Sunday, January 30, 2011

Swing Thoughts Part 3

Some of this discussion on swing can get very technical. This is because I'm at a point now where I'm becoming conscious of what it takes to play jazz at a pro level.

This is a continuation of the journey to improve articulation and swing and part 3 of the thought process.

The more I think about the "swung eighth" position that I illustrated rhythmically in part 1, the more ideas are popping into my head.

How exactly do the masters line up their eighth notes so it fits that position of landing the offbeat on the 3 of the triplet (what I've been calling the sweet spot)? I discussed the Erskine vocalized "Uh" as the subdivision mechanism but's really hard to apply at a fast tempo, especially on the first note.

So on to further analysis. Here in this recording, I was playing with my teacher on two pianos. I just extracted his portion of the solo so I can analyze his groove. Very relaxed feel here. This is a very simple version of ATTYA so it's easy to understand. Rhythm section is iRealBook from an Iphone.

I know that I'm right that of the offbeat eighth lands on the 3 of a triplet (a triplet representing two eighths), it will swing even if the eighths are played straight. That was already proven by the sequenced recordings in part 2. But now here is a real player playing straight eighths and it swings.

I think I figured it out. He's playing the first eighth as a dotted eighth (so slightly longer) and then the rest of the eighths are played straight. That's how you make straight eighths swing. I was playing with one of the phrases over and over and I can feel the difference in each note length.

That's my theory at the moment. Listen to the recording. I sense that the first eighth, especially starting from a rest is longer. A dotted eighth would be an exact match rhythmically.

This is a mind boggling discovery if true because it give a precise way of getting a groove. So the rest is just how even you can play your eighths (like Classical).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Analyzing Swing in Modern Jazz - Part 2

This is part 2 of Swing Analysis. It's probably better to start with Part 1 if you are interested in this topic.

Scott, from our jazz threads took my concept of subdividing pairs of eighths in 6 (24 to a bar), and seeing what it sounds like when played against a rhythm section. He used a sequencer to make the minute adjustments necessary. And the results are below.

And I was shocked to discover that apparently my theory is correct. Now this is uptempo (220 bpm) so you'll have to just get the feel of it.

The theory of this is explained in Part 1. The "Triplet Feel" playing is how beginners typically perceive jazz. The typical swing explanation is called "Long-Short Long-Short ...". Or in notation it will be seen as a Dotted Eighth + Sixteenth. It is in fact true that this rhythm is very important in jazz because this is the rhythm of the drummer's Ride Cymbal.

However, it is UNTRUE that this extends to how jazz is played on the piano or any other instrument. As you will hear in the examples below, you can play Straight (even) eighth pairs and still swing, as long as the offbeat eighth lands in the sweet spot of the swing groove. In this is done by DRAGGING/DELAYING the beat.

Triplet Feel
This feel is the exaggerated Jazz rhythm that you don't actually hear anywhere other than from beginners and non-jazz players. This what my teacher discouraged me from playing as it is not authentic.

Straight Eighths
This is an example of a playing style of some pianists where you play even eighths but you make it swing by dragging it a particular amount. See the Part 1 Thread for how much it is dragged in this example.

There is another range of playing which is in between the triplet feel and the straight eighth feel. My theory is that a harder swing is done by moving the downbeat closer to the top of the beat (from the straight eighth) while the offbeat always stays in place.

When we get another recording example, this point will be proven too. So the conclusion is that when playing jazz, don't think so much of Long-Short, but "lay back" and sense the groove that is the swing eighth in the offbeat. The 'A' in the Drummer's Jazz 'Ding-A-Ding rhythm', the 3 in a triplet.

This is not easy to do. Part 1 showed some examples of how to practice that using sounds to subdivide.

Now what's not discussed here is the accents. The way jazz works is that we focus on the offbeat. So in addition to landing on the sweet spot 3 in the triplet (the swing eighth), we also accent that eighth. How much you accent is an articulation choice and tends to happen more on the medium tempos.

Wynton Kelly, who I consider THE swing master, used a lot of accents. Kelly played in a harder swing closer to the triplet feel and mixed it with the straight eighths laid back and oftentimes in the same tune.

It's only now that I studied these rhythms in a finer subdivision that I understand what he's really doing now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Analyzing Swing in Modern Jazz - Part 1

I was trying to solve a problem for myself. How do I keep a swing feel at a faster tempo when I'm playing straight eighths? This discovery is the result of that thought process. Below is an analysis of a typical jazz beat and I'm showing two bars in each example. The analysis of swing for me starts with understanding the beat subdivisions.

The result of this little process was very illuminating. I've tried to explain this in words before but it never came out clearly because I didn't really think it out. Thanks to our drummer friends on the Jazz Advanced Thread, I finally got to thinking about this like a drummer. Step 1 was to watch a lot of Peter Erskine instructional videos on Jazz drumming on Youtube. And that got me thinking.

So here's the progression of the thought process...

A. Quarter Note Pulse
|x x x x |x x x x |

B. Eighth Notes - if played Straight
|x x x x x x x   |x x x x x x x   |

C. Straight Eighths - Translated to 24/8
I'm translating this to 24/8 - so I can demonstrate a point. So shown below, the 8th notes played straight starts on 1 of each triplet

|Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx |Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx |

D. Triplet Feel - Shown in 24/8The drummer plays a ride cymbal pattern which sets the swing groove and often heard as 'Ding-a-Ding'. This is the pattern shown below. Beginning pianists make the mistake of playing this same rhythm as the drummer and the swing doesn't breath. It sounds mechanical and hokey. Many pianists will play a less extreme version of this with the offbeat 8th note being played in between the 1st and 2nd note of the triplet.

|Xxx xXx Xxx xXx Xxx xXx Xxx xXx |Xxx xXx Xxx xXx Xxx xXx Xxx xXx |

This pattern of 8th note pairs is also shown in music notation as Dotted Eighth + 16th (instead of a pair of Eighths). When jazz is notated, this swing is not notated and is instead just stated as 'Swing'.

