to music and actually “dancing”

One caveat to understand – once patterns or recipes for song structure were established, musicians began to change the forms. Like any art form, they knew the rules, then they bent them for effect.  Louis Armstrong once said “There’s a difference between free form and no form at all”.  Not every song fits into the structures I’ve outlined below, but almost every jazz song shares many, if not all the elements I talk about below.  There are nearly infinite variations on the basic structures of jazz music.  But herein are some general rules and structures that will give you some insight.

Hot can be cool, and cool can be hot, and each can be both. But hot or cool, man, jazz is jazz.
-Louis Armstrong


A Beat

First off, I think it’s important to understand the characteristics of a beat, the most basic component of music. When I first developed my mental model around beats and dancing, I thought of them like a string of Christmas lights, with the beats taking place at intervals along a time continuum. The truth is that beats have a beginning, middle, and end.  In sound engineering, this is known as the ASDR envelope.  Attack – when the sound is created, Sustain – the top of the beat or sound as it reaches a peak, Decay – as the sound decays and winds down, and Release – when the sound has ended.

images

More like what beats look like

Because of this nature of sound, this is why we pulse or  move up and down in the z-axis, not just side to side. To accurately reflect the music, a step can’t just be a step, it has to have the beginning, middle, and end qualities.  A “z-axis” if you will.  With slow music, this is exaggerated.  That’s why in Blues idiom dances, the pulse becomes so important. The ASDR envelope is much more exaggerated and obvious. I think the idea to take here is that sounds have a form and you can change how you step relative to them.  Slightly before, during, or slightly after, and it will change the look and feel.


Now let’s talk about how beats can be sub-divided:

  • Undivided.  Also known as a “quarter note”, i.e. a quarter of a measure, you can count these beats consecutively as “1, 2, 3, 4”. This is also known as “four to the bar”. Often, “four to the bar” specifically refers to a bass player providing all 4 quarter notes in the bar, as opposed to the more traditional (tuba’s) 2 quarter notes and 2 quarter rests.  Different ways to swing:  a traditional dixieland band (with a tuba, playing 2 to the bar) with a Chicago swing band (bass, playing 4 to the bar) – the 4 to the bar creates a driving swing while the 2-to-the-bar feel is “straighter”, simply by virtue emphasizing the strong / expected beats of 1 and 3.Four to the bar is also often used to refer to keeping a steady beat on the bass drum.  This was key to swing era drumming, and it was one of the biggest things that changed with bebop.  It’s hard now to find a jazz drummer who will do it.
  • In half. Also known as “eighth notes”. This would be counted as “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”, with even spaces between each number and each “and”. In tap class we would specify “not swung”; see below for swung-eighths.
  • In thirds. This would be counted as 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 and a. This is also called a “triplet”.
  • Swung-eighths. This is where it gets cool and tricky, and if you want to swing like crazy, you have to understand this one. When you swing the eighth notes, it means that you take a triplet, and you skip the middle sound.  Essentially what you end up with is 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 and a [side note, as a way to emphasize the beginning of the phrase, you’ll sometimes hear 1  2 a3 4 a5 6 a7 8 a].  This rhythm is common in Gypsy Jazz or Jazz Manouche and is sometimes referred to as a shuffle. This, you may note is a 2:1 ratio.  Much swing music is actually played closer to a 3:2 ratio, which is less displaced, but again there isn’t a great way to notate this, so it’s more understood than proscribed.
  • In fourths.  Called “sixteenth notes” — these are counted as 1 e & a, 2 e & a, etc.
  • You can subdivide more, and this sometimes happens in tap dance.  In fifths or sixths, but this is an edge case, not really worth understanding, _except_ that these divisions are really just mental constructs for understanding.

To apply this to swing, a triple step is one swung triple with an undivided note following it.  [1   a 2] (as a starting place), but you should always defer to what you hear in the music.

A nice way to look at this is each beat as a dollar.  Quarter notes are undivided dollars.  Eighth notes are half dollars, and swung eights are somewhere between two fifty cent pieces, sometimes it equals 60 cents and 40 cents, and sometimes up to 75 cents and 25 cents.  Take that with a grain of salt, it’s not that black and white, but hopefully this makes it a little clearer.


Two-beat Units

This is the name I give to any set of two beats within music.  You could also refer to these as the “words” in a musical sentence. I consider the two-beat organization of swing-jazz music to be the most important.  It’s the reason we can do a swing-out, a pass-by and switches, and then start the next set of moves on the “7/8”, and we’re still in time with the music. A set of two sounds within a two beat structure. This is the core of swing, and the reason why everything we do is a combination of two beat movements, be they hold-steps, triple steps, kick steps, etc.

