Expanding Rhythm with Miles and Dexter

For a long time, my teacher has encouraged me to experiment with the time signature and rhythm in which I practice scales. Like most students, I didn’t follow my teacher’s advice for a long time. But today, I started to do as he told me.


Using my typical method (described HERE), I practiced my scales in subdivisions of the quarter note triplet. I still accented every other note, so it doesn’t sound like traditional triplets. In the video below, I count off the rhythm I used, and you can hear the metronome clicking to follow along as I play. This is one of many ways I am trying to expand my rhythmic capacity as a player in general, and especially as an improviser.

It proved quite difficult, but I made it through all 12 melodic minor scales in this fashion. I even switched between 4/4 and 3/4 time, still using the triplets.


After that, I revisited Half-Nelson. When I first played the head, I struggled to play a few small portions from memory. So I put on the Miles track on “Transcribe” and played along many times until it was completely in my head. I practiced one two-beat segment for literally 10 minutes. It was a tricky fingering pattern and I had to figure out the best way to play it, then ingrain the way I chose in my fingers.

After about an hour break, I came back and started with some licks. I played the down the circle of fifths as a good warmup. Then I began to improvise over Lady Bird. This was not a free improve session. I focused hard on using sequences. Playing the same intervals over every change. I also paid close attention to my swing feel. My rhythm is probably the weakest aspect of my playing, and since I take so much from Dexter Gordon, who has a somewhat unorthodox way of swinging, I am in some ways extra-bad at rhythm.

I noticed significant improvement over time. Since I had Dexter’s solo on Lady Bird pulled up and the Miles recording of Half-Nelson, I spent about 15 minutes stealing licks from both of them and practicing them in every key. Rather counterintuitively, I find that playing short licks exactly as recorded (in other words, with a great feel for rhythm) helps me on a macro scale.


I jumped back into improvising and tried to apply the licks and the rhythmic concepts I practiced earlier. I notice a difference in my playing from even a week ago because my “bag of tricks” has gotten a lot heavier from stealing licks and emphasizing rhythmic variation. For a long time I needed to get comfortable with basic 8th notes and diatonic voice-leading. I’m happy to say that I am transitioning into bigger and better things.


After about 30 minutes of Lady Bird, I was getting somewhat bored and noticed my brain becoming disengaged. So I switched over to “Jordu” and ran through that tune for about 15 minutes.


I closed with a few more choruses of Lady Bird, this time trying to occasionally quote the head of Half-Nelson, both as a way to steal licks and to make sure I was keeping my place in the changes.


Check out the Friday special on mental discipline if you haven’t already. Have a great weekend and happy practicing!

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