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.
Transcribing, learning to play a solo or comping section along with a recording, has long been a favorite learning tool for countless professional and amateur jazz musicians alike. Though most of us may have learned to play along with a solo as a means of developing our harmonic and melodic vocabulary, transcribing can also be used to better our swing feel at the same time.
Write out one chorus from an improvised solo, or take one chorus from a transcription book, and learn to play it along with the original recording. Once we can play all the right notes begin to focus on imitating the feel as well. Pay attention to how long the player holds each note, where they place the accents, when do they add slurs etc, as these elements come together to help define a players swing feel.
Once we can play along with the recording and nail all the notes, while imitating the swing feel, try playing the chorus along with your metronome. Once we can swing as hard with the metronome as we can with the recording we have come a long way to internalizing a solid swing feel.
We can also alternate the transcribed chorus with one of our own, while still keeping the same swing feel for both. Play the transcribed solo along with a play-along or metronome, then for the second time through the tune improvise our own solo. While our notes will be different than the transcribed solo, we can keep the same swing feel in our accents, slurs and note-length. This is a great way to ease ourselves off of a transcribed solo while maintaining the artists swing feel in our own improvisations or comping.
Jamming with Recordings
Instead of learning to play along with our favorite jazz musician note-for-note with a transcription, we can learn just as much about their swing feel by simply jamming along to one of their recordings. For example, if we are trying to imitate Wes Montgomery's swing feel we can put one of Wes' albums and jam along during Wes' solos. Do not worry about playing the same notes as Wes. Instead, jam along with our own licks and phrases while focusing on matching his swing feel.
This can be an exciting and creative way of developing our swing feel as you can jam with our favorite artists but do not have to spend the time on transcribing one of their solos. Since the goal of this exercise is to develop your swing feel, the notes you chose are not as important as they would be if we were working on developing our Bebop vocabulary or harmonic substitution technique.
Accents and Slurs
When playing single-note solos there are a few things we can do to help you swing harder within the context of our lines.
- Accenting the & of every beat can help give us a forward momentum in our solos that will not only drive our lines forward, but will increase our ability to swing hard while soloing. As an exercise take a scale or lick we are working on and accent all of the notes that fall on the & of each beat.
- For example, if we have a line that is played on the beast 1 & 2 &, than the &'s would be louder than the numbers. Pat Martino is a great example of a player who has developed this approach in his lines, and since he is one of the hardest swinging guitarists in jazz it gives you an idea of how important this exercise can be.
- We can also increase your swing feel by slurring from the &'s of beats to the numbered beats (on beats). Take the same scale or lick we were working on in the previous example and slide, hammer-on or pull-off from every & to the next on beat.
- For example, if we have a line that falls on beats 1 & 2 & 3, then we would attack the first two notes, then slur from the & of 1 to beat 2, then pick the & of beat 2 and slur that note to beat 3. Check out players such as Pat Metheny and John Abercromie as these two guitarists use this technique in their soloing, increasing their swing feel and legato at the same time.