A common compliment given to a musician (most often attributed to people talking about Louis Armstrong or Count Basie) is that they could make one note swing.  Well, in a strict sense, this isn’t possible.  In order to create swing there has to be something immovable, and something which is movable. This quality is called “rhythmic displacement” in technical explanations.

Within a two-beat unit there are many things you can do. About half of them put you back on the same foot that you started on, and another half of them change you from one foot to the other by the end of the second beat. For example:

  • Step Step
  • Triple Step
  • Kick Step
  • Hold Step
  • Rock step
  • Step Kick Ball Change

Anything (generally speaking) that can change your standing foot in two beats (kick step, step hold, triple step) is interchangeable, and at this micro level, you have nearly infinite possibilities. Same with steps that do not change feet (rock step, kick ball change, step-step, etc)

Units that contain syncopation, like a triple step or a kick-ball-change are satisfying, because they, themselves can swing.  They contain within themselves a disturbance of the expected, straight rhythm.

This neat tool will help you create different syncopations that you can try.


“I don’t dig that two-beat jive the New Orleans cats play. My boys and I have to have four heavy beats to the bar and no cheating. -Count Basie


Strong and weak pulses

In one sense, we can just view the magic of swing as syncopation, sets of strong and weak pulses, time displacement and shifting notes to and away from the framework of regular beats within the music. There is some difference in what the rhythm section does vs what other instruments do, and that’s the level of freedom.  Within a swing song someone has to hold down the regularity, and that’s typically the rhythm section. This is the basis of “polyrhythm”, a quality in all jazz.  It can intermingle, there can be melodies in the rhythm, and rhythms in the melody (so called melo-rhythm), but there is a balance, and an underlying structure of regular strong and weak pulses.

  • Count 1 (strongest)
  • Count 3 (third strongest)
  • Count 5 (second strongest)
  • Count 7 (tie for third strongest)
  • Count 2,4,6,8, weaker pulses.

A soloist would likely honor this, (unless it was more of a free jazz/bop kind of context) and so would something like a walking bass (when you hear a bass guitar or upright bass walking up and down across the 8 count).  A tuba player might think of this in more of a “measure” context and give the music more of a 1/2, 1/2 feel.  Swinging still, but in a different way. Strictly speaking to the musician, there are only measures.  To the dancer only 8 counts.  When you think more lyrically you’ll hear the 8’s, when you think more rhythmically you tend to hear measures or 2-beat units.


So, what makes it swing?

Juxtaposition of the actual sound in time with where it was expected in the rhythm.  Or, to make it simpler, you expected a sound or an emphasis to fall in a predictable, even place in the music, and it didn’t.  Typically the 1,3,5, 7 of the music stays pretty predictable, but the 2, 4, 6, 8 gets toyed with.  Or you were expecting “1 & 2” and you got  “1    a2” (note the spacing).  These variations take place sometimes, but not always just to keep it interesting.  Little liberties in the spacing, but never totally losing track, tension built, then released.

Beats don’t change, and in fact having a solid steady backing from a bass or rhythm guitar is essential.  Other players will “displace” their rhythms away from the beat in various ways, anticipating or lagging and that’s where you get the magic.

Check out this short clip of the beginning of C-Jam Blues from “Blues in Orbit” to see what I’m talking about:

 

Below is a great graphic of some other possibilities which can be starting places for swinging rhythms. Try saying them, but adding some emphasis to words in different places.

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Here are a couple of great videos to watch to get a little more detail on rhythms.


Why do we clap on two and four?

What you’re really doing is emphasizing the unexpected beat, or to emphasize the swing. You’re taking the moment in the song that falls in juxtaposition to the expected, regular note and you are bring more life and emphasis to that.

If you clapped on 1 and 3, you’d be emphasizing the regularity of the song.

To demonstrate, I’ve got a sample of Chick Webb’s Lindy Hoppers Delight, stretched to 1/2 speed, and below it a sample of Cherry Poppin’ Daddies Brown Derby Jump slowed down to 50% speed.  You’ll hear the “swing” in Chick Webb.  Certain beats, often 1, 3, 5, 7 falling where you’d expect them, others falling elsewhere, and making it swing harder.

In Brown Derby Jump, you can hear big strong hits on the beats. Less sense of tension, delay, or placement in a “swingin'” fashion.  This is swing, based on all the swung eighths of the rhythm section, but has a regular feel and simplicity of rhythm patterns that are not ideal for Lindy hop.  The melody, surprisingly, contains tons of syncopations and it swings.  

