I recently played a senior recital for a student at Sac State University. While hanging out before the performance, one of my friends who is also a student comes up and says “How the heck do you get you your lines to not drag?” When I’m asked this I usually give them a blank stare back because in my head I’m thinking, “Jeez there are so many things I want to say right now”. Well Aaron, if you’re reading this, here are all the things I wanted to explain to you but didn’t have time.
Use different metronome beats while improvising.
Metronomes are extremely important but too many people just use them for beating on quarter notes or half notes. You want the metronome to beat on as many possibilities as possible so you can feel that accent however you want. Set the metronome and improvise while it’s clicking on these different times. Here are all the different ways I would recommend using a metronome to practice.
- On quarter notes
- On half notes
- On whole notes
- On beats 2+4 instead of 1 + 3
- On all the different upbeats
There’s more but start with this!
Practice improvising different rhythms over the different metronome beats
A lot of times people will be able to play some type of rhythm great such as triplets, then when they start to play sixteenth notes they drag like crazy. So! We want to practice our common rhythmic feels over all the different metronome possibilities I just listed. Here are the common rhythmic feels you should be starting with.
- Half notes
- eighth notes
- Quarter note triplets
- sixteenth notes
Again you want to practice each of those with the metronome clicking on all the previous examples.
You must play like your speaking.
If you are focusing on every word you use in a sentence while having a conversation, you could imagine how slow your sentence will come out. This is the same with jazz. We must speak on our instrument. We have to express ourselves and have conversations in real time. Do you think while having a conversation? Do you try and find the perfect word or cool way to say something? No right? You just speak. When you’re improvising you have to phrase your lines in sentences. This way they will automatically contain a forward flow to them. You’re not giving them any chance to get hung up with a thought or an idea.
Trust the rhythm section and listen to them
Being a jazz musician requires you to be flexible and adaptable. If you can’t do this then you are going to have a heck of a time playing with other musicians. I guess you could just play by yourself. Everyone is going to the feel the time slightly different. When you do find those cats who feel the swing exactly as you do, then you know you have found keeps. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to find those people. Until then, you need to listen and adapt your playing to blend with the bass player or the drummer. They may be grooving together super laid back, but you keep feeling like you want the time faster. Just relax and go with their time. You’ll start to swing a lot better this way and it’ll ensure your lines are in the pocket. As your playing your ears should be listening to what their doing, and not the notes that are coming from you. This way you all can blend to the best of your abilities.
Just like with our metronome, you need to know the tune well so you can feel where the phrasing ends. This way you know where your phrase is shooting for harmonically. Obviously, if you’re not comfortable with a tune then you’re going to have no idea where the harmonic progressions come to an end, if they do at all! Always have the ending point in mind of where you are targeting your line to resolve. Your thoughts should be focused 4 measure ahead if not more. This will immediately fix dragging. People begin to drag because they are thinking about every single note they are playing over the changes. Your mind is too slow for the music! You just gotta play and think ahead!
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