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  1. #1

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    Hi gentlemen, I need to organize a few things in my head and general thinking about music. So I thought it was a good place to ask these questions.

    Generally I'm now working on a approach to "off beat phrasing." I understand this as starting and ending all my phrases on off beat. I'm working hard on it right now and it has brought me some further development.

    And now my question: is off beat phrasing just the same as syncopation? Syncopation is an off beat accent. But can starting and ending phrase on off beat can be called an accent? And is this reinventing the wheel?
    Is this a good way to develop it, practice it this way and build phrases like this or is this dead end?

    Thank You and best regards

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  3. #2

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    Phrasing can start wherever you want it to start. Just listen to the head on Scrapple from the Apple for the classic bop line that starts on the first "and". A "pickup" is just starting a phrase or line before the 1. Many are just one note on the last "and" before the downbeat.

    Syncopation is a more regular or systematic offsetting of accents from the beats to the places between them. James Brown was a master at this, e.g. Papa's Got a Brand New Bag - the groove is defined by the syncopation of the bass line.

    So let Bird and the Godfather of Soul be your inspiration. Say what you want to say how you want to say it - there are no rules. Just play for yourself and be the best you can be.

  4. #3
    hey nevershouldhavesoldi.
    Thanks for answering!

    There are no rules and I can play as I want and start and end phrases wherever I want. Seems like that. But that's not how it works - because the phrases started and finished off-beat sound much better. That's why I started to drill down on this topic and try to understand why this is so. My theory is that if you start and finish off beat phrases you get the forward motion effect. And the music seems to be more independent of what the background is playing.

  5. #4

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    Have a look at/listen to the most recent episode of Things I Learned From Barry Harris (chromatic scale part 2), part way through, where he takes a phrase that starts on the beat and by dropping the first passing tone moves it to the “and”. Lots to think about there.

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by freud
    There are no rules and I can play as I want and start and end phrases wherever I want. Seems like that. But that's not how it works - because the phrases started and finished off-beat sound much better.
    They sound much better to you, and that's wonderful. But they don't sound better to everyone, and you don't want to find yourself playing a version of the same solo in every tune. And if you play everything the same way, you'll bore your audience to tears within a few tunes (and probably yourself sooner than you think). Conventions are not rules, they're simply commonly used approaches to playing. The only rules are those you make for yourself, and self-imposed rules will do little more for you than limit your growth and maturation as a musician.

    The groove runs deep and has plenty of room for all styles to coexist. Play any way you wish. But please don't impose your standards of goodness on the rest of us - we don't tell you what to like.

  7. #6

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    Syncopation is a general term meaning notes are executed off the beat or on weak beats in general. Starting and ending phrases on such and such a beat or offbeat is more specific. I agree, it's an easy way to sound hipper, to start and end phrases on off beats, but I don't think it's a hard and fast rule.

  8. #7
    Hey man. Thanks for your comments. You write that there are no rules and you can play whatever you want if it sounds good to you. But probably not completely - you finally tune your guitar ...? After all, you can play a non-tuned guitar if it sounds good to you ....? It is similar with putting phrases off beat. They just sound more hip. Even though it is not a rule in itself. I analyzed the phrases of other people like Holdsworth, Hancock, Scofield, Corea. I found a lot of phrases starting and ending off beat. But I don't know if it's not a self-suggestion and I'm looking for what I want to find .... I just don't understand why it sounds good and whether it is really a "must have" if you want to go further into jazz phrasing.

  9. #8

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    It’s just a fact that phrases which start or end on the offbeat tend to sound more rhythmically interesting, because they are going against the underlying pulse of the beat. Not just in jazz, listen to Brazilian music, Cuban music, funk rhythms etc. The word ‘bebop’ is often said to be descriptive of the typical 2-note bop phrase ending which has the last note on the offbeat.

    So it is definitely something worth pursuing in your playing.

    But if you learn some bebop tunes and learn some phrases from the great jazz players e.g. Charlie Parker, you should naturally absorb this stuff anyway. That’s what I did, I wasn’t even thinking about offbeats or anything. To me it was a bit like learning a language.

  10. #9
    Thank you Graham for a great reply!
    Much clearer. You're right - I think you have to see it as part of the language.

  11. #10

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    Chris (the Barry Harris guy) did a video on this subject which may be of interest:


  12. #11

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    Clave

  13. #12
    Thanks Christian. Can you write something more about it? How do you understand and how do you use the clave rhythm? And what is relationship with clave and starting and ending phrase on off beat?