In case you're wondering, the 24/8 may not visually make sense since swing is often thought of as 12/8 as in this format.
|Xx X Xx X Xx X Xx X |Xx X Xx X Xx X Xx X |
E. Alternate Drag the Beat Feel Playing Straight Eighths
Modern jazz pianists take more from the horn players when doing swing. I was taught this by feel but didn't know why it worked. I can hear it everywhere. This style of playing is the modern interpretation of swing. Eighths are played fairly straight (even lengths). But the beat is dragged slightly.

|xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx |xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx |

Now look at section E above. Observe that the offbeat 8th matches the swing eighth of the Triplet feel swing in D. In other words, the offbeat 8th is played on the '-A-' of the Ding-A-Ding ride cymbal pattern.

Observe also that the downbeat eighths are dragged. They don't start on 1 of the triplet. You might think this is called 'swung' as well but it isn't. That's because swing occurs on the offbeat.

So the effect of dragging the beat while playing straight eighths is that you in effect cause a swing feel. I hear this playing of the drag a lot when I listen to Herbie Hancock. He's my best piano example of this since I can hear him adjust the drag so there's a little more to the placement than the exact Ding-A-Ding.

Practically every Horn Bebop player drags straight eighths like this from what my ear tells me. Dizzy, Bird, Coltrane, Rollins but it's hard to explain on the piano since we have a more percussive attack.

Now here's why this analysis come about. I was listening to my jam recordings and whenever the tune gets a little more uptempo, I start sounding more and more mechanical. Now you can't really do a shuffle beat at a fast tempo. At 200bpm for example, it's classical music evenness.

So how do I fix my swing? At a higher tempo, one has to accept that the eighths will be even as very few have the technique to maintain a hard swing and keep a groove. Besides it doesn't sound good.

I was taught swing by accenting the downbeats. But even accenting downbeats is not possible at 200bpm.

The answer apparently, is to drag the beat. As shown above, without further thought, dragging the beat will swing.

How to do this in practice, especially since I'm supposed to play a tune at 200bpm on Monday? I played a drum track on my iRealBook app at 200bpm and thought about it. It's pretty hard to synchronize to the offbeat 8th (the 'A' in Ding-A-Ding on ride cymbal). As it is it's going so fast that I can only sync to the quarter notes.

The solution: think of each note I play as Uh-Gah Uh-Gah Uh-Gah. Two sounds but very close together. I got this idea from Erskine since he made this sound as his internal subdivision guide. Then I think of the Gah as the top of the beat. But I hit the key on the Uh. This seems to give me a good practice point for maintaining a drag at a higher tempo.

Now there's a point where I can possibly hear this (250bpm and above?). But I think this is highly applicable in the 150-200bpm range where I typically play straight eighths.

BTW - typical of the straight eighth playing style is to accent the offbeats. But as you go past 170bpm, even that is pretty hard to do. Also, you can't really play straight eighths below 140bpm. You'll have to get closer to triplet feel.

But the secret to understanding this is in using a finer subdivision.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Roland FP7FSamples

Here's some improv postings I made to see if the Roland FP7F sounds good in a Trio mix

Stella by Starligh
This one had a higher reverb and touch was set to "Light"

Blue Bossa
Touch was set to medium and reverb was very minimal. Just one value up from completely dry.

Very Early
This was head only and solo piano. Just to compare the difference between solo piano and combo.

All the Things You Are

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Struggle at Evenness and Time Control

When I listen to a pro jazz player play, I'm frustrated to not be able to play with the control and evenness in time that they can do. As I listen to my own recordings, it's fraught with technical flaws.

I realize that this is the difficulty with jazz. I think I've gotten to a point now where I can play mostly with my ears and less with my fingers. And this means that sometimes the fingers end up in a position not conducive to a good tone. Or sometimes I get too excited thinking about the melodies coming out that I'm over-accenting. Or it gets out of time a little as I try to recover from some position to go to the next note.

It's the next big hurdle for me that makes me sound amateurish. I think that hearing these flaws is the beginning stages of my improvement here. I probably couldn't hear these much before.

I was asking my teacher this question and I actually had him listen to my jam session performance. To him it was all good. He said I could hear when I was going out of time and then I readjust. But when I hear a professional play, I don't hear this. So maybe they're just adjusting their time at a more frequent rate than me. This is jazz after all and we don't exactly know what we're going to play until we do it.

In the meantime I've realized that part of the culprit is my LH. Due to less technical development, it will tend to waver in time more and it affects the RH. Lately, I've been more focused on improving LH scales and listen more closely at a finer level. Also by practicing Walking bass I can pay more attention to the LH.

The other solution is to make my phrases shorter. Trying to play long lines like Keith Jarrett isn't going to help. I've known this for awhile. Frequent spaces in playing is not just "breathing" and syncopation. It's a chance to listen to reestablish the groove. I've been told this a zillion times. But maybe it's just sinking in now that the "listening" part has been missing.

Another thing I just recently discovered, and related to listening, is that to check my overall sound, I'm typically paying attention to the strike points in my playing. What I mean here is that I'm focused on the sound of my notes beginning. I'm noticing an improvement in my evenness if I listen to the length of the whole note playing. It changes my perception quite a bit. There's a masterclass on Youtube by Hal Galper here At about 12:00 in, this is what I'm talking about.
Hopefully, my strong awareness of these problems will lead to a shorter term solution. The technique unfortunately takes time but maybe by listening and more frequently readjusting, it will be less obvious.