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A Framework for Musical Practice, Part 3: Language and Vernacular


Welcome to the final installment of our series on applying the rhythmic phrasing of jazz standards to the drumset. This time we’re exploring ways to extract themes from the Thelonious Monk tune “Straight No Chaser” to help bring continuity and logic to our improvisational efforts.

As I listened to different recordings of “Straight No Chaser,” certain ideas emerged, and below are a few of the things that I was drawn to explore. These motifs reappear throughout the tune, and you can use them as you structure solos based on the melody.

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One common way to exploit these rhythmic hooks is to insert rests between ideas while maintaining the song form, which in this case is a twelve-bar blues. Framing the rhythms this way helps convey a stronger message. The example below is one solo chorus that uses each motif voiced on the drums and cymbals, with strategically placed rests.

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With any type of communication, there are specific accents and patterns that help form the core of the language. This rationale also holds true when we’re performing music of a certain style. To become fluent in jazz, it helps to internalize different common bebop phrases. The master drummers Max Roach, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, and Roger Humphries mix these patterns, along with quotes from the melody, as they improvise over standard tunes.

Below are seven tried-and-true bebop patterns. Each example should be practiced to the point where it’ memorized so that you can use it creatively at will. Experiment with each two-measure phrase with additional song forms and tunes. Practice each as written. Also try reordering the rhythms in each measure. Practice playing them forward and backward. The more variations you can come up with, the more likely it is that you will be able to use them freely on the gig.

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The following two choruses of drum solo over the blues form mix melodic motifs from “Straight No Chaser” with stock bebop vernacular. With each phrase, my objective is to show restraint, patience, and logical development. As you play the transcription, listen for quotes from the melody. You should also try singing the original melody as you improvise over the form of the tune with your own ideas. This will bring a more musical and melodic approach to your solos.

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Steve Fidyk has performed with Terell Stafford, Tim Warfield, Dick Oatts, Doc Severinsen, Wayne Bergeron, Phil Wilson, and Maureen McGovern, and he’s a member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia. For more info, including how to sign up for lessons via Skype, visit