Once we’ve mastered some of the basic types of jazz vocabulary, we’re always striving to find new and interesting ways of breaking up and varying our improvised melodies.
One of the most effective ways to spice up your melodic improvisation is to incorporate rhythmically asymmetrical melodic ideas.
By asymmetrical, I mean melodic fragments that rhythmically don’t line up with a typical 4/4 metric grid when repeated.
The basic idea is to sequence a melodic fragment in a surprising or unpredictable way. It’s a simple trick that will help you generate “over-the-bar-line” ideas that add rhythmic variety, suspense, and vitality to your solos.
You can start by simply taking a melodic idea that fits on a 4/4 grid and play the same melody using triplets. Or you can play a phrase that implies a different meter, such as playing idea in groupings of 3 quarter notes (implying 3/4 time) over a tune in 4/4.
A classic example is to play a phrase based on dotted quarter notes over a song in 4/4 (also implying 3/4 or 6/8 time).
To take it a step further, you can play melodic sequences based on note groupings of 3, 5, 7, 9 (or any other odd number). Then you can take odd number melodic groupings and play them in eighth notes, quarter notes, triplets, or some combination.
To get a handle on this concept, first practice basic scales and scale fragments in predictable patterns. Here are some examples:
Then try to take the basic idea of odd groupings and make it less predictable by changing up the interval relationships of your sequence, by interrupting and restarting your sequence at random, and/or by fragmenting it (i.e., breaking it up into smaller chunks and strategically leaving notes out and/or skipping parts of the pattern).
Also, you can take short fragments of your initial melodic sequence idea and rhythmically displace it, stopping and starting each phrase on a different part of the bar and/or beat.
Clearly accenting and articulating the rhythmic groupings is important for effectively communicating the underlying idea behind the odd phrase lengths.
Here’s an example of a 12-bar blues in F where each phrase is based on melodic groupings of 5 (broken down into groupings of 2+ 3) all played in 8th-note triplets (note the phrase markings and articulations which help make the concept more rhythmic effective):
In the above example chorus, the 5/8 groupings in 8th-note triplets idea is overused and it’s definitely overkilled.
But I just wanted to cram a bunch of ideas in there to inspire you as you come up with your own odd groupings to use as a basis for melodic sequences.
I hope you find this concept useful. Happy practicing!