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Jazz Rhythms for Guitar [Comping and Soloing

Studies]
mattwarnockguitar.com /jazz-rhythms
It dont mean a thing if it aint got that swing. No truer statement has been made about what it means to
play jazz and jazz guitar.
Learning how to play scales, chords, and arpeggios will teach you what to play over tunes, but its how you
play these devices that makes your playing sound like jazz.
Studying jazz rhythms from both a comping and soloing standpoint will give you the feel and swing you
need to sound jazzy in any musical situation.
And having that jazz sound in your playing is often the difference between being satisfied and unsatisfied
in the practice room and on the bandstand.
In this lesson, youll study essential jazz rhythms that you can use to elevate the swing feel in your
comping and soloing phrases.
These rhythms will take some time to master, but, when applied with confidence to your playing, theyll get
you swinging with confidence over any jazz standard.

Free Jazz Guitar eBook: Download a free Jazz guitar PDF thatll teach you how to play
Jazz chord progressions, solo over Jazz chords, and walk basslines.

Jazz Rhythms Contents (Click to Skip Down)

Comping Rhythms vs. Soloing Rhythms

The material in this lesson is broken down into two main sections, comping rhythms and soloing rhythms.
While rhythms are rhythms, such as 8 th notes or quarter notes, youll find that certain rhythms work better
when comping and others when soloing.
This is often due to the speed and complexity used in rhythmic soloing compared to comping on the guitar.
As you work through this lesson, feel free to apply comping rhythms to your soloing and vice-versa.
You can also take the soloing exercises and apply them to your comping practicing if that fits your routine.
But, if you find that you prefer to study each rhythm and exercise and apply it to only comping or only
soloing, thats cool as well.
Also, rhythms are often written differently in jazz for chords vs. single notes.
Heres an example of a chord chart progression using rhythms in the staff to indicate how you should play
these chords.
This is similar to how youd see rhythms written in a big band chart, or some Real Book lead sheets, when
comping over jazz tunes.
In the examples in this lesson, youll be using TAB as well as notation, so wont see many slashes such as
these.
But, theyre included here as you will see them in other musical situations as you expand your jazz guitar
performance and rehearsal opportunities.

Click to hear jazz rhythms 1

In the next example, youll see rhythms written in the staff of a jazz guitar lick in C major.
Notice that there are no rhythms in the TAB, to make things less cluttered and easier to read on the page.
Because of this, youll often need to read the notation of any single-note phrase youre learning, even if
theres TAB, to get the rhythms for those notes.

Click to hear jazz rhythms 2

Now that you know the difference between reading single-note and chord rhythms, and that these rhythms
are often different in your playing, its time to move on to learning about syncopation in your jazz guitar
studies.

What is Syncopation?

Before you dive in to learning these jazz rhythms on the guitar, lets take a minute to define one of the most
important aspects of jazz rhythms, syncopation.
To keep things simple, heres a short definition of syncopation to use as a guideline going forward in this
lesson and in your playing.

Syncopation is playing rhythms on more up beats than down beats, the &s of the bar, in
your comping and soloing phrases.

Heres an example that illustrates non-syncopated notes, the first two bars, and syncopated notes, the
second two bars.
Notice that the first two bars contain rhythms on the down beats, 1-2-3-4, while the second two bars
contain rhythms only on the up beats, the &s of each beat.

Click to hear jazz rhythms 3

Heres an example that illustrates non-syncopated, first two bars, and syncopated, second two bars,
rhythms in a comping situation.
Notice that the syncopated rhythms dont have to always be on the up beats, they just have to mostly be on
the up beats to create a sense of syncopation in the line.

Click to hear jazz rhythms 4

In this last example, youll use non-syncopated notes in the first two bars and syncopated notes in the
second two bars of a single-note line.
Syncopation is an important part of both your comping and soloing phrases, so practicing it in both
situations is essential when learning jazz guitar.

Click to hear jazz rhythms 5

Now that you know what syncopation is, playing mostly on up beats, youre ready to study the following
jazz rhythms, which contain many syncopated rhythms.

