The Secrets of Improvisation – Part Two

Rhythmic Improvisation

Certainly if you want to play Jazz or Rock, or pretty much any style of music developed since 1900, you should be able to improvise rhythms.

However, even if you just want to play Classical music, practicing improvisation will still be helpful because it develops basic skills to a higher level than just reading notes does.

If we draw a comparison to talking, certainly you wouldn’t think of only speaking from a prepared script. So as a musician, why only play what is written on the page?

You will reach a higher level of command over rhythm, if you practice improvising rhythms.

Do the following drills by clapping, counting out loud and tapping your foot. Then play on your instrument, at first just one note or a chord.  After you are proficient, improvise with scales, etc.

  1. 4/4 (no sub-beats) only quarter,half,dotted half, whole notes & rests
  2. 3/4 (no sub-beats) only quarter,half,dotted half,whole notes & rests
  3. 4/4 in eighth note feel
  4. 3/4 in eighth note feel
  5. 4/4 in triplet feel
  6. 3/4 in triplet feel
  7. 4/4 in sixteenth note feel
  8. 3/4 in sixteenth note feel

Practice with a metronome.  The speed depends on your level: beginner, intermediate or advanced.  Here are some guidelines.

#1 & #2 from 120 – 240 BPM

#3 & #4 from 90 – 208 BPM

#5 & #6 from 60 – 140 BPM

#7 & #8 from 46 – 104 BPM

Work up to a point where you can freely improvise in each format including all the basic rhythmic figures and variations in dynamics.

To become a great improviser requires lots of knowledge about scales and chords and many other things.  An understanding of various styles of music and what those styles are composed of rhythmically, is very important.

See below for a list of styles and their rhythmic feels. This is a partial list. Some styles cross feels.

Eighth Note Feel

Pop ballads, Bossa Nova, Cha-cha, Rock, Pop Rock, Waltz, Tango

Triplet (Swing) Feel

Shuffle, Blues, 50’s, Dixieland, Swing, Bebop, Straight Ahead (Jazz), Jazz waltz, Country waltz, Show tunes, Reggae, Standards, Gospel

Sixteenth note feel

(Sometimes written as eighth notes in cut time)

Funk, R&B, Disco, Jazz Rock, Samba, Salsa, Calypso, Caribbean, Pop ballads, Fusion, Funk/Rock, Cumbia

Sixteenth note triplets ~ “swing sixteenths” feel

Hip – Hop, Funky Shuffle, Smooth Jazz, Modern Rock, R&B styles

If you play in the rhythm section: keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, it is also a good idea to practice improvising grooves.

A groove is a repeating rhythmic pattern, usually one or two bars long, that is played by one of the rhythm section instruments. Each player could be playing a different groove and they all work together or several players could be playing the same groove.

A groove ‘lays down the bed’ for the melody instruments to play on. Grooves will most commonly repeat for a section of a tune and then change to a new pattern for a new section. Fills would be played at the end of melodic phrases (commonly every 4 or 8 bars).

Rhythmic Improvisation is a very important secret of improvisation.

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