Rhythmic Transition Examples
Transitioning from one time signature, tempo, or musical style to another is a very common technique in modern jazz. These shifts are often referred to as metric modulations, where a specific note value from the current tempo becomes the quarter note pulse in a new tempo. Tony Williams, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Ari Hoenig are masters of this concept.
In order for a transition to work out smoothly, it’s important for you to be as articulate and clear as possible with your rhythms. As you approach the shift, you need to provide a foundation that makes the band comfortable, without disrupting the flow of the time.
Our first example illustrates a transition from a medium swing feel in 4/4 to a double-time swing superimposed over the existing time. This is a signature beat of the legendary Philly Joe Jones, and you can hear the groove in action on the tune “Blue Train” by John Coltrane. As you practice the beat, focus your attention on the hi-hat, keeping its sound and rhythmic placement as consistent as possible. The hi-hat is the core element that carries the double-time feel.
Our second example comes from the great Art Blakey, on the Jazz Messengers’ recording of “Caravan.” Blakey toggles between 6/8 Afro-Cuban and double-time swing in such a way that the dotted-quarter-note pulse in 6/8 becomes the half note in the double-time feel. The transitions take place at the end of each A section of the form, and the bridge stays in double-time swing.
The next example features the work of Tony Williams on the Miles Davis recording of “Footprints,” from the album Miles Smiles. Williams superimposes 4/4 over the existing 3/4 time signature with his ride cymbal, which creates a 4:3 polyrhythm in support of the melody.
What follows are five additional transition examples to practice. Work through them slowly, with a metronome, until you have control of each metric shift. Be patient, and have fun.
Ballad Transition to Swing
In this example, the quarter note becomes the half note.
Bossa Nova to Samba
Again, the quarter note becomes the half note.
Ballad to Waltz
In this transition, the quarter note becomes the dotted half note.
7/4 to Swing
Here, the dotted quarter note becomes the quarter note.
Waltz to Afro-Cuban 6/8
In this last example, the 8th note remains consistent through the shift.
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 stevefidyk.com.