Demonstrating the tangible elements of good jazz time

On Monday’s post I asked readers the question, what is your feel for time? I wanted to raise the idea of being aware of one’s personal feel for time and of the importance of good time in jazz improvisation.

I also made the point that good time trumps carefully chosen ‘right’ notes. Even the most well-composed solo falls short when played with inconsistent time and no groove.

So, for my little social experiment, I asked readers to submit a sample of their playing along with their description of their own feel for time. Players sent me responses that make my point. If they had played all those notes with swinging, grooving time, their improvisations would have been much much better.

Part of my motivation in requesting readers to describe their sense of time and how it manifests itself in their improvising was to see how aware they are of this critical musical element. The above quote is praise-worthy. I’m not sure how aware less experienced jazz musicians are of that tendency.

The objective is to have notes, harmony, time, and rhythm so ingrained into your musical subconscious that nothing is stealing away focus from anything, but if it isn’t yet for you, at least be aware of it.


I think of groove or swinging time as a three-legged stool. All three legs must be strong and doing their part.

The three legs are flow, articulation, and dynamics, and just like other elements of good music, those three must be embedded deep within you.

Flow is the smooth passage of time, like a moving stream. It doesn’t halt or waver. It just flows.

Articulation is the personality of the notes. Short, long, hard, smeared, gentle all describe how each note can be played.

Dynamics is the volume of each note and that of every phrase they form.

They all work together so that if one is missing, the swing or groove will suffer.

Listen to the following first A section of the trombone player’s recording:


The lines he played made for good phrases. What is missing is the three-legged stool.

Start with dynamics. He played each note with a very similar dynamic. Loud. Speaking as a trombone player, if each note is equally heavy, you’re going to have a very tough time creating a musical flow.

Regarding articulation, there is very little variation. Similar to the dynamics, each articulation is hard. Again, that’s weighting down the possibility for flow.

The resulting flow is inconsistent. Consider his dynamics and articulation, and combine that with rushed notes and phrases. Rushing time can be a groove or swing killer.

I sent back to this player a recording I made of my own version of this segment of ‘S Wonderful. I did that in order to better illustrate my points. It’s nearly impossible to describe the beautiful flow of music using words.

I’m not suggesting that my version is necessarily beautiful, but it does demonstrate the three legs. Listen to it below:


Don’t be distracted by the better recording quality of my version. I was going for the clearest possible representation so that you can hear the nuances comprising my own sense of time and rhythm. In fact, ‘nuance’ is a very good word for much of good time. The process of articulating good time is super subtle even though the result is super obvious.

After hearing my version, the trombone player wrote back one last thing that was perceptive:

In other words, he heard that the goal is not metronomically perfect time but instead, a dance with time.

And speaking of dancing, I am rehearsing my parts for some upcoming salsa gigs and can attest to the fact that a good Latin groove demands all three legs of the stool. Salsa solos should add infectious energy to the room, and even though blasting an energetic trombone salsa solo requires loud and hard articulation, it must still be balanced with enough variety to keep the dancers in full gear! The groove.

So as you listen to the music of others and of yourself, think about the three legs of the stool and be able to identify what is making or breaking swing and groove.

1 thought on “Demonstrating the tangible elements of good jazz time”

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    Carlos Murgueitio

    I could definitely hear how being “Perfect” prevents us from being US, I know it sounds willy-nilly but it’s like in real life, when we strive for perfection we end up far from being our true selves and less prone to take risks !

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Michael Lake

Michael Lake

Trombonist, author, composer, marketer

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