• Nabou Claerhout

Creative Rhythmic Concepts for Jazz Improvisation – Ronan Guilfoyle

I was selected as, what they call, a promising young jazz musician to represent Belgium in the Criss Cross feat Jim Black 2021 tour in October. There I met Guitar player Chris Guifoyle. The topic of one of our conversations was my research about rhythm as a building block for jazz improvisation and composition. He soon referred to his father Ronan Guilfoyle's book "Creative Rhythmic Concepts for Jazz Improvisation" and his for many years research about rhythmic methods for non-drummers.


Ronan Guilfoyle is a major figure in the Irish jazz scene. As a bass player he played amongst others as Dave Liebman, Kenny Werner, Joe Lovano, Kenny Wheeler, Brad Mehldau, John Abercrombie,… and have tours with his own project in Europe, Asia and North America.


On my arrival in Belgium, I read and analyzed the book as a starting point for my follow-up research. Hoping to find new information on how to use rhythm as a building block in your improvisation and composition. And methods to put this into practice.


Ronan’s book starts with an introduction where he gives a guide of how you can use his book.

First of all you need some equipment as a metronome or a drum computer.

Where we use the piano as a tool to practice our intervals or new harmonic information, we need the metronome or drum computer as a rhythmic tool. To practice this (sometimes) very abstract rhythms?.

It’s very clear that you need to play a #11 on the piano before you can sing it or play it on your instrument. That’s the same with rhythm. We need a drum computer in our practice room to let us hear examples of a 5 over 4 before that we can play it. Or a metronome to support the study of rhythmic concepts. Just as we need a backing track to practice our studied scales for our improvisation.


Something else that Ronan brings up in his introduction is the way you should approach the exercises. He believes you have to do that from 3 different perspectives:


1) As a musician without the instrument (syllables or clapping)

2) As a listener (listening back to recordings)

3) As a musician on your instrument.


It’s very important to recognize that rhythmic problems are mostly solved in the musically ear (relisten to the practice process) and in the body (syllables or clapping). They are not really solved on the instrument. If you are not feeling the thing rhythmically you will not be able to put it on the instrument. That’s why we do all the exercises without the instrument first.


Structure-wise you can divide Guilfoyle’s book in to three topics:

1. Subdivision

2. Odd Metres

3. Metric Modulation


There is a lot of information in Ronan’s book. But for this research I chose to focus on the first two topics. His “Creative Subdivision” system and his approach for practicing Odd Metres are two new practical concepts that lead me in the right direction for my rhythmical didactic tool.

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