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Improving Rhythmic Precision by Avoiding the Downbeat

In this post, I’ll be expanding on a previous lesson, entitled: 5 Exercises to Expand Your Rhythmic Precision and Time Feel.

In that lesson, I discussed the importance of rhythmic precision, and how being able to play rhythms with accuracy makes a big difference in the way we sound and the confidence we transmit when we play.

Also, I talked about how rhythmic precision is the secret sauce that makes the difference between an amateur musician and a professional one, even when they play the same musical material.

I’ll be expanding on that by giving you more exercises to help improve your rhythmic precision.

Back in college, I was fortunate enough to attend a class called, Rhythm Section Seminar. The great bass player John Patitucci used to teach that class.

NOTE: If you don’t know who John is, please go right now and check him out. He is one of the most important bass players in the contemporary and modern jazz scenes. He’s worked for the likes of Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Ed Simon, and many more.

In that class, John was very insistent and told us numerous times to work on our rhythms. He gave us a series of exercises to do precisely that.

He would repeat again and again that it is often not the content of an idea that matters. Many amateur musicians have great ideas, but the difference between a memorable performance and an “okay” one, is the rhythmic accuracy with which those ideas are executed.

So, here I’ll share with you some exercises based on those I practiced when I took that fantastic class years ago.

We’ll focus on avoiding playing downbeats.

There is nothing wrong with playing them, but we tend to rely on them to keep our place within the time. If we use them as a crutch, we will find that our rhythmic precision crumbles when they are not present.

The following exercises are designed in such a way that you play different subdivision rates like 8th notes, 16th notes, and 8th note triplets, but never play the downbeats.


8th Notes:

8th Parts8th Notes Triplets:

Triplet Part16th Notes:

16th Parts

The idea of the exercise is to memorize those partials and improvise with them, avoiding at all cost playing any downbeats.

You can start with only one subdivision at a time, but the goal is combining all of them within the same exercise.

The following examples will illustrate better the idea.

Note that the cowbell on the recording is playing quarter notes.

Example1: 8th Notes

8th Notes NDB LJS

As you probably noticed, we are only using the 8th note partial. All the notes are on the upbeats. You can also practice this exercise with a swing feel.

Let’s do the same with 8th notes triplets.

Example 2: 8th Note Triplets

Triplets NDB LJS

Same thing here; we’re combing all the different triplet partials and avoiding the downbeat.

Example 3: 16th Notes

16th NDB LJS

And finally, we can combine all the different partials into one exercise.

Example 4: Mixed Subdivision Partials

Mixed NDB LJS 

Remember, these are just examples.

The main idea is to memorize the partials and freely improvise with them, avoiding the downbeats as an exercise. You can play the exercises over different song forms like a 12-bars Blues, or Rhythm Changes, or any other song you’re working on right now.

DO NOT tap the downbeats with your feet, make sure you can feel the downbeat within your head. But avoid keeping track of it physically.

Practice it slow and increase the tempo as you get comfortable. Record yourself; the video or audio recording will not lie to you.

It is challenging, but the results are extraordinary. Give it a try, and you’ll notice the difference.

Hope this was helpful, and remember to leave your comments and thoughts down in the comment section. Also, you can go and follow me on my social media profiles (Instagram and Facebook) and share your ideas, comments or thoughts about the lessons.

Diego Maldonado
Diego Maldonadohttp://www.diegothedrummer.com/
Diego is a professional jazz drummer, composer, and educator. He is originally from Venezuela and currently living in New York City. He attended The Collective School of Music and The City College of New York where he earned, with honors, a Bachelor degree in Jazz Performance.Diego has become an active member of the exciting city’s jazz scene, both as a performer and educator, playing with artists such as Will Vinson, Doug Weiss, Kenny Werner, Tim Hagans, Mike Holober, Mimi Jones, Lukas Gabric, Josiah Boornazian, Antonio Mazzei, Brent Vaartstra, Coyote Anderson, among many others.Diego is an Agean Cymbals and Vater Percussion Artist.

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