Lindy Hopper's Delight - Notice the soft ASDR envelope, and syncopation that's visible.

Lindy Hopper’s Delight – Notice the soft ASDR envelope (attack-sustain-decay-release, or soft slopes of the sounds)

 

Cherry Poppin' Daddies, notice how strong and even the beats are.

Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, notice how strong and even the beats are. In one sense a reflection of the change in recording technology, in another sense just another way to swing it.


Forward motion

Forward motion is a concept in swing jazz that dictates how much forward driving energy a song has. When the players play with an anticipation of the expected rhythms, then the song has a faster feel. The expected beat is like a lamp-post (or other landmark) that the roller-car is passing by. Think of this like a roller coaster, where the band members play their notes as they pass the lamppost. The people in the front of the roller-car will pass by first, the people in the back of the car will play a little later. If the band plays like the people in the front of the car, the song will sound more rushed, frantic. This is not a bad thing, just a stylistic choice. Generally as a dancer I find is less tiring to dance when the players play wit less forward motion. Check out these two examples.


More forward motion

Less forward motion, more relaxed


Dynamics

Dynamics are a great thing to listen for in music. Basically this refers to ups and downs in energy, swing, volume, forward motion and intensity.  It’s very satisfying to listen to, and to play — building slowly towards a more meaty finish. You don’t hear this a lot in old recordings because early recording media limited tracks to around 3 minutes, but it’s pretty likely that plenty of songs were much longer when played live, vs their recorded tracks. In a song like “Jumpin’ at the Woodside”, you’ll hear more intensity at the end.  This is what is mean by “dynamics”.

Within your own dancing, you can try changing speed of movements, borrowing from one area and applying the difference in intensity to another part of the music.

Listen to this for an example of a very slow building dynamic.


A Measure

A measure, at least as it applies to swing-jazz is typically 4 beats of music. From the perspective of the music we dance to, it’s strange, because when you listen to the way lyrics are phrased, or the way the music is written, you’ll very rarely see a measure by itself, but rather in pairs most of the time, or what we’d call and 8 count. Still, since musicians think in measures, aka “bars”, it’s good to understand them, and you will see them come up from time to time.


A Sentence

I define a musical “sentence” as an 8 count. Typically this will also coincide with a “sentence” in the melody. Also known as two measures. As I talked about in my blog Why does Lindy Hop have 6 and 8 count patterns it’s hard to do anything musically with a single measure.


A Phrase

From a musician’s point of view, the word “phrase” has two meanings.

Meaning one: In a broader sense it’s used to describe any musical idea and the execution thereof. This applies more to straight-ahead or modern jazz, where a group of notes might go on for a while without a break. (Think of your most stereotypical notion of a modern jazz song, with a never-ending barrage of notes).

Meaning two: In swing-jazz, a phrase typically has a cohesive and succinct phrasing. A set of (4) 8-counts, in 32-bar or AABA form music, or (6) 8-counts in a blues-form swing song. But keep in mind this is pretty much a dancer-invented name for this.

As a dancer, I tend to think of a phrase as any musical paragraph, ie the second definition.

Early on in the development of the original two American musical forms — swing and blues, they were one and the same. they were different kinds of “jazz”.  As the forms got flushed out – better definitions of chord progressions, thematic differences, etc, they diverged.

As is applies to swing dancers, especially those doing choreography and trying to communicate ideas in the context of lead/follow, think of a phrase as a 4 sentences, or 4 8 counts in a group.

For the purpose of this blog, and for most of what we deal with in dancing, I will call four eight counts in an AABA format song, or 6 8-counts in a blues form song a phrase. (Some have called blues form dancing “AAB”, if that makes sense, keep it, if not, I can see how it would be pretty confusing).  When you compete, this s what they mean.  And even if there is other “phrasing” going on, this (4) or (6) 8-count macro structure will still be present.

Phrases follow a predictable format, of three very similar 8 counts, then a break:

The rhythm is jumping, jump session
The rhythm is jumping, jump session
The rhythm is jumping, jump session
Du dada doo doo dada doo dat da dah

or

Tain’t whatcha do, it’s the way that you do it!
Tain’t whatcha do, it’s the way that you do it.
Tain’t whatcha do, it’s the way that you do it!
That’s what gets results

The last 8 count if often referred to as the turn-around or the break.  You can relate this directly to dances like the Shim Sham, where the fourth eight count is different than the first three.  Tap dancers call the form “Three and out”, and many tappers raised in the more classic traditions will only call a “step” complete when it’s done in the context of three times, then a variation or break.  It’s a lot like the classic form of a joke where a situation is played out three times and the third is an unexpected variation on the first two situations.

