Accentuation

In African American music, phrasing strives for swing or groove.

Variation in the duration of the sounds is not enough to create a swing feel; accentuation also plays an important role. In jazz phrasing, tones on accented beats are often softened by accenting tones on the preceding unaccented beats so that accented tones sometimes become quiet, inaudible ghost notes. The listener will hear the accented tone in his or her mind, which creates a swinging, forward-moving feeling. In practice, the span of the melody determines what tones to accent; also, accented tones can be stressed. There is no hard-and-fast rule for accentuation; the only way to learn it is by listening to a lot of music. A melody can also be given different stress patterns. Below is a list of principles that work in most cases.

1) In stepwise progressions of quavers/eighth notes, unaccented beats are stressed.

Example 57
example 57

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2) The stress is often placed on a note which changes the direction of the melody.

Example 58
example 58

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3) Syncopated notes are usually stressed.

Example 59
example 59

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4) Quavers/quarter notes or notes with a longer duration are often stressed.

Example 60
example 60

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5) A note on an unaccented beat preceding a stressed note on an accented beat cannot be accented.

Example 61
example 61

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6) Accents can be placed on notes that build a rhythmic motif, for example, a polymeter.

Example 62
example 62

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Exercises:

Practise jazz phrasing by playing scales. Place stress on the unaccented notes. Look for as much of a legato phrasing as possible. Exaggerate the dynamics between stressed and unstressed notes. Try different tempos. In quicker tempos, the eighths become more even while accentuation remains intact. Shift the stresses; place stress on the accented notes, on every third note, and on random notes. Keep regular durations. A metronome will be necessary in this exercise. Adjust it to click on each crotchet/quarter note; later you can set it to click on the 2nd and 4th beats of the bar.

Practise Examples 12-16 (Jazz Style > Learning Musical Phrases) using jazz phrasing. Make sure you play the accented note or rest in a syncopation with a long enough duration (= two quavers/eighth notes of a triplet).

In jazz phrasing, the unaccented note has a short duration (one quaver/eighth note of a triplet). It is often stressed and played with too long a duration, which makes the accented note fall behind. Practise the shift from an unaccented note to an accented one. Despite the stress on the unaccented note, it must be played short enough, and the unstressed note must be played with an accurate accent, even if it is just an almost inaudible ghost note. Play the following exercise and exaggerate the dynamics. Play the unstressed note with an accent as a ghost note. You can underline the legato nature of the line by letting the stressed note echo for a moment simultaneously with an unstressed note.

Example 63
example 63

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If you are uncertain of the stresses in a melody line, sing the line and exaggerate the dynamics; unstressed notes will remain almost inaudible. The stressed notes will be the rhythmic body of the melody. This is a good way of checking whether the accentuation is working.