Developing “rhythmic flexibility” in your jazz piano playing

I’ve been thinking a lot about “rhythmic flexibility” lately, since it’s really the biggest thing that will improve your piano playing. You can learn the most complex licks and voicings in the world and still sound amateurish playing them. But on the other hand, you can play a simple ballad and sound world-class. The difference? Rhythmic flexibility.

Vocalists know this. Open the Real Book and look at the first measure of “All Of Me.” Now, listen to about 5 vocalists sing it on Youtube (starting with Billie Holiday.) You’ll notice that they all sing those opening 3 notes with different rhythms.

One way would be to sing it exactly as written: All of Me. Another singer might hold out the first note longer: All….. of Me. Yet another will sing them all of the upbeats, with jazz syncopation. This is what I mean by rhythmic flexibility. I’ve learned a lot about this from listening to vocalists and I urge you to do the same. I once even wrote out the exact rhythms that Billie Holiday used when singing a song, and I was very surprised by the rhythms she used. She delayed or anticipated many notes by an 8th or even a 16th note. This is a big part of jazz and the great instrumentalists do this all the time.

If you haven’t seen my video on this yet, you can watch it here:
Rhythmic Flexibility in your Jazz Piano Playing

See how important this is, and how it can help your jazz piano playing?

I’ve also demonstrated this in my latest Journey Through The Real Book video, while playing the great jazz ballad “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” Follow along in the Real Book and notice how I vary the melodic rhythms. The first step is noticing this, and then you can begin to try this yourself. It will keep the music fresh for you and help you sound much more professional at the same time. Here’s the video:

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

Good luck and have fun applying this important technique to your own music. Thanks for being here, and let me know if you have any questions about your jazz piano playing.


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