It’s all about your time

A LOT of you have taken advantage of my offer to sign up for Pocket Jazz for free. Some have come back asking when they must pay once the free trial is up and my answer is “Never. It’s not a trial”.

Am I just some wealthy philanthropist looking to spread good throughout the world? No.

Pocket Jazz is the best way I’ve come up with yet to engage with more jazz players who are searching for answers to play more like they imagine they can.

This week, one Pocket Jazz member sent me a sample of his guitar playing and asked for feedback. Players send me playing samples from time to time, and it usually inspires me to write something like this…


About Time

If I could wave a magic wand that could change just one thing about the playing sample he sent me, it would be his time. The notes he played, however, were good.

One of the Pocket Jazz lessons in the ‘Time’ section is called Articulation. In that lesson I share a couple of phrases recorded and sent to me by a trombone player a few months ago. I then play those exact same notes over the same changes in the same tempo, but with what I’ll call good jazz time. Purposeful articulation.

The point of the lesson is to demonstrate that by placing the notes better within the time, those same notes sound so much better. They swing. 

Click the video image to the right to watch the three minute lesson called Articulation from the ‘Better Rhythm’ section of the course.

Hopefully this is making you want to sign up for Pocket Jazz if you haven’t yet. Grab your log-in for the course here.

See, the point about time is that it is so much more than the mechanical triplet feel you were first taught of TAA ta TAA ta TAA ta TAA.

That subdivision taught you how jazz eighth notes are different from marching band eighth notes, but when you apply that articulation to playing over Autumn Leaves, something is missing. You don’t exactly sound like Miles at the Antibes Festival. Why Not? 


Remember that the title of this Pocket Jazz lesson is Articulation. Can you hear how many ways Miles attacks and releases his notes? From barely separated legato all the way to hard staccato and everything in between. TAA ta TAA ta TAA ta TAA? I don’t think so.


The Bigger Picture

Good jazz time is not only about how you use your fingers or tongue to produce a note. That covers the mechanics, but what is driving the tongue and fingers to produce those articulations? Attitude and mindset.

We often forget that the point of playing jazz is to tell an interesting story, not to manufacture all the ‘right’ notes that can fit fully into the tune form. And too many players have the mindset of ‘the more the better’.

Time, in my opinion, is more about your attitude than any clock-perfect string of pitches. You can train yourself to play perfect click click click with a metronome in order to set a technical foundation for playing accurately-timed notes on your instrument, but at a certain point (sooner rather than later) you need to hear and feel the flow of human time and groove. 

As with the mechanical structure of a house, having a good foundation for the production of notes in time will beneficial you. But if all you have musically is just that metronomic foundational sense of time, you’ll build a musical house that sounds like this…

… instead of  a house with a strong foundation that from the ground up reflects the special human personality of YOU…

Or maybe YOUR house sounds more like…

…or maybe you sound more like…

The point is that your sense of time is the unique expression of your view of the world. How you play those notes and where you put them in the passing of time reflects your musical personality. It’s SO much more than just matching the drummer’s ride cymbal or chasing the time of the tune with TAA ta TAA ta TAA ta TAA eighth note strings.


Try this:

Record yourself and listen back. But before you listen to what you played, listen to the Autumn Leaves track I embedded above as a reference and perspective. Get into your head the story Miles and George and Herbie and Ron are each telling. Hear the flow of time and how each of them expressed themselves within it. Hear their fingerprint of how they articulated their notes. Hear the pace of their phrases. Then listen back to your playing. Maybe do your listening a day after you record in order to give you a clearer and more objective perspective.

Resist immediately feeling inadequate. You are not trying to BE those guys, but instead learn from them what it means to tell your own story with your instrument using your developing skill to articulate swing and groove. They are showing you the possibilities.

Can you play that short eighth note run Miles played at around the six second mark and do so with his exact same articulation and rhythm? Miles’s personality is all over that short string of notes. Listen again to the track, then record something else of yourself. 

Forget how you are ‘supposed’ to sound. Instead feel the flow of time from the backing track or group if you have the benefit of others willing to help you with this. Have them each do the same, by the way. 

Please share with your bandmates and others the link to the free Pocket Jazz membership. I’m offering a triple your money back guarantee that they’ll thank you for your much needed recommendation!

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Michael Lake

Michael Lake

Trombonist, author, composer, marketer

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This is just a fake book example for the type of website I can build for you. Just trying to use a little humor here!