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by freud
    And now my question: is off beat phrasing just the same as syncopation? Syncopation is an off beat accent. But can starting and ending phrase on off beat can be called an accent? And is this reinventing the wheel?
    Is this a good way to develop it, practice it this way and build phrases like this or is this dead end?
    "accent" is emphasizing a note as far as I know. Doesn't have to have anything to do with a rhythm.
    In spoken language it is similar to: "WHO are you?" "who ARE you?" "who are YOU?". same phrase, different meaning.
    You can try it with a basic scale run. For example. Go up the scale... or down.. or make a simple lick (but then it gets mixed with the lick's natural rhythmic "accents" - rhythm just creates them. the twists and turns in the lick also).
    Play it the same way, same rhythm but accentuate a different note in it. Or notes. It gets different "meanings". It's not even a very subtle difference.

  15. #14

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    Hi Freud,


    you might find this video helpful:



    If i understand you right, Hal is talking exactly about your topic and kind of gives the answer.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clint 55
    Syncopation is a general term meaning notes are executed off the beat or on weak beats in general. Starting and ending phrases on such and such a beat or offbeat is more specific. I agree, it's an easy way to sound hipper, to start and end phrases on off beats, but I don't think it's a hard and fast rule.
    Syncopation is about _stresses_ on unexpected beats. So, what counts as syncopation depends on the who's describing the music and what that person thinks is an expected rhythmic stress. To someone who listens mainly to classical music that stresses the first beat of the measure (and in 4/4, the third), anything with a different set of conventions of stresses (e.g., backbeat, swing, clave) counts as "syncopated". But if you're describing such music from within its culture, describing the conventions as syncopation doesn't really fit, IMO. To the specific question of whether starting a phrase off the beat counts as syncopation, it depends on whether you're fully offsetting the stresses in the pulse or not. If you just start a phrase after an 1/8 rest and play even 1/8's thereafter, it doesn't really make sense to me to call that syncopation, but if you play the off-beat notes loud and the on-beat notes quietly for long enough create a sense of pulse pulling against the underlying count, that seems more like syncopation to me.

    So, to the OP's question, I would simplify and just forget the word syncopation. In terms of whether and when to start phrases on or off the beat, do both. Variety and blending the expected and the unexpected is what makes improvisation interesting. If you always start and end your phrases the same way, it gets boring.
    Last edited by John A.; 08-17-2021 at 11:02 AM.

  17. #16

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    Here's a wonderful history and explanation of this. And here's one of the most exciting examples I've ever heard. It brings every single element under discussion in this thread into one of the coolest pieces of music in history! [Confession - Jon Cleary's one of my all time favorite musicians!]

    Check out some reggae for another approach to a style of syncopation that's much simpler and more elemental.

    Dizzy was really into Afro-Cuban jazz. This session,with Anthony Jackson playing amazing bass lines in a fabulous big band, really showcases shifting rhythms, accents, and time signatures. It also has some of the most inspiring solos in jazz. Dizzy talks about the music for the first minute or so.

    And you can learn a lot about syncopation from Brazilian rhythms, starting with the bossa nova. I hope you find this video on Brazilian rhythms & the bossa nova useful to your efforts. Start at 4:10 if you want to skip the explanation before he demonstrates it.

    Note that many solos in these heavily syncopated styles stay largely within the quarter note framework for contrast with the underlying groove.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A.
    In terms of whether and when to start phrases on or off the beat, do both. Variety and blending the expected and the unexpected is what makes improvisation interesting. If you always start and end your phrases the same way, it gets boring.
    Yes! This very nice JGO blog post on the bebop approach to scales offers useful insight into the subject of where to start your phrasing. I think the OP would benefit from studying the entire work. But the meat of the matter under discussion is in the following advice (which is the exact opposite of the OP's stated desire to "start and end all phrases on an off beat"):

    "When you start the bebop scale on a downbeat and on a chord tone, all the following chord tones of the scale will fall on downbeats and the other notes of the scale on upbeats. This is an effective way to make long phrases while outlining the harmony. Don’t start the bebop scale on upbeats or tensions. Always start on downbeats and on chord tones."

    But, as I and others have said in multiple posts in this thread, the use of absolutes like "always" in any advice about improvisation is strongly condemned. Whatever you do, do it because it says what you want to say. And as Miles was rumored to have once quipped to a sideman whose solo he found trite and boring, "If you don't have anything to say, don't say anything!" (although I suspect that Miles used language a bit more colorful than that...)

    Be cool!
    Syncopation question.-smiley_in_ice_cube-gif

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by freud
    Thanks Christian. Can you write something more about it? How do you understand and how do you use the clave rhythm? And what is relationship with clave and starting and ending phrase on off beat?
    Take a Parker head and work out which clave it has. Moose the Mooche is 3-2 for example, Anthropology is 2-3. Once you’ve worked it out, try clapping along with the record, or even singing the clave as you play the head (challenging!)

    Clave can inform where to put the structural accents.

    Many upbeats in jazz are connections; so it’s very common to have for example a lower neighbour tone on an upbeat for an on beat accent, for instance before an ascending arpeggio.

