One of the most common questions I am asked by students in private lessons or clinics, is "How do I swing harder?" Developing a strong swing feel may come easy to some players, but for the rest of us we have to consciously practice our feel everyday to make sure we can swing as hard as our favorite players. In the same way that there are proven ways to practice to develop our harmonic vocabulary, we can also practice exercises in our daily routine that will help us to further develop our swing feel.
Using a Metronome
Though metronome's do not technically "swing" on their own, they can be a great tool when working on developing our swing feel as both a soloist and comper. There are three ways in which we can use a metronome when practicing time and feel.
- Set the metronome to click on all four beats of the bar. Then practice playing a lick, scale or comp through a tune we are working on while accenting the second and fourth beats of the bar. This will help us get used to feeling the pulse of the bar on these two beats, which can often pose a challenge for inexperienced jazzers.
- Once we can comp and/or play single lines while accenting beats two and four, take off the "training wheels" and set the metronome to click on only beats two and four. This may take a while to get used to as most non-jazz genres of music accent beats one and three.
- Try and count along with the metronome for a few bars before diving in with whatever exercise we may be working on. Counting along with the metronome will also help you get back on track if we "flip the beat", which means that we started on beats two and four but "flipped" that over to beats one and three.
- If we find it easy to play along with the first two steps and are starting to internalize the accents on beats two and four, then we can try placing the metronome on the fourth beat of every bar. This is quite tricky so again, try counting along with the metronome without your instrument until we can feel the fourth beat, rather than count it.
- Once we can feel the fourth beat on your own, try jamming along to a favorite standard or playing through an exercise we are working on with the metronome only on the fourth beat. Again, count along with the metronome at first to make sure we can correct ourselves if we flip the beat.
While there is no replacement for jamming along with a live band, play-along CD's and Mp3's can act as a great substitute in our practice routine. The Jamey Aebersold play-along series has over a hundred volumes with a dozen or so songs on each CD/book. The musicians on these play-along recordings are some of the best, and hardest swinging, jazz musicians in the world.
There is nothing better for our swing feel than jamming along to a rhythm section that features Ron Carter on bass or Joey DeFrancesco on Organ. We can also turn off the piano or bass on each recording by panning to the left or right speaker on your CD player or computer. This can further develop our swing feel as you can take the place of the piano or bass on any of our favorite tunes.