A lot of these ideas are to be learnt over time and I will add more exercises/ detailed explanations soon!…….

The quarter note is really important to try and internalise. Swing was originally a dance music so having the chance to play for dancers or with a big band could help you become more aware of this. Playing with that idea and listening to records that make you feel good and trying to copy that feel into your playing. Tap your foot, try to play with or watch players that can really swing on their own steam.


Playing things over and over/ jamming with records so that when you play something you mean it, play it solidly and can stand alone without having to be pulled along by a rhythm section. Try listening to different parts of the rhythm section at a time e.g bass once through then ride cymbal once through (I love Elvin Jones’ playing Timeline ). Try improvising one bar then leaving one bar rest, try to imitate that feel from the record when you are not playing..Listen to John Scofield’s solo on A Go Go, how much space there is between each idea, making the whole band much more part of the picture in his solo.


Right hand swing solo
Right hand swing- Start strumming for in a bar using down strokes over a standard (all of me/ Take the A train etc), then add in the off beat accents. Play a few minutes of rhythm before trying to solo, when you solo don’t let the feel created by your right hand drop at all, you could try solo using by strumming single notes, it might sound a little messy at first but it should swing a lot more. Listen to swing you love, for me Wes/ John Pizarelli are good examples.


Polyrhythmic exercise

Aaron Parks ‘Travellers’. This is an amazing composition by Aaron Parks, the score can be found here It is a great piece to try experimenting with polyrhythms. Over the 4/4/4/3 section the drums play quavers grouped in 5’s, hitting the fifth of each quaver group, starting on beat 3 of the first bar then resolving back to there on each subsequent 4/4/4/3. Also in the piano solo quavers grouped in 3’s resolving on the one after each 4/4/4/3. Try writing these ideas out and then slowing them down, clapping them at first and then trying to solo with them. Record a loop to practise over.



no more blues clave;

  1. First learn the melody/ words and rhythmically as accurate as you can.
  2. Then start trying to sing/ play the melody over the son clave. If this is hard first practise playing/clapping all the different parts of the beat against the clave e.g. clap 1st quaver of each bar whilst singing the clave/tap with foot, then 2nd quaver, then 3rd etc. Then try with two quavers together and displace them similarly. This will allow your to play/ tap the melody over the clave more easily without getting put off.


pick any rhythmic figure then play for a set time, e.g. 2 minutes (or 20 minutes?!) You can use the metronome in different ways but for this exercise it is just aimed at playing the line with more conviction. So you could use it at the start and end to check speed up/slow down or also throughout…try both ways. Record yourself to see how you sound against a drum machine or click and develop your ear so you can hear the whole sound and not just your part. When you come to play you will find it less of a battle to groove with the bass player/ drummer.


Time keeping

To practise keeping the tempo and your awareness of it and where the beat is/ placement there are a few exercises you can try:

  1. Having the metronome on very slowly…so start with the click on 80bpm on 2 + 4 playing a blues. Then after a few minutes getting used to that tempo change it to 40 bpm (once every bar), then 20 bpm (once every two bars)…and then 10 bpm (once every four bars). Try to stick with one piece for a while doing this exercise until you can feel a difference in your playing.
  2. Accuracy- as Pat Metheny talks about a lot, the triplet is important in swing. You can try taking a melody (e.g. maybe C jam blues at first. Also Soul Cowboy is a good one as it hits all three parts of the triplet at some point) and slowing it right down and practising it with the metronome clicking on the second triplet. Have the click at a speed you can clearly count “one , two, three”  or ” ta ki ta” or whatever and not feel like you are approximating anything. Then try playing the melody over this.
  3. Here is a rhythmic exercise  I wrote over 26/2, trying to avoid playing on beat 1 and using crotchet triplets across the barline, this helps you to become more aware of the triplet.


When you are on your next gig or jamming or playing along with a record, imagine you are the drummer or pianist and try to see those rhythms on your fretboard.


Transcribe rhythms
Writing out only the rhythm of a solo or song is a lot faster than transcribing all the melodies as well and is a great way to help you learn to hear what’s going on. It could be a lot simpler than you thought.


Semiquaver Rhythmic study

This study is designed to increase awareness of all parts of the beat.


1)First try to clap the rhythm of the bass line with the metronome no faster than 60bpm on the beat. So 60bpm is 4 clicks per bar.

2)Then try to record that.

3) Now try to clap the melody’s rhythm against the recording.

4) Then try to play it.

5) Try it all again with the click on a different part of the beat.

6)Cry in pain



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