Lesson # 8: Jazz Basics-Time and Feel

The PDF file for this lesson is here:


Here’s a list of the recorded examples I use in the lesson:

“Scrapple From the Apple” from Our Man In Paris by Dexter Gordon
“Brownie Speaks” From
New York Cats by Mark Elf
“Just Friends” from
El Hombre by Pat Martino
“Draw me Down” From
Nightwings By Pat Martino

Go to an actual store and buy them!!!

“Swinging is the art of negotiation with someone else, under the pressure of time. It shows you how opposites can come together, without compromising who they are. The one who plays the highest-sounding instrument in the rhythm section–the time-keeping cymbal–has to find a way of working with the one who plays the lowest instrument, the bass. And the bass player, who plays the softest instrument, has to find a way of working with the player of the loudest, the drums. To succeed, everybody has to have a very clear idea of the common goal: What exactly are we here to do? In jazz we know: swing. In life, if everyone involved can agree on a primary objective, a group can accomplish almost anything.”-Wynton Marsalis

I don’t think it’s any big secret that Jazz Guitarists are known for having issues with time. I mean, face it, the guitar it just a clumsy instrument. It’s just really hard to play.


Everything else I am about to say is far less important.

Time Placement

You may be wondering why a player may or may not choose a particular way of approaching the beat. Well, there is no easy answer for that. Playing behind the beat is generally looked at as having a really heavy sound, while playing slightly ahead has a different sort of intensity that may drive the rhythm section forward. As a rule of thumb,  players try to strike a balance between rhythm section and soloist. For example, the rhythm section might be locked in a steady but laid back groove causing the soloist to react by playing on top.

I keep a little practice journal beside me when I practice so I can document what I’m working on. I also document observations that I make while listening to music. One day I listened to a bunch of music and tried to document all of the players’ tendencies toward approaching the beat. Here is the list that I came up with:


Lee Morgan

Charlie Parker


Art Blakey

Charles Mingus

Tony Williams

Oscar Peterson

Coleman Hawkins


Elvin Jones

Lester Young


Jimmy Cobb

Lewis Nash

John Lewis

You should try to listen to several albums and write down your own observations as well.

Again, it must be pointed out that the only way to effectively influence your time is by transcribing master musicians. For guitar players, I recommend transcribing Wes Montgomery as always. Once you are comfortable with one of his solos, you should try to execute it against the recording. The amount of resistance one will feel locking up with Wes is tantamount to the deficiency each of us has with our own ability to swing in the pocket. Yup, his time is just that good!

Once you are comfortable playing behind, ahead, or dead center against a metronome, you’ll be ready to make conscious decisions regarding style and personal interpretation. Personally, I feel like my own tendencies are often dictated by whichever picking style I am using, the idea I am trying to execute, and most importantly how the rhythm section is interacting with me. We’ve already discussed the soloist/rhythm section relationship a bit so I won’t cover that here. As far as picking is concerned…well, unlike a lot of people, I use many styles. I assume that this will change sometime in the future depending on how strong my actual commitment to jazz actually becomes. For now though, I have to say that I use a technique that’s probably similar to Pat Martino’s when I am “driving” the beat. On the other hand, I feel like I revert into a Metheny-sque  legato style when I am trying to lay back a little. Occasionally, I will try to do some thing similar to John Scofield or Kurt Rosenwinkel, but it’s a little difficult because it  involves an extreme command of both the pull-off and hammer-on techniques. For some reason, the legato style comes more naturally for me and allows for more speed and a smoother sound. I just really love Martino’s sound and to be quite honest, I find that I miss some of the bebop sensibility from some of the legato players (I’ll check my e-mail for hate mail on this one.) Anyway, maybe someday I’ll sort this whole thing out. By the way, if anyone wants me to make a video describing different picking styles in jazz guitar, just let me know.

***Incidentally, if I could point to any one jazz guitarist that I really relate to from a purely technical stand point, it would probably be Vic Juris.  Out of any guitarist on the scene today, Vic seems to be the least tied to any one specific technique. I’ll write much more about him later I’m sure.

Swing Feel

Naturally, one will wonder why swing 8th notes are interpreted rather than notated specifically. Well, the answer to that question is rooted in the history of the particular epoch associated with swing music (1930’s and 40’s.) It’s generally assumed that musicians learned to interpret written 8ths as 8th-note triplets because it was less difficult to both notate & to sight-read. Since big bands were all the rage during this particular time period, players were often required to sight read on the spot.

The method and perspective I describe in the video lesson should be seen as a starting point, not a destination. The type of subdivision I am relating here is really something that becomes more prominent at slower tempos. As I have already stated-the more you increase the tempo, the more even your lines will become.


If you look at old jazz folios, you will sometimes find that the lines are written as dotted 8th notes. I have no idea why this was done but apparently some students have taken that interpretation to heart because I hear it a lot.

In addition to what I describe in the video other common problems include:

1) Rushing quarter notes and quarter rests.

2) Playing really stiff stacatto 8th note lines.

3) Rushing or slowdown during or at the end of phrases.

4) Slowing down on 8th notes on ties and dots.

5) Stiff downbeats.

Bob Taylor has an excellent PDF file that you can download here that goes into greater depth on almost all of these topics.

Closing Thoughts

I’m sure many of you have heard the famous Pat Metheny “lesson tape” where he states that there are only 4 guitar players in the history of Jazz that really have great time. Well, It’s no secret that Metheny is often prone to bouts of hyperbole and exaggeration but he does have a point. Ask yourself, “how many jazz guitarists do you know (in your peer group only) that really have amazing time?” Honestly, I know maybe 1 or 2 at best.

Here’s is my personal definitive list of every jazz guitar player in history who I think has perfect time:

***Wes Montgomery***

Okay, so here’s my quick list of jazz guitarists (in no particular order) who I think have really solid time:

Pat Metheny

Pat Martino

Vic Juris

Mick Goodrick

John Abercrombie

Kenny Burrell

Adam Rogers

Kurt Rosenwinkel

Johnny Smith

John Scofield

Jim Hall

Peter Bernstein

Atilla Zoller

Wayne Krantz

Joe Diorio

Allan Holdsworth

Bill Frisell

Ben Monder

Wolfgang Muthspiel

George Van Eps

Charlie Christian

Finally, Here’s a funny video of Jimmy Raney talking about time:


  1. Hi, Just a note of thanks for the phenominal amount of work and commitment in this site.
    I have just discovered you today and wish Id found you ages ago.

    Thanks again for a great and understandable approach, youre bookmarked!

  2. Th solo at the begining is AMAZING in term of timing.
    Can you share the chord progression and ideas you used in it?

  3. Hey great blog and amazing material. I was wondering if your offer for doing a video on picking techniques is still open. If so, I’m in for that one!

    Thanks for the great work.


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