HS Virtual Jazz: Rhythm

II. Rhythm

A. Basic Definition

1. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, rhythm is a regular pattern formed by a series of notes of differing duration and stress.

2. That part of the music which concerns how long or short each note is played

3. The beat of the music

4. That part of the music that makes the listener want to to tap his/her foot

5. The “feel” of a tune (song); a tune’s “groove” (i.e., rock, funk, swing, salsa, etc.) B. Jazz Rhythms

Jazz rhythms can range from simple to extremely complex. However, underlying even the most complex rhythms performed by each individual musician in a jazz group is an underlying pulse (the beat) – that which makes the listener able to tap his/her foot with the music8.

C. Tempo: The Speed of the Pulse (Beat)

1. The speed at which the listener (or the player) taps his/her foot is the tempo of that particular version of a tune.

2. Tempos in jazz range from very slow (ballads) to extremely fast (tunes that are “burning”).

D. Syncopation

1. The accenting of beats that are normally not accented

2. Stressing the notes that are on the up beat (i.e., when one’s foot is in the air – or up position – when tapping normally with the beat of the music)

E. Swing

1. A difficult-to-define rhythmic concept

2. For the musician, the definition of swing, among other complexities, is a manner of playing a steady stream of notes in a long-short-long-short pattern

3. For the listener (as well as the player), swing refers to the music’s buoyancy, rhythmic lilt, liveliness, and cohesiveness

4 If a jazz performance has constant tempo (not slowing down or speeding up), rhythmically cohesive group playing, syncopation, and an upbeat feeling, it’s swinging

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Swing Eighth Notes – Mark Gridley

F. As Natural as Breathing

Through listening to jazz recordings (as well as live jazz), practice, and performance, jazz musicians internalize the rhythmic element so completely that it is as natural for them as breathing.

G. What Makes Jazz, Jazz

The often subtle and varied use of a multitude of simple and complex rhythms, all interwoven extemporaneously into one cohesive sound, is, perhaps more than any other element, what makes jazz, jazz.

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