    Otoh there are structural upbeats that take chord tones, and are prepared sometimes with neighbour tones. These are more likely to be the ends of phrases, but can come in the middle.

    and then you have upbeats that appear on their own as part of simpler phrases. This can be easier to spot in earlier jazz actually, Parker is embellishing these things so they can be a bit disguised by the eight notes; but if you learn lines by ear it all becomes much more intuitive and obvious.

    Singing a clave, or for that matter a cascara, tresillo, bembe or any number of Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and other African diaspora rhythms can help you to understand where these structural accents are likely to go.

    it’s not a huge intellectual thing; you can intuit it. But clave is a fantastic way to feel it.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    clave is a fantastic way to feel it.
    Here's a great introduction to this on the Berklee PULSE. The video links are fantastic and there's a ton of useful info here. And you can download the material as a pdf here.

  21. #20
    Thank you, gentlemen, for valuable tips! A lot of study material. I need to review this carefully and learn. Especially those clave stuff. I tried to approach the subject of clave before, but I couldn't translate it into the language of improvisation and start using it to play my ideas. Now I see that I have to think about it. Thanks to everyone for the posts and for answering questions!

    If you want to share more about clave and off beat phrasing, please. I am curious about your experiences on how to use clave in phrasing and off beat phrasing. Especially several people on this thread agreed that off beat phrasing is more interesting and more hip. So I know it's a good way. The question is whether clave rythm is another way that gives even more kick in phrasing?

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by freud
    Especially several people on this thread agreed that off beat phrasing is more interesting and more hip. So I know it's a good way.
    It's a great way. But there are many many more. Be open to every new idea you hear, and try them all. Be open to your own ideas, even if you never heard anyone else try them. And don't be afraid to sound weird or even bad - you won't know what works if you don't try it out.

    We high mileage dudes have learned a valuable lesson: the older you get, the more you discover how little you know.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    Take a Parker head and work out which clave it has. Moose the Mooche is 3-2 for example, Anthropology is 2-3. Once you’ve worked it out, try clapping along with the record, or even singing the clave as you play the head (challenging!)

    Clave can inform where to put the structural accents.
    You're very right Christian, clave is the key! (SCNR)

    I remember Jeff has done a video about that a couple of months ago but I don't find it anymore. It was called "Find the clave in every song" or something like that.

    With the search I found the thread but not the video. Anyone knows where it is???

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by nevershouldhavesoldit
    Here's a great introduction to this on the Berklee PULSE. The video links are fantastic and there's a ton of useful info here. And you can download the material as a pdf here.
    Nice! I remember reading that one of the things that really brought Cuban music together with Bop was the way Parker could really play with a Cuban rhythm section.

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christian Miller
    Nice! I remember reading that one of the things that really brought Cuban music together with Bop was the way Parker could really play with a Cuban rhythm section.
    Don't forget Dizzy! I bought his vinyl with Cubana Be and Cubana Bop on it when I was about 14 - the $3.98 price tag is still on it. I've listened to that album hundreds of times - and I still have trouble figuring out what the percussionists are playing.

    The spirit of Dizzy is still alive in Arturo Sandoval. We visited friends in Seattle a few weeks ago (catching the brief period in which Covid cases weren't yet skyrocketing and we felt relatively safe to travel) and went to Jazz Alley to see him. At 72, he's still a master of his instruments - I think he's the technical and musical equal of anyone I've ever heard. His trumpet chops are right there with Rafael Mendez, Doc Severinsen, Maynard, etc. And he's an amazing pianist as well. But relative to this thread, he (on timabales) and his drummer and his percussionist were laying down some of the most complex, amazing and musical rhythms I've ever heard. I don't think I could have played over some of them because they were so syncopated and eccentric (in the mathematical sense) that I got lost just listening to them.

    I thought his guitar player was technically excellent and well within that groove. But I also thought he overplayed consistently, maybe to keep up with the pyrotechnics of Sandoval and his tenor player (another amazing musician). For anyone wanting to get further into clave and the pursuit of exotic rhythm, I highly recommend Sandoval, Pancho Sanchez, Chano Pozo, and almost any local Latin band. Here are two incredible examples:



  26. #25

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    Cuban percussion can be dangerous, I nearly got blinded once by Arturo Sandoval. We were watching him from the front table at Ronnie Scotts when he took a ferocious solo on the timbales, about 3 feet in front of me. Suddenly something whacked me just above the eye, and at that moment I saw Arturo throw away one of his sticks and grab another one from the pouch attached to the timbales. Afterwards I realised the end of his drumstick had snapped off and hit my face at about 100 mph (well that’s what it felt like)! I was a bit shaken actually.

    But those Cuban percussion grooves are amazing to hear and watch. Chucho Valdez and Irakere were another great band I saw there.

    I tried but I usually couldn’t count, follow or make much sense intellectually of the rhythms, they just sounded incredibly good and strangely addictive!