When we improvise or solo, rhythmic variety and development are as important as the melodic and harmonic content we are putting out. However, for some reason, the rhythmic aspect of soloing or improvising is often overlooked in music education.
As I’ve mentioned before in previous lessons, we focus mainly on our melodic and harmonic content, but rarely work on our rhythmic ideas. We forget how we can bring excitement and cohesion to our solos by developing rhythms in an organized fashion, just like we do with melodic lines and voicings.
In this lesson, we are going to work on Rhythmic Sequencing.
What is Rhythmic Sequencing? The repetition of a rhythmic motif or idea, using any desired pitches.
In other words, it is an organized way to repeat rhythmical themes, regardless of the notes. An idea is being connected through the rhythms and not through the melodic or harmonic content.
Here’s an example.
The blues “Blue Monk” is a perfect example of Rhythmic Sequencing. In bars 1 and 2 and again in bars 5 and 6, the same rhythmic motif is played twice but with different pitches. However, in bars 10 and 11, another kind of sequencing is displayed. This time, we have the same rhythm, but the phrasing is different. It is displaced.
Rhythmic Sequencing, in general, is a great composer’s tool. It allows us to keep cohesiveness within our ideas. Just like Blue Monk, thousand of compositions rely on sequencing to develop motifs and/or to maintain a relatable theme.
Since improvisation is really just composing sped up, we can use different composition tools to make our solos more organized and the flow of ideas more unified.
For this lesson, we are going to keep working on the blues form. But feel free to practice on other standards song forms like rhythm changes, etc.
Let’s take a short phrase, two or three beats long and place it on each bar of the form.
As you can see, I wrote the idea with no pitches, only rhythmical cues. So follow that rhythmic sequence and improvise using different tones on every bar. Of course, choose the tones inside the chord.
This first exercise may seem like too much or too obvious. We can also work with space; we can leave more of it in between the phrases.
Let’s play the same phrase but every other bar.
Do the same and improvise with different pitches every bar. This time, if you’re choosing the right notes, you’ll notice the cohesiveness of the improvisation. It should sound like a composition.
But, we can take it a step further. With the same phrase, we can create, polyrhythmic sequencing. And we’ll do so, by adding or subtracting space or notes to our rhythmic sequence.
As you notice, I took away the quarter note rest at the end of the short phrase, making the idea a 3/4 rhythmic motif. Now, we are creating a three-against-four phrasing over the first 4 bars of the form.
Again, this may be too much. But it’s a great exercise on tempo and polyrhythms. However, I want you to have an idea on how you can use this polyrhythmic exercises and sequencing more musically.
So I combine the polyrhythmic sequencing, with exercise 2, to leave more space for the band to interact.
As I said before, we can also add space or more notes to the original motif to develop it.
This time we turn our main motif into a 5-beat phrase. As I said before you could work on this all the way through the form. But I’m showing you a musical approach to use them.
Notice how I’m using the 5-beat motif on the first 5 bars of the form, then go back to the “every other bar” idea, and then combine it with exercise 3, which is the 3/4 motif.
The possibilities are limitless.
Remember to work slowly and vary the pitches you use. Create your own rhythmic themes and combine and develop them as you wish. Also, work on different song forms. Combine sequencing on the A sections and something completely different on the B section, or vice versa.
This is a great device to help you expand your vocabulary and creativity when improvising. When you use this concept along with all of the vocabulary and concepts you already have at your disposal, the possibilities grow exponentially.
If you need a helping hand and some harmonic reference, you can use the Learn Jazz Standards Play-Along Tracks to practice all of these exercises.
Put in the work and have fun while doing it!