Creative Corner: Improvise with Latin Rhythms

Look for a new  "Creative Corner" each week.... Posts will follow a question and answer format. Although answers may be provided by others, I am pleased and honored to announce that a good portion of posts will be provided by the sage of all things jazz and so much more: Bradley Sowash. Bradley possesses a unique combination of skills as an acclaimed jazz performer, author of top-selling method books for learning  jazz, and an educator, too.  He is a regular guest on the PBS TV series The Piano Guy since its inception.

Today's Question:  How do you teach improvisation within Latin Rhythms?

Bradley's Answer: Here's Bradley in a video explaining how he teaches essential elements of the Latin style and improvisation. He uses a piece "Burrito Cha-Cha", featured in his book "That's Jazz Book 1". The clip provides invaluable tips on teaching Latin rhythm but also provides an inside look at Bradley's introduction to improvising and a glimpse of his groovin' personality at the keys.

Video Highlights:

*In Classical traditions, 8th notes are grouped into two sets of four. (4+4).

*In Latin style, the eight 8th notes are grouped into groups of 3+3+2. Count and play each 8th note and count 123 123 12, then tie them back together but still count 123 123 12. Always subdivide any difficult rhythm and learn to feel accents in unusual places that you may not find in European based pieces.

*Reading is just as important as improvising.

*Playing the piano is similar to drawing a picture in one hand and writing your name in the other. To get started with this feeling, use the same given LH pattern (found in "Burrito Cha-Cha") but move the RH up and down the scale. Make the LH simpler if need be. When you can play the scale with confidence up and down, then...

  1. Make random changes in the direction of adjacent notes of the scale. Just play--the key is don't stop! If you don't like your ending're only ever one step away from a better note.
  2. Add in longer notes--throw in some pauses. The book includes examples from which to learn--eventually you want to get away from them and do your own thing.
  3. Now add leaps, skips, 4ths, 5ths...not just adjacent notes.

*These three steps: random change of direction along the scale, addition of longer notes and bigger skips--that really is what music is all about.

*Step by step (the three listed above) you too, can stumble into a musical approach to improvising that doesn't require a lot of genius or expertise in order to feel like you are improvising.

Like the video? Here's a link to more.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Always welcomed.