When studying syncopation, count along and use a metronome until youre fully comfortable with these
rhythms.
Syncopation sounds hip in a jazz setting, but it can cause you to rush your time feel when applied to tunes
if youre not comfortable with syncopation quite yet.
To prevent this from happening, go slow, use a metronome, and count along with each exercise in this
lesson.

Jazz Rhythms for Comping

To begin your studies of jazz rhythms on guitar, youll learn and apply essential jazz rhythms to comping
situations.
As guitarists spend the vast majority of their time comping in jazz combos, behind the melody and other
soloists, having a strong rhythmic approach is essential.
In this section of the lesson, youll learn how to play essential rhythms, as well as apply them to popular
jazz progressions and jazz standards.
Go slow with these rhythms, theres no rush to learn them all.
Start with one, master it, and then move on to the next.
Over time youll build up your rhythmic comping vocabulary in the same way you build your soloing
vocabulary.
At the same time, youll increase your ability to function in a jazz combo situation, and have more fun
playing jazz guitar chords at the same time.

Freddie Green Rhythm

The first rhythm in this lesson is inspired by the comping of the great jazz guitarist Freddie Green, and
consists of steady quarter-note pulses.
Freddie was known for his rock-steady sense of time, and his use of quarter notes to propel the rhythm
forward in the Count Basie Band.

Though its a simple rhythm on paper, using only one rhythmic duration, maintaining a steady quarter-note
pulse can be tricky.
There is a tendency to rush on faster tunes, and then drag on slower tunes, so using a metronome is key
when studying this rhythm on the guitar.
To help you get started, heres an example of the Freddie Green rhythm applied to a ii V I VI progression
using shell voicings.
After you can play this rhythmic example from memory, put on the backing track and comp over those
changes with the Freddie Green rhythm.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing No Piano

Click to hear jazz rhythms 6

To help you take this rhythm further in your playing, heres a chord study over an F jazz blues progression
that uses the Freddie Green rhythm throughout.
Go slow at first, use a metronome, and when ready play along to the recording.
After you can play with the recording, put on the F blues backing track and work on comping with the
Freddie Green rhythm over those changes.
The Freddie Green rhythm is an essential tool for any jazz guitarist to posses, and therefore its an
essential part of any rhythmic practice routine.

Jazz Blues Backing Track F Blues Backing Track No Piano

Click to hear jazz rhythms 7

Charleston Rhythm

Now that you can play a steady quarter-note rhythm, youre going to add a bit of syncopation to your lines
in the following chord exercises.
This rhythm, often called the Charleston rhythm, is built by playing a chord on beat 1 and the & of 2 in each
bar.
When playing this rhythm, you are using syncopation when you play the & of 2 in each bar.
Syncopation is a term used to describe playing on the up-beats of any given bar, the &s rather than the

1st, 2 nd, 3 rd, or 4th beats.


Heres an example of the Charleston rhythm over a ii V I VI progression, using Drop 2 chords to outline the
changes.
Work on memorizing this example, then comping over the backing track with the Charleston rhythm after
the sample chords are comfortable.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing No Piano

Click to hear jazz rhythms 8

To help you take the Charleston rhythm further in your playing, heres an A minor blues progression using
that single rhythm to outline each chord.
After you can play the study from memory, put on the minor blues backing track and comp over those
changes using only the Charleston rhythm.
If you feel up to it, you can then mix the Freddie Green rhythm and the Charleston rhythm over the backing
track to expand on these rhythms in your studies.

Minor Blues Backing Track A Minor Blues Backing Track No Piano

Click to hear jazz rhythms 9

Upbeats on 1 and 3

Moving on, youll now up the syncopation in your comping as you place a chord on the & of 1 and 3 in
each bar.
This syncopation is essential to adding a jazzy sound to your comping, but it can be hard to keep steady in
your playing.
When using syncopated chords like this, with no downbeats, it can be easy to rush the rhythm, or get lost
in the form.
Because of this, counting along with your practicing is essential to mastering this rhythm in your practice
routine.