Besides being pleasing to the ear, it also has the effect of keeping the band from speeding up.  As anyone who has ever attended a tap class before can tell you, when you make a sound repetitively, there is a tendency to speed up.  The break or turnaround lets the beat relax, and stay in time.

Of course this is mostly as it applies to the HEAD or the part of the music that you sing. You’ll see a general, though not strict tendency to follow the three-and-out patterns in solos.  Two phrases is the most common length of solo I hear in older jazz.  Sometimes if the solo goes for 4 phrases, the soloist may, or may not use an AABA structure.


A Chorus

A chorus (in 32 bar, or AABA form music) is best thought of as 16 8 counts, or in other terms, 4 sets of 4 8 counts.  The term AABA is used because the 1st, 2nd and 4th phrases are often quite similar, with the third one having a different feel, a modulation, or really anything that sets it apart from the other three phrases.   The “B” is referred to by musicians as the Bridge

There are also blues choruses, which are 6 8-counts long, or 12 measures, AKA 12-bar blues.

Keep in mind that while AABA is a common, and well known format, there exists such a thing as ABAB, ABAC, ABCD, etc.  16 Bar choruses are probably the next most common, and from there it goes pretty wild.  It’s good to know about AABA form, but it’s by no means the end of the variations.


32 bar vs 12 bar

So which is it?  You’ll find both in swing music, but the 32 bar form dominates about 80%+ of selections.  When a songwriter sits down to write a song, they will pick whichever one of these forms lend itself best to how they want to illustrate the melody, and how they want the song to fit together.

However, jazz should not be thought of as a successor to blues, but as a very original music that developed out of, and was concomitant with blues and moved off into it’s own path of development.  One interesting point is that although jazz developed out of a kind of blues, blues in it’s later popular connotation came to mean a way of playing jazz.

These sliding and slurring effects in Afro-American music, the basic “aberrant” quality of a blues scale, are, of course called “blueing” the notes.  But why not a “scalar value”, It is my idea that this is a different scale.  – LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)

12-bar is associated mostly with blues.  Early early on there were 8, 10 and 12 bar blues forms, but these forms are exceedingly rare now. Blues gets it’s name from a musical term “blue-ing” and note, or bending it from one tone to the next. There is also some people who say that there is a West African myth that mourners would dye their garments blue so others in the tribe would know they were suffering.  The word Jazz (purportedly) comes from an 1800’s slang term “jasm”, which means vigor and energy.

Blues will often have musical sentences (see above) that last for 2 8-counts instead of one, and then there is a repetition and a resolution.  Another common pattern is a “call and response”, where the call is 8 counts, the response is 8 counts, it’s repeated twice and then there’s a resolution.  Here’s an example of the former:

Lord I love my man, tell the world I do
I love my man, tell the world I do
But when he mistreats me
Makes me feel so blue

-Billie’s Blues, Billie Holiday

There’s an old joke about blues vs jazz that a blues player plays three chords for thousands of people, and a jazz player plays thousands of chords for 3 people.  While not strictly true, there are a lot of reasons that a composer might pick a 32 bar format over a blues format, and a big one is more flexibility in chord choices.  The progression of chords is fairly locked in blues.

For a good example of all of this, check out this classic film by Gjon Mili.  The slow part of the song (Sunny Side of the Street) is in AABA format, and the fast part is a 12-bar blues.

Jammin’ the Blues


Of course sometimes the ideas mix.  Like I said earlier, musicians do whatever they want.  Let’s look at the classic “Rock Around the Clock”, by Bill Haley.

Intro (4-8 counts)
6-8 count (blues chorus) of Lyrics
6-8 count (blues chorus) of Lyrics
6-8 count (blues chorus) of Guitar (a “B-phrase”)

6-8 count (blues chorus) of Lyrics
6-8 count (blues chorus) of Lyrics
6-8 count (blues chorus) of Sax (a “B-phrase”)
6-8 count (blues chorus) of Lyrics

Outro (2 8 counts)

In “Rock around the Clock”, there are 4 choruses, 1,2 and 4 have lyrics and the 3rd is a guitar solo. So it has an AABA form, but the choruses are blues choruses. A good example of musicians with multiple influences combining forms.

