Playing 4 on the floor!

Playing old school jazz from the 20s and 30s on guitar provides a great growth opportunity for modern players.  If you think playing Freddie Green chords for a whole gig is boring, think again!  When the drummer, bassist and keys have ears, plus the soloists are swinging, the rhythm section becomes big and light at the same time.  You really start to feel the groove and understand why jazz made a couple generations dance like crazy!

Committing to playing all the quarter notes opens your ears up to so many intricacies of the music.  It’s like turning into an ant!  But instead of seeing the giant droplet of water, you hear every note of the bass, every ping of the ride cymbal and you listen to exactly where the hi-hat lands.  And you become an integral part of that landscape in a way that modern comping rarely allows.

The texture of your chords, while always important, becomes critical.  You want to help the bassist swing harder but you don’t want to cover up his/her notes.  Higher up in pitch, the notes on the guitar can interfere with the crispness of the hi-hat.  Again you have leave space here as well.

There’s a slightly muffled, pizzacato approach using the deeper 4 strings that allows both the drums and bass to the shine.  But the guitar fills out the space.  It makes you feel like you are in a cozy living room by the fire.  With the guitar, you add even more energy to the beat and when bass, drums, guitar and piano are locked in, watch out!

You have to lock in with the other folks playing.  Your time has to be strong but elastic when necessary.  Playing 4 on the floor on fast tunes like Cherokee is not easy!  You probably will start dragging after about the 5th chorus unless you have lots of practice!  And on slow tunes, the guitar fits in somewhere in the beat.  It’s a feel thing.  Plus, you may need to take the timekeepers role.  The bass may be dragging and now you are the human bridge between the bassist and the drummer.  Or the drummer is rushing and you have to drag the beat just enough that the song doesn’t try to go out into orbit!

And not all quarter notes are played equally!  Each can have a different accent in a 1, 2, 4 bar or 8 bar phrase.  The 2 and 4 are stronger, even if slightly.  Sometimes the last 4 of a 2 bar phrase can be given extra emphasis.  And creating dynamics for longer phrases breathes life into the music.  The bridge and verse usually have different feels, too.

Hope you get a chance to try playing 4 quarters a measure.  I definitely appreciate the bassist so much after trying to play like Freddie Green.  For many years I’ve been skeptical and slightly snobby about playing 4 for 4 but realized it’s a great thing.  It’s a backbone of the music.  Instead of diminishing possibilities, it provides another manner to create great music.

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