The following article about jazz guitar rhythm is a chapter from my new eBook ‘Introduction to Jazz Guitar Improvisation’ which is an in in depth study of jazz guitar for any kind of player.

Although it would take an entire book to properly explore rhythm  in detail, I wrote this article to be an introduction to some common jazz guitar rhythm patterns that you can use to help develop your phrasing and feel.

As with the jazz guitar rhythm chapter earlier, I highly recommend practicing all of these exercises with a metronome to ensure a steady pulse is kept throughout each practice section. I will break down some common jazz rhythms by explaining what they are and how they are used in common practice.

 

Eighth Notes

 

Eighth notes are probably the most commonly used jazz guitar rhythm. The majority of mainstream jazz solos contain more eighth notes than any other rhythm. There are two types of eighth notes that are generally used, straight and swung. Most straight ahead jazz uses swung eighth notes instead of straight eighths.

The notated example below shows a C major scale played in eighth notes first, then in swung quavers. Straight eighth notes are played identically, whereas jazz musicians playing swung eigths by dividing them into triplets to make the first note of the pair a little longer.

 

jazz guitar rhythm

Example 1

This example is really only an approximation of the swung quaver because almost every jazz musician plays and feels these differently. As you can see they’re not exactly sight reader friendly either, so if a piece of music is swung it is usually specified that the quavers are swung. The best way to learn swung 8th notes is to play along with some of your favorite players and decide what style of swung eighth notes you like the most.

Many beginner jazz students that I have taught start play eighth notes that are straight and not swung, so it’s essential that the difference is established. There is nothing wrong with playing straight eight notes, in fact some jazz compositions have a straight 8th feel, but most straight ahead swing jazz uses swung eight notes.

 

Practicing Eighth Notes

 

Because eighth notes form the basis for much of the jazz language, so it is important that we include them in our practice routines. Practice playing constant eighth notes over a progression or tune that you are working on. By playing a constant flow of eighth notes you will have smooth voice leading between all of the chords and you will be able to stop and start whenever you need to.

Playing constant eighth notes might sound mechanical in parts because you’ll never stick to using one rhythm exclusively on a gig, but practicing eighth notes will mean that you will have the technique to use them when you want. The example below shows how this can be applied over a ii-V-I situation.

 

jazz guitar rhythm ii v i

Example 18

 

Besides practicing constant eighth notes, they should also be practiced on different beats of the bar. The diagram below shows all the different beats within the bar when subdivided into eighth notes. Practice starting eighth note lines on each of these beats.

 

jazz guitar rhythm

 

Many jazz musicians use syncopation in their improvisation which makes lines less predictable. Although starting on the ands is trickier at first, it’s a vital part in gaining a jazz feel. Especially starting lines on the and of 4.

 

Eighth Note Triplets

 

One rhythmic value that’s used extensively by jazz musicians and especially bebop players is the triplet rhythm. Triplets form the entire rhythmic basis for music styles such as blues and they are a big part of the jazz rhythmic vocabulary. A triplet is a three note grouping of eighth notes in the space of one beat.

 

jazz guitar rhythm 8 note triplet

Because triplets are groups of three notes, they work very well with triad based lines. The first example shows how you can play the triads from the C major scale ascending in triplets. The second example shows how you can play root position triads ascending in fourths using triplets starting on a G triad.

 

Triadic Triplet Examples

 

c major scale in triplets

Example 19

triplet in 4ths

Example 20

 

When practicing triplets, it’s a good idea to switch from eighth note based lines so you can clearly hear the difference. The example below shows how you can do this with the four note grouping looked at earlier in the book. The significant aspect to applying triplets to a four note pattern is that you can get a 3 over 4 polyrhythm.

 

triplet 1

Example 21

 

You can practice switching from eighth notes to triplets this way using the four note grouping over the entire C major scale which is a great way to combine rhythmic and harmonic practice.

 

trip 2

 

Triplets are much trickier to apply at faster tempos, but are very effective to apply on slow to medium tempo tunes. When working on triplets in your practice routine, it’s a good idea to incorporate eighth notes too. In the first bar I have written the rhythm for a common rhythmic figure frequently used by jazz musicians and in the second bar I have written a lick using these rhythms.

 

jazz guitar rhythm

Example 22

 

As mentioned earlier, triplets are used frequently in blues music and are a big part of the vocabulary of blues based players such as Grant Green and Kenny Burrell. The following lick shows a typical Kenny Burrell type of phrase that uses triplets.

 

Burrell Triplet

Example 23

I hope that you have enjoyed playing and working through this breif lesson on jazz guitar rhythm. One common jazz rhythm that’s not mentioned in this article is the charleston rhythm because I already published an article on that. What are some of your favorite rhythms to practice? Share your thoughts in comment section below.

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