By Pete BarenBregge
Jazz Editor, Alfred Music/Belwin Jazz

Why do you need to know and understand jazz articulation? Often, jazz instruction begins with improvisation. While improvisation is certainly the essence of jazz and essential to study and learn, jazz articulation is basis of the jazz style. Articulation is a fundamental element—basic jazz vocabulary. Jazz is a language, and as with any language, you must begin to learn by grasping basic vocabulary.

Playing with accurate jazz articulation will allow a player on any instrument to have the correct jazz style, and ultimately, jazz phrasing—essential ingredients to jazz. If you are playing in an ensemble, jazz articulation is even more critical. Accurate and cohesive jazz articulation in an ensemble will make the band sound more mature, polished and musical—trust me!

Attacks, releases, jazz syllables are all part of the process of learning jazz articulation. Using jazz syllables will help you to master the jazz language. Educator/author Caleb Chapman states a basic jazz articulation rule: Always slur from the offbeat eighth note to the downbeat eighth note.

How do you know what to articulate? To put the simple jazz articulation rule into action, let’s explore two basic jazz syllables. (1) First is the syllable for a tongued or articulated note: DA. Notice how when you say “DA” the sound begins with the tongue and incorporates the “D” sound to begin the articulation. Using the “D” articulation is very important—it sounds smoother than a “T” articulation and is more appropriate for the jazz style. Rhythm section instruments should mimic or adapt this same articulation on their instrument.

(2) The next syllable to learn is for slurred notes: AH. So, two basic articulation syllables are DA and AH, it’s easy!

Begin by applying the jazz articulation rule to eighth notes by slurring from the offbeat eighth note to the downbeat eighth note.

Practice saying these two syllables “DA” and “AH” repeatedly as if they were in 4/4 meter using eighth notes: DA AH DA AH DA AH DA AH. Now try (8) eighth notes followed by a half note: DA DA AH DA AH DA AH DA AH. It kinda swings!

In the following music exercise there are articulation syllables written below some of the notes. However, not every note has a syllable. So you fill in the missing syllables in the space provided below the note. Then sing it or play it with the syllables. In this music exercise, notes longer than an eighth note should all be articulated by using the DA syllable.

So, check it out, and most importantly, have fun playing JAZZ!

The composition, “Strollin’,” is by Jeff Coffin and is taken from the series of books, The Articulate Jazz Musician by Caleb Chapman and Jeff Coffin.