After you can play and count confidently, then youll be ready to start feeling this rhythm and not have to
count as you apply it to tunes.
Heres an example of this rhythm over a ii V I VI progression in C major using triads, or triad based chords,
to outline the changes.
Start by working on the given example, then when youre ready, put on the backing track and comp using
the & of 1 and 3 in your playing.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing No Piano

Click to hear jazz rhythms 10

To finish your study of chords on the & of 1 and 3, here is a Summertime chord etude using three-note
shapes and only that rhythm.
Go slow, working each phrase one at a time, before you piece them all together to form the study as a
whole.
After you can play the study with confidence, put on the Summertime backing track and comp over the tune
using this syncopated rhythm with your chords.

Summertime Backing Track Summertime Backing Track No Piano

Click to hear jazz rhythms 11

Upbeats on 2 and 4

One of the most common jazz guitar rhythms, is playing chords on the & of 2 and 4 in each measure.
Though its easy to play once you get the hang of it, this rhythm requires that you anticipate the next chord
by half a beat in every bar.
For example, when you play over a Dm7-G7 progression, as in the example below, the G7 chord first
appears on the & of 4 in the Dm7 bar.
This type of chordal anticipation sounds very hip when applied to your playing, but it takes concentration
so that you dont get lost on the form when doing so.
Make sure to count through the following example to get you started with chords on the & of 2 and 4.
Then, when you feel ready, comp over the backing track using the same rhythm, counting at first then
moving towards feeling the rhythm over time.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing No Piano

Click to hear jazz rhythms 12

To help you take this rhythm to a musical situation, heres a comping study over the Miles Davis tune Tune
Up.
Work this study phrase by phrase at first, and then piece those phrases together to play the tune as a
whole.
After the study is under your fingers, put on the Tune Up backing track and practice comping over that
progression with chords on the & of 2 and 4.

Tune Up Backing Track Tune Up Backing Track No Piano

Click to hear jazz rhythms 13

Dotted Quarter Notes

The final jazz comping rhythm youll study in this lesson is the dotted quarter note.
Dotted quarter notes are built exactly like their name implies, you chain together a series of dotted quarter
notes in your comping.
When doing so, it takes three bars to come back to the first beat of the bar with your chords, causing a high
level of syncopation along the way.
Because of this syncopation, youll need to count when working on dotted quarter notes for the first time.
From there, youll learn how to feel each dotted quarter and can count less when applying them to your
playing.
To begin, heres an example of a ii V I VI in C using Drop 2 & 4 chords to outline each change with dotted
quarter notes.
After you can play this example, practice comping over the backing track using dotted quarters to outline
the progression.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing No Piano

Click to hear jazz rhythms 14

Moving on, heres a chord study over the Herbie Hancock tune Cantaloupe Island that you can learn and
apply to your jazz practice routine.
After youve memorized this study, put on the Cantaloupe Island backing track and practice comping over
this tune using dotted quarter notes for each chord.

If youd like to hear this type of comping in action, check out Jim Halls recordings, as dotted quarter notes
are a favorite rhythm in Jims chord work.

Cantaloupe Island Backing Track Cantaloupe Island Backing Track No Piano

Click to hear jazz rhythms 15

Jazz Rhythms for Soloing

Apart from working on jazz rhythms in your comping routine, you can apply rhythmic exercises to your
soloing workout.
By doing so, youll bring a secure sense of rhythmic control to your solos, as well as build your confidence
with specific jazz rhythms in your lines.
The exercises in this section are designed to expand your knowledge of jazz rhythms, but also to help you
develop these rhythms in your playing.
By working rhythms as you would melodies, youll be able to dig deep on a single rhythm in your playing,
rather than constantly moving from one to the next.
Thisll create a rhythmic thread in your lines that both listeners and your band mates can follow, which
creates a deeper connection to your audience on stage.
These exercises are easy to understand, but can take time to master on the guitar.
So, take your time, work one exercise for a long period of time, and when youre ready move on to the next
exercise in your routine.
And, most importantly, have fun!

