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The Jazz Ride Cymbal Pattern And How To Make It Swing - Part 1

Werkin' With Wertico: Jazz Drumming Part 2:

By Paul Wertico

There are many things that attract people to jazz. These can include jazz's spirit of adventure and freedom, as well as the jazz musicians' expertise in both soloing and engaging in highly advanced musical interplay. Also, for many listeners, it's the strong sense of swing that makes jazz so special. For the jazz drummer, his/her ability to swing is no doubt the most crucial requirement, and of paramount importance is the way the drummer plays the ride cymbal. The ride cymbal gives the tempo a distinct feel and it also gives the band a type of sonic cushion, something that the rest of the band "rides" on. But how do you get your ride cymbal rhythm to swing?

Let's first look at the standard 4/4 time signature ride pattern itself. This is the most commonly played, yet quite often misplayed, jazz ride cymbal rhythm. When this rhythm is played correctly, it marks and secures the tempo, while simultaneously giving the tempo a feeling of buoyancy and forward motion. The following are two of the most commonly written ride pattern interpretations.

In Example #1, you'll see a version of the standard 4/4 jazz ride pattern played in a triplet fashion.

Example #1. Jazz ride pattern with triplet feel:


However, depending on the tempo and on the style of jazz you're playing, this triplet subdivision can also be written and played as a dotted eighth with a sixteenth note (See Example #2).

Example #2. Jazz ride pattern with dotted eighth sixteenth note feel:


Most drum books show the ride pattern written either one of these two ways. However, there are distinct differences in the two written patterns. The triplet version gives a slightly more "round" sound to the overall feel. The dotted eighth sixteenth note version gives a slightly more rigid overall feel. Playing either of these feels should be a conscious musical choice, depending on the desired feel and the style of jazz being played. The triplet version works great with looser type rhythm sections (ie. John Coltrane's Quartet with drummer Elvin Jones). The dotted eighth sixteenth note version works well with swing, bebop, and big bands because it tightens up the feel and it seems to give the music an edge. Tempo can also affect the ride pattern subdivision. Generally, the slower the tempo, the more the ride pattern gravitates towards the dotted eighth sixteenth note version, and the faster the tempo, the more the ride pattern gravitates to even eighth notes (See Example #3). Of course there are always exceptions, but these are the general rules of thumb.

Example #3. Jazz ride pattern with even eighth note feel:


Now that we've talked about the ride pattern subdivisions, how do we get any of them to have a true jazz feel and really swing? The easiest way is to think of the ride pattern not as a bunch of separate notes, but as a repeating three note phrase that starts on beats "2" & "4". Here's where many inexperienced jazz drummers misinterpret the pattern. Although they may play the subdivisions of the ride pattern rhythm accurately, their feel often suffers because of the way they tend to emphasize beats "1" & "3" (See Example #4).

Example #4. "Incorrect" feel (accents on beats "1" & "3"):


When this rhythm is played with an emphasize on beats "1" & "3", the forward motion seems to stop and start every two beats and has a jerky feel to it. This can work in certain circumstances, or when trying to play with a "two-beat" feel, but in general, accenting the "1" & "3" is much like clapping on the "1" & "3". (Something not known as a sign of hipness!!!) Any additional counter rhythms, such as left hand snare drum syncopations, etc., only masks the problem.

Here's a simple way to think of the ride pattern to get it swinging. First, a really crutial factor to grooving is to make sure you feel (as well as play) a strong quarter note pulse on your ride cymbal, one that locks in with your bass player. Next, sing to yourself: "Hey, Swing-the-band, Swing-the-band, Swing-the-band, Swing-the-band" (See Example #5).

Example #5. "Correct" feel using "Hey, Swing-the-band, Swing-the-band" (accents on beats "2" & "4"):


By thinking of: "Hey" as the downbeat (the "1" of the first bar only), then "Swing" (the "2" of the first bar), "the" (the "ah" of "2" of the first bar), "band" (the "3" of the first bar), "Swing" (the "4" of the first bar), "the" (the "ah" of "4" of the first bar) and "band" (the "1" of the next measure), etc., etc., you'll be on your way to phrasing the ride pattern correctly.

The accent on the "2" & "4" can be either strong or subtle, again depending on the desired feel. Also, remember to keep that strong "four" feeling! That's what gives your time-feel "drive" and then the "2" and "4" just seem to dance on top of that driving pulse. By approaching the ride pattern in this manner, I think you'll see that your ride pattern will start to swing much more. We'll look at other important factors in playing your ride cymbal in my next article. Good luck and have fun!!!

Paul's Picks of the Best Recorded Examples of Jazz Drumming

Here are five classic recordings are some of my personal favorites and although they don't represent the earliest forms of jazz drumming (we'll get to that later), they do represent various jazz drumming styles and they swing so hard it's downright scary. (I'll suggest an additional five in each of my next articles.)

1. "Clifford Brown & Max Roach" (Max Roach - drums)

2. "The Sidewinder" - Lee Morgan (Billy Higgins - drums)

3. "Four And More" - Miles Davis (Tony Williams - drums)

4. "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" - Chick Corea (Roy Haynes - drums)

5. "Thad Jones & Mel Lewis Orchestra" (Mel Lewis - drums)

When playing these recordings, first just enjoy and absorb...jazz is powerful music of the human spirit. Next, pay attention to the way these drummers play the ride cymbal (the true signature of any jazz drummer). After that, listen to how their particular way of keeping time blends with the bass player and the rest of the rhythm section. Notice how each drummer's style of comping with the soloists keeps the music fired up and flowing. Pay attention to the sound of the drums and cymbals, the sound of the overall band, the dynamic changes, the interplay, the sound of the recording itself, etc. Also, really try to learn the compositions. Many of these songs are now jazz standards that you may get called to play one day, so learn them now. By doing so, any future jazz studies will make musical sense.

Next article: "The Jazz Ride Cymbal Pattern And How To Make It Swing - Part 2"

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