5 Max Grosch Tips for Improving Jazz Rhythm | Focus


This is an excerpt from a Technical article by Pauline Harding originally published in the October 2016 issue

1. Dig into the rhythm

When played with rhythmic conviction, jazz works. Miles Davis played notes that didn’t always match harmonically, but he did it with strong rhythm and articulation, and everyone thought that was the best thing ever.

There are two levels of rhythm. In classical music it is often horizontal and pulsating, moving with the melodic line; in jazz, it is both vertical and anchored for the rhythm section groove and horizontal for the melodic line.

We need to stay on the beat and add more “dig” to connect the two. This tends to tire string players, as the instrument resonates best when using the “classic” pulsating feel and phrasing.

Ultimately, in jazz, our goal is to feel the rhythm inside while playing the horizontal melody with the bow.

2. Listen to the masters

I suggest finding a CD you really like – Stephane Grappelli, or even Miles Davis or Chet Baker – and listening to a track so many times that you can start singing along and extracting phrases.

This will allow you to understand the fantastic notes and rhythms played by jazzmasters; it will teach you when to play, how to express, and where to rest and breathe.

Then you can try to learn these phrases on your instrument. If you play with Grappelli for a few days, you will find that you really start to sound like him – certainly, on your instrument and with your own abilities, but with the same sweetness.

It’s much harder if you’re trying to learn from a book right away. It’s like asking a baby to learn to speak using a dictionary.

3. Try some simple jazz standards

Autumn Leaves, Lullaby of Birdland and Fly Me to the Moon are all good simple tracks to start with, as they aren’t harmonically difficult and don’t have extreme tonal shifts. Learn the melody by heart. Once you understand the phrasing, compose your own rhythms to complement the melody. You can also add neighboring notes and trills.

4. Repetition is key

Just because you’re working on something creative doesn’t mean you have to play mindless and “doodle” all the time. Choose an aspect to work on, and think about bowing, for example, and work on it until you feel comfortable. After that, you can start being creative again.

5. A little practice goes a long way

If you add 20 minutes of jazz to your daily practice routine, you can cover a lot of ground. Listening to player recordings should be done in addition to this.

I like to listen to jazz recordings when I’m in the car; if I’m on the train and there aren’t too many people, sometimes I even take out my violin and immediately start copying what I’m listening to.

When you start doing these little improvisation exercises, it really makes you a better player. It’s basically sight-reading by ear, and that makes you more flexible.

This is an excerpt from an article originally published in the October 2016 issue of The Strad.


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