How To Make Your Jazz Melodies Swing More

   This post was written by guest blogger Steve Nixon, who runs the website Freejazzlessons.com                                                                                                        

Have you ever played the melody of a jazz tune from a fakebook and realized what was written there just doesn’t feel right? Something seems missing rhythmically but you’re just not sure what it is?  Well, you’re not alone.  Most of the time what our favorite and most swingin’ players play on a standard is very different than what’s written in a fakebook. 

 So, how do we get our melodies to sound more authentic and to swing more?  Let’s take a closer look…..We’ll use the famous jazz tune Autumn Leaves because almost everybody is familiar with it. First, we will look at a “normal” version of Autumn Leaves. This is an an 8 bar example of how it’s written in most fake books. There are no swing rhythms added.

Now, we’ll take a listen to a guy like Chet Baker play the tune Autumn Leaves.  You can hear how well it swings.

 So, what did Chet do to make his melodies swing so hard?  What’s the difference between the original fakebook version and Chet’s version?

If you were listening closely you heard that Chet Baker played many of the same pitches as the original melody.  What was different though, were the rhythms. That’s where the “magic” lies. Chet Baker changes the rhythms. Lets take a look now at a couple of the rhythmic devices Chet uses and see if we can incorporate them in our own playing.

The first device that Chet uses is something called an anticipation.  If we want to anticipate a melody note we would take a melody note that would normally start on the downbeat and pull it back one eighth note.  Instead, the melody note would be played on the & of 4  I’ve written out the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves again but this time I’ve added anticipations in there to demonstrate this technique more effectively.  (You can compare it to the original chart above).

Example: See how the D that would normally be played on beat 1 on the Bbmaj7 chord is instead  played an eighth note early in the previous measure.  That’s an anticipation.

Delayed Attack
Another rhythmic device that Chet uses is something called a delayed attack.  A delayed attack is a simple type of syncopation in which we take a melody note that would normally start on a downbeat and push it forward one eighth note.

The first melody note G normally starts on beat 2.  By adding a delayed attack I’m now starting the melody note on the & of 2.  Chet Baker and I both use the device every 2 bars as written here.

How To Practice Anticipations and Delayed Attacks

As you can see these anticipations and delayed attacks can really make your melodies swing more.

Now that you are aware of these cool swing rhythmic devices we should talk about a good way to practice them.  I recommend taking your favorite jazz standard that features a lot of quarter notes. This could be any tune (if you need a suggestion perhaps consider Here’s That Rainy Day). Spend some time adding these rhythms in.  If you’re not sure you can execute these rhythms entirely by ear or feel yet then there is nothing wrong with rewriting out the melody with anticipations and delayed attacks added in.

 Almost all my students can eventually feels these rhythms intuitively once they’ve added them into a jazz standard or tune.

So, how about you? What are some of your favorite rhythmic devices to make your music swing harder? If you enjoyed reading this post please leave a comment below.
For more of Steve Nixon's Jazz lessons check out Freejazzlessons.com

1 comment:

GFC said...

Swing is about capturing the rhythmic energy that happens between the beats and there are so many devices for expressing it in addition to the anticipation/delay devices described here. Dynamics within and notes, measures, and phrases, slurring/tonguing, and intonation come to mind. Keep in mind that the anticipation of the beat is always there whether it is heard or not. It's a physical thing. Feel it physically. Watch a drummer and see all the rhythmic happenings that you don't hear - the wind-up before the snare drum strike, the heel bounce before the bass kick or the high hat drop, and so forth. Watch the way a swinging drummer moves. They're very fluid. Check out some footage of Jo Jones.

All of the elements of swing are embodied in skipping rope. The rope going around is the rhythmic energy between the beats. The hop, perfectly timed with the wrist flick, is the anticipation. The rope hitting the floor is the beat. If a rope skipper loses track of any of it, they trip up. If the musician loses track of any of it, they don't swing. But the rope skipper puts it all in sync intuitively, as does the musician who swings. So let's all start skipping rope, get our swing juices flowing, and get healthy!