Starting Lines (Early and Late)

In our last lesson, Improvising with Arpeggios (Bebop), we looked at using arpeggios to create lines in a Bebop style. All of our lines started on the beat of bar 1. When we play lines, we want to be more casual. To achieve this, start the line before the first beat of the bar or start the line late. Let’s look at different ways we can start our phrases before the bar and at ways to start our lines late.

To start the line early, the easiest approach is to use a pickup note. Let’s look at one of the lines from our previous lesson and add a pickup note before the line.

Adding just one note like this makes the line feel more natural and relaxed, more like a jazz line should. Let’s add a few more notes. In this example, we will use neighbour tones. Neighbour tones are the notes before and after our target note. In this case it would be the first note of our arpeggio. (F)

Let’s add a full 2 beats. Here I’ve used both diatonic and chromatic neighbour tones. (More on that in a later lesson.)

Next, let’s start the line late. We will add an 8th note rest and make up for the missing note by using a triplet.

Now let’s make the first beat of the line a rest and use 16th notes.

Starting lines before and after the beat helps to make your improvised lines sound more spontaneous and musical. In jazz, this is a must. When you are learning or creating new lines, you probably want to start by playing the lines from beat one. This allows you to more effectively understand what you are playing and how it will sound over the chords. Once you are comfortable playing the lines in this more strict form, work on starting the lines early and/or late to make them sound more musical and true to the jazz style.

Author: Michael Berard

Michael Berard was a part-time music professor for over 25 years at Concordia University in Montreal Canada. There he taught jazz guitar, jazz arranging, jazz composition as well as other jazz related courses. He has worked over the years as a jazz musician playing jazz clubs, concerts and studio sessions. Michael has played on numerous recordings including 3 of his own: "It's Autumn," "Little Voices" and "Good News." Michael is also the author of "Jazz Guitar Elements," a comprehensive jazz guitar method and "Jazz Reading Elements," a new jazz sight reading book geared towards jazz guitarists.