Rock Around the Clock


Overall song structure

When you think about dancing to a song, either for competition, social dance, or choreography, if you understand the overall structure, you can make some better decisions. Typically you’ll find this:

  1. An intro.  This is usually one, two or four 8 counts long (but not always!  See several versions of Corner Pocket, or “Shout and Feel It”, for instance). This is where the band entrains their playing and gets ready to play the main body of the song.
  2. One AABA chorus.  AKA the “head”.  You’ll get four phrases with the ensemble working together to establish the melody. The “A” sections, the first second and fourth phrases are typically very similar, with the 3rd one, the “B” often being called the “Bridge”. It can contain shifts in feel, changes in key, or just anything to shake up the pattern.
  3. Following this initial chorus, a number of solos.  A lot of solos are 8 “8 counts” long, or 16 bars.  Some are more, especially if the soloist is particularly talented or the bandleader.
  4. The AABA head again, or a reprise of it
  5. An outro, which winds the song up. It can be 1, 2 or 4 8 counts long, or it could use a candenza.

Between any one of these, sometimes there can be an extra measure or two, called a “tag”.  Though somewhat rare, you’ll hear it more often in Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw.  These bands changed personnel less frequently, and had bandleaders with more classical training, so their arrangements were often a bit more complex.

Listen to this song while reading the explanation below:

You’ll hear:

| | (two eight counts of an intro)

| | | | | | | |

~ ~ ~ ~ | | | |

( An AABA phrase to open), 16 8 counts. The B phrase is the part that starts with “when your feet are flyin high!

| | | | | | | |

~ ~ ~ ~ | | | |

A 32 bar or four phrase solo– using my definition of phrase — saxaphone solo, where you’ll hear elements of something called “Call & Response”, a part of swing carried over from work songs. Interestingly, they use a piano on the B-phrase to give an AABA feel to the solo.

| | | | | | | |

A two phrase solo by Slam Stewart, where he hums one octave above his bass

| | | |

A one phrase guitar solo. Probably by Slim Gaillard, he plays piano and guitar!

| | | |

(These last two solos + reprise make a single 32 bar section)

A one phrase reprise of the head

| An improvised vocal outro

 

Of course this is just one arrangement, each song is a little bit different.  This is of course why you can dance the Shim Sham or the California routine to so many songs.


Trading Phrases, Trading 8s, Trading 4s

One common way in which solos are broken up to make them more interesting to the listener is for the players to trade back and forth, but within the macro structures of the music. They may trade phrases, eights or fours. In this video, they do all of the above.

 


In Summary

There are a pretty infinite number of “but sometimes” and “once in a while it’s this way” that I could have included.  This blog is by no means a complete history of jazz.  And like dancing, music has it’s disagreements and idealogical shifts, so by no means should you think of this document as definitive, but I think the variations in opinion are not significant.

Given a basic understanding of these concepts, here are some ideas for you as a dancer.

  • If you have a rhythm, in a choreography or in your vocab, try placing part of it somewhere unexpected.  1, 2, 3 4   a, instead of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  • Try changing your rhythm to work with the phrasing of the current sentence you are hearing, if you’re familiar with the song.
  • Try leading more “openly”, ie less prescriptive as a lead during the fourth eight of phrases.  It makes so much sense to let the physical tension taper off as the musical tension does too.
  • Experiment with radically changing dynamic on the B phrases of choruses.
  • Use intros in the same way that the band does, to establish dynamic.
  • Step in the same way the melody plays.  If it’s sharp and syncopated, try matching it. If it’s round and smooth, capture that.
  • Work with being a touch behind and a touch ahead of the music for different effects.
  • Try counting using sounds rather than numbers sometimes, just to see how it changes things.
  • Pick up an instrument and try it if you never have, just so you appreciate how much work goes into being a musician.
  • Invest in some nice headphones, and once in a while, just lie down and listen to some good jazz, or even better get some old jazz on vinyl and enjoy it with some low lights and a beverage of choice, and a person that you like.  That’s more valuable than all the blogs in the world.

Good luck, and leave comments if you have them.


More Resources:

The Roger Tilton Film

Check out this amazing film by Roger Tilton.  It’s 20 minutes long, but totally worth it.

 

After Hours

My personal favorite dance

 

Ella and Mel Torme

For fun

Watch Harry Connick Jr. play one measure of 5/4 time just to bring a crowd of 1/4 clappers back into time.

Many many thanks to Erin Morris and Adrian Seward for some fantastic edits dealing with clarity, and just a general sanity check on this whole article and the large topic it tries to grapple with. I’ve included edits, rewording, phrasing, and ideas from both of them, and their edits made this blog post what it is.  This article wouldn’t be what it is without them.

Leave questions, comments and critiques below! Thanks for reading!