Single Rhythm Exercises

One of the biggest hurdles jazz guitarists face in their soloing, is that you can play fast, you can play
slow, but you dont know the exact rhythms youre playing.
This can cause your lines to be sloppy and not rhythmically clear, or for your lines to not lock in with the
rhythm section.
To help you avoid, or correct, this issue, you can practice single rhythm exercises in the woodshed.
By working one rhythm at a time, youll always know exactly what rhythm youre using in your solos, and
recognize specific rhythms in your band mates solos.
Both will increase your ability to improvise on the guitar in a jazz context.
Here are the steps to applying this exercise to your jazz guitar practice routine.

Pick a rhythm to study, such as quarter notes.


Solo over a tune or progression using only that rhythm.
You can use rests, but they must equal the rhythm you chose.

Repeat with other single rhythms in your studies.

When working this exercise in your practice routine, you can start with the following essential jazz rhythms.
From there, you can branch off into more advanced rhythms such as groups of 5 and 7 notes over one
beat.
But, even without those advanced groupings, these rhythms will help you build your knowledge and
confidence with jazz rhythms.

Whole Notes
Half Notes
Quarter Notes
8th Notes
Triplets
16 th Notes
16 th Note Triplets

After youve worked a few of these rhythms on their own in your studies, feel free to mix a few together.
But, make sure that youre doing this in an organized fashion.
Avoid just playing random rhythms; instead focus on mixing two exact rhythms in your playing.
Thisll help you become more rhythmically versatile, and know exactly what rhythms youre playing in your
solos at all times.

Rhythmic Motives

Another effective way to develop your rhythmic vocabulary is to work rhythmic motives in your solos.
These short phrases, often one bar or less in length, are rhythmic melodies that you came back to time
and again in your solos.
In the same way that youd come back to a melody in your solos to create a thread for the listener to follow,
you can create rhythmic motives that do the same thing.
The exercise is fairly straightforward on paper, but will take some time to become comfortable in your

practicing and performing.

Pick a short rhythm to work on.


Solo over a progression using only that rhythm.
You change the notes, but the rhythm stays the same.
Repeat with other rhythms and other progressions.

Heres an example of a short rhythmic motive played over a C turnaround chord progression.
To keep things simple, the line is built with a quarter note and two 8 th notes, with a half note rest in the
second half of each bar.
Using rests like this not only breaks up your lines, but makes it easier to hear and plan ahead when soloing
over jazz standards.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

Click to hear jazz rhythms 16

After you can play this example, put on the backing track and solo over the progression using only this
sample rhythm.
From there, come up with your own rhythms to work on in this exercise, as well as find other progressions
to apply them to in your practicing.
Once you can do this comfortably with one rhythm, youll be ready to move on to the next exercises where
youll learn how to expand rhythms in your solos.

Reverse Rhythmic Motives

Once you can solo with a single rhythmic motive in your practicing, youre ready to begin altering that
motive to expand it in your solos.
The first way to go about expanding a rhythmic motive is to play it backwards.
This means that you take the rhythms you playing in the original motive, and play them back to front in
your lines.
For example, in the previous exercise you played a quarter note and two 8 th notes.
So, the reverse of that motive would be two 8 th notes and a quarter note.
Here are the steps to take when working on this exercise in the woodshed.

Pick a rhythmic motive to practice.


Solo over a progression with that motive.
Reverse the rhythms of that motive.
Solow with the reversed motive over the same progression.
Repeat with other rhythmic motives.

Heres an example of the reversed motive from the previous section over a turnaround progression in C.
After youve learned how to play this sample lick, solo over the backing track using this new rhythmic
motive in your lines.
From there, come up with your own original rhythms, then practice reversing them as you expand upon
your ideas in the woodshed.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

Click to hear jazz rhythms 17

Now that you know how to expand rhythmic motives by reversing them in your solos, youre ready to
extend your rhythms to full measures or longer in your playing.

