The Rhythm Book

The Rhythm Book – 20 Years Later………. I was putting a copy of ‘Creative Rhythmic Concepts for Jazz Improvisation’, the book I’ve written on various rhythmic techniques, into an envelope the other day and was shocked to notice that it was first published just 20 years ago. It really doesn’t seem that long ago that I received the first shipment of these books from the printer – I remember looking at what seemed to be a mountain of boxes and thinking to myself that twenty years from now I’d probably be keeping the majority of these books under my bed! But, to my constant surprise, the book still sells and people still seem interested in it, and it is in fact now in its third edition. 

The fact that there’s still a demand for the book I believe says something about the rhythmic direction jazz has been going towards over the past 20 years or more. The book deals extensively with three major areas – unusual subdivision, metric modulation, and playing in odd metres. All of these are techniques that are now widely in use in jazz, and I guess it’s a testament to the book and accompanying CD that it is still in demand. You can see a sample lesson below, and if you would like purchase a copy of the book, you can contact me directly.

Email List

Sign up for info, music and more!

Click to Follow!

Listen to lots of my music on Soundcloud

Creative Rhythmic Concepts for Jazz Improvisation Sample Lesson:

Lesson 5, Metric Modulation A sample lesson and audio clip from the book Creative Rhythmic Concepts for Jazz Improvisation by Ronan Guilfoyle (© 2000 Newpark Music). What is Metric modulation? Metric modulation is the modulation of the original metre, either upwards to a faster tempo or downwards to a slower tempo, using a subdivision of the original pulse to decide the speed of the modulation. The mechanics of the process are as follows: 

1) Subdivide the original pulse into smaller or larger pulses. 

2) Reorganise these pulses into regular groupings, so that the impression of a new tempo or metre is created. 

However it should be stressed that at no time during Examples 9 -17 does a real new tempo come into existence, only the impression of a new tempo is created. This "new" tempo maintains a strict relationship to the original pulse at all times. This type of metric modulation is a very common one, and is probably one that you have done yourself at times for example by playing in ‘double time’. 

The technique of metric modulation can be used extremely effectively to create tension and release, and to provide variety and contrast within a piece. In the written part of the examples, everything is written out rhythmically only. On the two stave system, the bottom stave represents the original pulse and the top stave represents the modulation. On the top stave, the dotted line represents the bar line of the new suggested pulse. 

All of these subdivisions are of 4 or 8 bar lengths. The reason for this is that as jazz musicians we are used to dealing with tunes constructed from these numbers of bars and when dealing with an unfamiliar concept like metric modulation it is good to have something to relate to. However I must stress that modulations can last for any length of time and, like substitute chord changes, are completely at the discretion of the improviser. In all of these examples, when the bass and drums modulate to the new tempo, both instruments accentuate beats 2 and 4 of the bar in the normal jazz manner. 

All of these examples are of swinging time but there are of course other ways of modulating with different feels. The basic process of these modulations is as follows. Take the original pulse and subdivide it, (such as into quarter note triplets as in example 9), and then, treating each single unit of the subdivision as a quarter note, regroup these subdivisions into 4, thus creating the impression of a new tempo but in reality being part of the original tempo.  Example 9: 6 bars modulated pulse = 4 bars original pulse. Modulation: 3 over 2 Click here to download Example 9 in MP3 format.

Musicians' Comments on “Creative Rhythmic Concepts for Jazz Improvisation" 

Ronan Guilfoyle's book is quite possibly the best on the use of rhythm in improvised music. Rhythm is the least explored frontier of music, and this book goes well beyond existing books on the subject. Ronan's explanation of metric modulation is the clearest and best I've ever seen. Great book." - Mark Levine 

Ronan Guilfoyle's treatise is the first clear explanation of the more recent rhythmic developments in contemporary jazz. Most importantly, it provides specific exercises for practicing those techniques. It is concise and to the point. This is a must for artists trying to expand their rhythmic vocabulary." - David Liebman 

In a music marketplace awash with books about scales, voicings, and harmony, "Creative Rhythmic Concepts for Jazz Improvisation" is a necessary, welcome addition. Clearly written and laid out, it is a source book of rhythmic ideas from a variety of the world's cultures that will help every creative musician expand his or her improvisational world. Before you buy any other book on improvisation, get this one. It belongs on every improviser's music stand." - Jim McNeely 

This is the most comprehensive book about rhythm that I have ever seen. The explorations and examples from cultures around the world will truly broaden your horizons and multiply what you already know about improvising melody a thousand-fold. Thanks, Ronan. A great contribution for all improvising musicians." - Marc Johnson 

This is a fascinating book that gives a fresh and all important look at rhythm and its use in improvisation. Not only helpful in playing odd metres naturally, but in applying metric groups to traditional song form." - John Abercrombie 

Creative Rhythmic Concepts for Jazz Improvisation is a text of enormous magnitude! It should be required reading for all persons who have decided to embark on the arduous journey of learning how to express their musical feelings through the medium of jazz improvisation." - Keith Copeland 

As a drummer and teacher I strongly agree with one of the premises of this book - most non-drummer jazz students give much higher priority to the study of melody and harmony than they do to the study of rhythm. The concepts presented in this book promote both a practical and theoretical guide to ideas about rhythm - modulation, superimposition, co-ordination, grouping and counting among others, that can only help the jazz student widen his/her playing. As ethnic musics from around the world continue to influence jazz, the ideas in this book will prove invaluable to improvising musicians for years to come." - Eliot Zigmund