Articulation plays an extremely important role in distinguishing the style of jazz music. In this guide, I want to talk about jazz articulation on the trumpet or how to play jazz trumpet.
Articulation simply means the way you toungue, slur, and accent individual notes.
Let’s dive right in.
Classical articulation vs. Jazz articulation
Most people begin playing trumpet by studying a classical method where the notes are articulated very evenly by default.
Unlike classical articulation, jazz articulation is uneven by default. It is a departure from classical articulation.
By implementing the feel of swing, tongue/slur combinations, and cross-accents, we create the uneven feel that is characteristic of jazz music.
How to play jazz trumpet
Let’s explore some jazz articulations and learn how to apply them on trumpet.
An easy way to start to get the feel for jazz articulation is to first start off with the classical approach (playing all the notes evenly), and then gradually add articulation ingredients that create that jazz feel.
Of course, we’ll go over each these ingredients in the rest of this guide.
Something as basic as the C major scale suffices for a start. We’ll start by articulating all the notes exactly the same with an even approach from note to note.
In classical music, this is the general approach unless otherwise indicated in the music.
Next, we’re going to start adding things that set jazz articulation apart.
When you hear players playing and they don’t sound like skilled jazz musicians, I bet part of the problem is that they are not articulating properly. They might be doing some things in more of a classical manner.
#1 — The swing feel (triplets)
One of the things right off the bat is the swing feel.
That’s not enough in itself, but if we start to just play the C major scale, and implement the swing feel into that scale, we’re already getting somewhere in terms of that jazz articulation.
Let’s play that C major scale with the swing feel which is based on triplets while still keeping everything even.
#1 — The weights
One way we can make this more swingy is using different weights.
If we think of this in groups of two notes, for instance, and we give the second note more weight, that’s going to add to the feel.
#1 — The slur/tongue combinations
Another way we can make this even more swingy is to do what’s called a slur/tongue combination — instead of tounging every note, we toungue and then slur some notes only.
We might toungue, and then slur, and keep alternating between the two, for instance.
Now try to speed up the tempo to see the effect it creates.
You can even try practicing different scales and arpeggios with that articulation. By doing that you are getting a lot closer to jazz articulation.
In fact, you should practice this every day.
Practice your scales and arpeggios using the swing feel, using different weights, and using the slur/tongue combination on the notes.
You can play with accents at pretty much anywhere you want them to be. This will change the scale up a little bit, so instead of doing this regularly, do it sporadically.
That will be closer to what you might be doing when you are playing in actual improvised solo.
Jazz is an oral art form — listen
The next step, once you are comfortable using these articulations on a scale, you want to start incorporating them into tunes. There’s many examples of these.
You’ve got to hear Charlie Parker playing this, for instance. Listen to it first. Listen to the way he articulates. That’s going to make a huge difference in how you play.
Remember that jazz is an oral art form. It’s something we have to listen to, not just read or study. We have to hear it.
You’ll notice that Charlie Parker plays with a lot of feel and swing, he’s ghosting notes, he’s altering weights (some notes heavier, some lighter), some with more articulation and front to the notes — really try to absorb with your ears what he’s doing.
Listening and playing how you’re hearing alone goes a long way in making your playing sound more authentic.
If you are not listening to the music, there’s no way you’re going to be playing it in any kind of way that’s authentic or true to the original.
As with many great players in the jazz tradition, whether it’s bebop, dixieland or contemporary, all the trumpet players that sound great out there checked out the recordings to pick up jazz articulation.
It’s not just from getting it from a book, or from any kind of distilled method. It’s from really checking out the recordings and listening to what the masters have done.
Play classical music with jazz articulation
A reverse way to look at this classical vs jazz approach is to take a piece of music that’s normally played in a classical style and play it in a jazz style. For instance, something by Bach.
Putting a swing rythmn to it totally transforms the feel.
By doing exactly the same things we were talking about before, you can really transform the classical feel of a piece into a more jazzy one.
One great resource you can use to practice jazz articulation are the etudes and the exercises that you are already using that might be in more of a classical style.
All that classical music can be used as a really great resource for learning how to play jazz. It all depends on what ingredients you throw into it and what you’re trying to get done.
Play your solos with improvised jazz articulation
You want to start using these in your improvised solos as well.
Keep in mind that there is no one way to practice all these things, in fact the more creative you get with it, the more the creativity comes out of your solos.
You don’t have to have classical training to apply jazz articulation. But if you’re classically trained, you have to realize that you have to rethink some of the things that you already have as a habit.
If you are new to this, and jazz is the first type of music that you’ve been playing, the same applies — a fair bit of practice and a lot of listening.