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How to Master Jazz Articulation

Reading notes off of a page is great for understanding theory, but mastering jazz articulation can take your playing to the next level and sound more musical. Looking at any piece of music you'll notice lines descend, ascend, twist and turn, and how you articulate and phrase those lines differentiates a beginner from a professional. To help you dial in your phrasing, there are a wide array of jazz articulation patterns to choose from to help you become more flexible. Let’s get into it!

Important Note!

Most jazz articulation patterns do not exist in standard notation. We pronounce the language that we’re articulating with syllables like Doo, Den, Dah, and Ooh. This technique applies to all instruments!

Ascending Jazz Articulation on Downbeats

For ascending lines, we play on the down beats using the syllable "Doo." Pronouncing this syllable helps us play the articulation much cleaner. Notice every downbeat here has the syllable "Doo" underneath it.

Ascending Jazz Articulation on Offbeats

For ascending lines, we play on the offbeats using the syllable "Den." The reason we use this articulation syllable on ascending offbeats is because the line is continuing to ascend. If the note on the following downbeat is below the previous offbeat note, we would use a different syllable which we'll look at next.

Descending Jazz Articulation on Downbeats

Downbeat articulation is slightly different for descending lines. We can use the syllable "Ooh" on descending line downbeats whenever that note is preceded from a note above. It's similar to "Doo" but makes it much smoother to articulate with "Ooh" on descending lines. Take a look at this descending line below and notice all of the "Ooh's" on downbeats. To hear this pronunciation in real time, click here.

Descending Jazz Articulation on Offbeats

For descending lines, we play on the offbeats using the syllable "Dah." The reason we use this articulation syllable on descending offbeats is because the line is continuing to descend. Compare saying "Doo-Dah" continuously vs. "Ooh-Dah" continuously and see which one you can repeat clearly for the longest period of time. You'll notice that "Ooh-Dah" is the easiest, therefore making those descending lines sound more effortless.

Combining both ascending and descending together in the same line and it will sound like this.

How to Sound Out Jazz Articulation?

When you speak the sound of doo-den, your tongue should go to the roof of your mouth and choke off the sound a little bit. Articulating this on saxophone, we can put our tongue on the reed for a second to create this effect. To make this happen, it is important to push from the diaphragm. Specifics on sounding out more articulations is covered in the Jazz Articulation Masterclass. DOWNLOAD RESOURCE>>>

How do I practice Jazz Articulation?

Jazz legends didn't just play major bebop scales up and down, they added in chromatic approach notes throughout their improvisation. To make our lines sound much better, we can practice adding in chromatic approach notes to our major scale while focusing on our jazz articulation.

Constructing a bebop scale, we can take a major, dominant, or minor scale and add one chromatic approach note to it to make sure the chord tones fall on downbeats. Jazz vocabulary includes various shapes and contours to the lines, and it's important that we practice articulation patterns in this context.

The JLV 15 approach notes and enclosure exercises ebook has these exercises written out in all 12 keys with different melodic contours to mimic actual lines. DOWNLOAD RESOURCE>>>

Let’s check out one of the exercises with jazz articulation syllables!

Applying Jazz Articulation to Approach Notes and Enclosures

In this example we add in one chromatic approach note at the end of every single measure, which introduces chromaticism into the resolution in every measure of this Bb Major Scale.

We can also practice mixing up the articulation for the last part of the measure, from the and of four to the downbeat of one on the next measure. Depending on where you are in the scale, we can use "Den-Doo" or "Ooh-Dah" given the direction of the resolution for the next note on the downbeat of the next measure.

How Do I Articulate In My Jazz Improvisation?

With certain rhythms, like triplets or sixteenth notes, articulation can get tricky. Bebop scales are a good practice tool but there is no variation in the shape or melodic contour. Once we master articulating using the bebop scale, practicing jazz articulation in context of a transcription will get you to that next level.

No matter what jazz legend you're listening to now, whether it's Lester Young or Michael Brecker, they're all doing the same articulation just in their own way.

To go more in depth into these articulations and applying them to real language, check out the Jazz Articulation MasterClass. DOWNLOAD RESOURCE>>>

To hear Chad play these exercises, check out the video below.

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