Rhythmic accuracy and variety are some of the skills I value the most in musicians. When I go out to see live music, something that keeps me interested and wanting to hear more from the band is their ability to create tension and excitement by using rhythms.

For some people, this skill is something only available for advanced players, but there is nothing further from the truth. There are several simple tools which can be used in order to spice up our rhythmic vocabulary. Of course, they need to be practiced and mastery takes time, but even as beginners we can and should start putting them to use.

The first concept we will be discussing is Accents.

An accent is when we stress, emphasize or give a stronger attack to a certain note, or chord. Accents, when placed in unusual places, can completely change the feel of the phrasing. Many of the great and historic jazz players are recognized by their unusual placement of accent in their phrasing. For instance, drum legend Elvin Jones, was famous because of his unique use of accents.

The great news is that you don’t need to be a professional, accomplished jazz musician to use accents. Pretty much any beginner player can play a note louder than another. The concern is where to put those accents in order to make the rhythmic idea interesting.

So, here is when odd groupings come into play.

Odd grouping means that we organize or group notes so their natural accent doesn’t land on the original pulse or strong beats of the measure. For instance: if we play 8th notes in a bar of 4/4 and we accent or give a different sound to every third note, that’s going to create a rhythmic illusion. So, those group of three notes over the 8th notes is what we call odd groups.

Exercise #1

So we can create odd groups basically over any kind of notes we play, like triplets.

Exercise #2

Here I’m playing groups of two notes over 8th note triplets.

So for this lesson, we are going to use accents and the odd grouping concept to create cross-rhythms and the illusion of metric modulation. Therefore giving you new tools to spice up your rhythmic ideas.

Let’s begin!

I’m going to work with some basic odd groupings that are often used in jazz. I would say they are the most common ones in western music. So it is important to familiarize yourself with them.

To start let’s go over the most common odd group over 8th notes.

Exercise #3

So, Here we have runs of 8th notes but they are accented on every third note. The resulting rhythm is what we call a cross-rhythm or 3:4 polyrhythm.

Now, Let’s do the same over some 8th note triplets.

Exercise #4

In this case, by accenting every fourth note, we come up with a 4:3 polyrhythm. Very popular in jazz.

Now, let’s accent every fifth note. This is another one frequently used in jazz.

Exercise #5

Now let’s go to 16th notes. This one is similar to the first one we did. We are going to play 16th notes and accent every third note.

Exercise #6

This one is also very common in jazz and many other music styles.

Let’s do accents on every fifth note now. It gets more complicated, but this one is very interesting to play.

Exercise #7

Now, we can do the same exercises but starting the accents from the second note, as follows.

Exercise #8

Exercise #9

Exercise #10

Exercise #11

Exercise #12

So as you can see, just by moving the accent one note, it changes the feel completely and actually makes the exercises a bit more interesting. Starting from the second note is one of my favorite ways to apply these rhythmic ideas.

You can also keep displacing the first accent and come up with different starting points. Try them out.

Now that we have all these ideas, you must be wondering, How do I practice all of these?

How to Practice These Without Your Instrument:

The first way to go around these is trying to internalize these rhythms without using an instrument. For that, I like to do the following:

  1. First, clap the basic subdivision. In case of Ex. 3, we are going to clap 8th notes.

  2. Then add your foot, either left or right, and start tapping on the main quarter note pulse.

  3. Next, add the accent. For this, clap harder on the notes that have the accent on top.

  4. Once you are comfortable with those first three steps, then add a count. I highly recommend you to count out loud: 1, 2, 3, 4.

This can be challenging, it took me a while to be able to count and play these exercises at the same time. But once you master it, you’ll notice how familiar they become and easy to incorporate into your playing.

Another thing you can do is, instead of playing the accent with the hands, you can sing the accent with short syllables like Tic, or click or any other you wish. So basically, you follow step 1 and 2 from the previous exercise, but instead of clapping harder to play the accents you are going to sing them.

How to Practice These With Your Instrument:

Another thing I like to do when learning new rhythmic ideas is to play them along with songs I’m working on. You can play your favorite record and start clapping over, or take any of the Learn Jazz Standards Play-Along tracks and do exactly the same.

By doing this, you’ll start figuring out how the groupings fit within the changes and/or the melody. This is helpful when applying these ideas to real musical situations because you don’t want to get lost or turned around.

Also, on your instrument, you can apply these ideas to your daily warm-up routines, like scales or arpeggios, etc. Instead of playing the boring scales up and down, you can play them but stressing every third note or fifth note.

You can apply them to comping patterns, for instance, the 16th notes based examples are great to use over Brazilian music or another type of straight 8th notes styles.

In the near future, I will be giving you more ideas on how to use odd grouping to spice up your rhythm game.

Remember if you have questions or just wish to share your thoughts, you can always drop a line in the comment section, or go and follow me on Instagram and Facebook and direct message me. I’m always happy to talk to you and here your comment, suggestion, and adventures in music.

30 Days to Better Jazz Playing


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