Rhythmic Pairing

With your original and reversed rhythmic motive in hand, you can now pair those two ideas up to produce a
longer idea in your solos.
To do this, you play the first motive immediately followed by the second motive in your lines.
Using the examples from the previous two sections, heres how that would come together to form the
longer motive.

Quarter Note
Two 8th Notes
Two 8th Notes
Quarter Notes

As you can see, the first two beats are the original rhythmic motive, and the second two beats and the
reversed rhythmic motive.
Heres how that would look on paper.
After you can play this sample lick, solo over the backing track and make up your own notes while sticking
to the longer given rhythm in the example.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

Click to hear jazz rhythms 18

Now that youve seen a sample of how to combine an original and reversed rhythmic motive in your
playing, you can make up your own to practice.
Here are the steps to build these longer rhythms in your studies.

Pick a short rhythm to study.


Solo over a progression with that motive.
Work out the reversed version of that rhythm.
Solo over a progression with that reversed motive.
Combine both rhythms to form a longer phrase.
Solo over a progression with that combined rhythm.

With this longer rhythmic motive under your fingers, youre now ready to expand upon this longer idea in
your practice routine.

Reverse Rhythmic Pairing

As you did with the original rhythm, you can now reverse your longer, paired rhythm in your studies.
To do so, youll use the following steps build this exercise.

Pick a short rhythm to practice.


Solo with that rhythm over a chord progression.
Reverse the original rhythm.
Solo with the reversed rhythm over the progression.
Combine the rhythms by playing the reversed rhythm first then original.
Solo with this combined rhythm over the chord progression.

Heres an example of how to reverse a combined rhythm using the original rhythmic motive from earlier in
this section of the lesson.
After you have this lick under your fingers, put on the backing track and solo using the given rhythm, but
you make up the notes as you go.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

Click to hear jazz rhythms 19

Now that you can build and expand any rhythmic motive, go back and repeat these exercises with new
rhythms that you come up with on your own.
You can also take rhythmic motives from transcriptions as you learn them by ear from your favorite jazz
guitar solos.
When youre comfortable with these exercises, youll be ready to move on to the last section of this lesson,
learning how to transpose rhythms in your solos.

Rhythmic Transposition

Now that you have an original rhythm to work with, you can move this rhythm around the bar by starting it
on different beats of each measure.
To begin, heres a reminder of the original rhythmic motive.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

Click to hear jazz rhythms 20

Now, heres an example of how this rhythm would look and sound when starting on the & of 1 in each bar.
After you can play this sample lick, put on the backing track and solo over the changes using the same
rhythm, but you improvise the notes.
From there, you can move the rhythm to other parts of the bar by starting it on beat 2, the & of 2, beat 3,
etc. in your soloing.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

Click to hear jazz rhythms 21

Following the exercises that you did earlier in this lesson, youll now combine the original rhythm and the
transposed rhythm in your soloing.
Heres an example of how that would look with the original rhythm in bar one and the transposed rhythm in
bar two, repeating from there in the line.
Once you have this sample line down, solo with this rhythmic group while improvising the notes in your
line.
Then, you can practice combining other transposed rhythms in your soloing practice routine from there.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

Click to hear jazz rhythms 22

The final exercise finds you pairing up your original and transposed rhythms, but this time you play the
transposed rhythm first, followed by the original rhythm.

Heres an example of this approach over a C turnaround progression.


Work this line in your studies, then when youre ready, solo over the backing track with the same rhythm,
but you improvise the notes.
From there, you can expand upon this rhythmic exercise by applying it to other rhythms and transpositions
in your studies.

C Turnaround Backing Track 2516 C Major Backing

Click to hear jazz rhythms 23

As you can see, transposing a rhythm around the bar will allow you to create new rhythmic ideas from a
single phrase.
From there, you can create dozens of variations by combing transposed rhythms and reversing those
combinations in your playing.
Have fun with these exercises; though they may seem tough at first, over time theyll greatly expand your
rhythmic vocabulary and improvisational skills on guitar.