When you’re playing through a fast line, do you ever feel like it’s missing that extra spark that you hear from the greats?
Believe it or not, this may be a really simple fix, which will help make your lines sound snappier and more focused.
Now as we get going here, you’ll also want to check out Nathan’s video over on the Jazz Lesson Videos YouTube channel, which covers all of this with Nathan playing through examples.
And if you really want to level up your playing, make sure to check out Chad’s full masterclass here.
Getting the feel of your bebop lines
Going back to the beginning, the founders of bebop, like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, realized that to maintain the spirit of swing in their new blazing fast tempos, they would need to change the way they played.
As you know, when we play medium tempo swing tunes, we play our eighth notes with a lopsided rhythm, based on a triplet feel. However, as we pick up speed to play lines faster, the eighth notes turn back into straight eighth notes, and if you try to play it anyway with slurred straight eighth notes, it can be a bit bland.
What opens this up to make you sound like the greats? Your articulation.
Bebop articulation is deceptively difficult, just simply trying to imitate our heroes’ articulation can feel next to impossible if you don’t already have a strong idea of what those bebop articulation techniques are and how to do them. But don't get discouraged!
The good news is that anyone can learn these skills—and by learning the three steps we’re going to cover today, you can really gain a deep understanding of what your jazz heroes are doing.
These techniques are covered in depth in Chad LB’s articulation masterclass—where he covers these techniques for more than an hour, along with a PDF of various exercises.
Don’t get tongue tied!
Let’s dive into our first technique. This is a fundamental technique in bebop articulation and has many names—including ghost tonguing, muted tonguing, and Chad calls it “dooden” tonguing.
What we’re going to do is cover part of the tip of the reed, which will mute its vibration, while the unmuted part will continue to vibrate. This gives us a sort of dampened sound. Then we’re going to pull off the reed and let it vibrate feely, which will give us an accented, punchy sound.
The specifics on how people do this technique can vary—some people will use the tip of their tongue to cover the corner of the reed. Other people will use the side of their tongue to cover the reed. Some people will use the middle or back of their tongue to mute the reed. Long story short, this varies from person to person and is a matter of comfort and what works in your body.
In Nathan’s case, he tends to have his tongue slanted so it mutes from the corner of the reed. In Chad’s case, he tongues the middle of the reed using the middle of his tongue. The best thing for you to do is experiment and find what works best.
The dooden method
Doo-den-dah-oh. Those four syllables are all you need to know to improve your articulation technique.
Since there’s no official shared system on how to notate bebop articulation, Chad summarizes it in these four syllables.
Doo is for tongued notes on downbeats within an ascending line. Den is for ghosted notes on the upbeats within ascending lines. Dah is for tongued notes on upbeats of descending lines and Oh is for notes we slur into on our downbeats within a descending line.
To help us get used to how this feels, we can sing the syllables and see that they sound exactly like how we apply them to our horn. It’s also helpful to just talk through the articulation when you’re first reading a piece so that you can see how it feels.
If you want to see how Nathan and Chad do this, you can see in our accompanying YouTube video, "INSTANTLY make any bebop line sound better."
Major scale exercises
Now that we understand how this articulation works, we can move on to the final section, which is applying what we know in context.
Let’s take a look at these exercises on the major scale.
We’ll start by looking at the syllables and saying it aloud. It’s best to start slowly and then increase your speed until it feels natural. Here’s what it looks like going up.
Once you’ve got it down, it’s pretty transferable directly to your horn. Here’s what it looks like going down.
Approach note and enclosure exercise
Let’s take a look at another exercise from Chad’s masterclass—this one is going to be an approach note and enclosure phrase.
We’ll start again by saying it out loud, then you can just whisper to yourself how you would play it on the horn.
Again, once you get used to these concepts and how to use them, you’ll find that they start to come naturally. And best of all, you’ll start to listen better to some of the legends and understand how and what they were doing to get their sound. The best way to use these exercises is to practice them slowly, carefully and thoughtfully so that you’re able to really get it into your fingers and make it come naturally.
That’s all for today, but if you want to see how Nathan works through these concepts, make sure to check out our accompanying YouTube video “INSTANTLY make any bebop line sound better.” And if you want to dive even deeper with new exercises and more, be sure to check out Chad LB’s masterclass on jazz articulation for over an hour of content plus PDFs and more.
See you next time!