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How to Articulate in Jazz + 20 Approach Note Etudes

Incorporate approach notes and enclosures into your playing with this lesson on articulation

If you’ve been following the blog recently, we’ve covered approach notes and enclosures a few times, with several exercises to help you get the hang of the concept of approach notes and enclosures and how you can use them on standards.

Today, we’re going to dive into articulation, with some help from our approach note etudes. Unlike the approach note exercises, etudes are a great way to see a concept “in the wild”—in a full tune that you can play along with.

For today’s blog, we’ll be taking a look at the etude “Autumn Leaves,” from our PDF package Approach Note Etudes. A lot of you probably recognize the chord changes for this one. The best way to follow along is to check out the PDF package as well as the accompanying video.

As with most of our packages, we have these PDFs available in B-flat tenor, B-flat trumpet, E-flat alto sax, concert, and bass clef. We make sure to adjust these etudes to fit with the different ranges for each of these instruments.

Giving your lines life with articulation

For those who have checked out our other blogs and videos on approach notes and enclosures, you’ll know that these concepts are at the heart of jazz and bebop line construction.

When you strip away approach notes and enclosures from a major ii - V - I with only diatonic notes from chord scales, it ends up sounding like Bach! When you add them back in, you see that it sounds like jazz again. Whether it’s jazz or classical, voice leading is always important. This means using stepwise motion to make smooth transitions through chord changes. Now with chromatic approach notes and enclosures, you can see what really gives jazz its sound.

A question Chad LB gets often is—why do jazz tunes and big band charts not have articulations written for phrases? This is especially off-putting for classical musicians, who are used to seeing articulations written out in detail.

Part of why this is, is because jazz articulation is difficult to describe, and there isn’t a proper label that’s been given under the current system of notation.

Personally, Chad likes to use what he calls the “dooden” articulation, but you’ll hear many brass players refer to it as the “doodle” articulation, which just has to do with the physicality of what they’re voicing on their instrument.

There’s a misconception around jazz articulation, which is that you should just articulate the off-beats. But this is only half the story. Articulation has everything to do with how you articulate the ascending parts of a line.

With the “dooden” articulation, you’ll notice that on an ascending line with a sequence of a couple eighth notes, you’ll actually be articulating the downbeats, not the upbeats.

There’s also another element—where you almost choke off the note before the downbeat. Each instrument has their own way of doing this, but on the saxophone, you’ll basically suppress the reed from the roof of your mouth with your tongue, just as when you would say “dooden doo.”

Make sure to check out our video to be sure that you’re getting this nuance right. Chad demonstrates how it sounds on an ascending bebop scale.

Then when you come back down, you’ll do the popular articulation on the off-beats—which you can vocalize as “doo-dah ooh-dah ooh.”

You can hear these articulations everywhere, especially from the works of some of the greats. Some examples are Lester Young on “Shoe Shine Boy,” Dexter Gordon on “Cheese Cake,” and solos from Michael Brecker.

Playing through “Autumn Leaves”

Jumping into our etude “Autumn Leaves,” Chad discusses some of his preferred articulations in the video. You’ll notice that in the first line, we have eighth notes going up, so we can use the “dooden doo” articulation.