Meditative Rhythms: The Ultimate Jazz Guitar Warm Up Exercise

In this blog post and video we’ll look into an exercise that is very simple. It’s called meditative rhythms. In my humble opinion, this is the most effective jazz guitar warm up there is! Ready?

Jazz Guitar Warm Up: Meditation?

Meditative Rhythms is a term borrowed from David Berkman, a jazz pianist and educator in New York. I’ve modified his exercise to suit my taste and answer some students’ needs through my years of teaching. This meditative exercise constitutes one of the greatest and simplest warm up for jazz musicians. It puts your mind into good time and can be adjusted for all levels. The benefits are immediate as your playing gets move into the groove right away when you start practicing improvisation and comping later into your practice session.

There are five steps that are gradually more difficult. All you need is your metronome, your instrument and lots of patience. I usually recommend students use this jazz guitar warm up with for the first five to ten percent of their practice session.

Step One: Equal Subdivisions

Simple grab your metronome now, set it between 40 and 60 bpm and attempt to play equal subdivision of each click. Here’s what I mean, first you set the metronome (say at 50) and you attempt to play one note, such as an open string exactly with every click. You pick once per click. It’s pretty simple, right?

Then, you will get playing two equal subdivisions. The click is still at the same speed but you subdivide this click in two equal parts, and so on. You go to three equal parts, four equal parts, five equal parts, and so on.  [See the video for the demonstration]

After you can do this fairly well, that is subdividing equally up to a certain amount of subdivisions, say five, six, seven and eight, I recommend you lower the tempo on your metronome to make the exercise even more difficult. Personally, I find that 40 bpm is very challenging for a jazz guitar warm up. I encourage you to do the same.

Also note that we are not talking about time signatures here at all. We’re simple talking about one pulse, subdivided into equal parts. It’s not even 4/4, it’s not even 5/4, 3/4, it’s none of that. It’s not eighth notes, sixteenth notes, quarter notes, it’s simple a pulse subdivided into equal parts.

Step Two: Jump Between “Gears”

In the second step, what we are attempting to do is jump in between gears, so called, so we will try to jump between the different subdivisions.

Here’s what I mean: first, you set yourself comfortably in a certain subdivision, for instance, you picked four equal subdivisions. Then your goal is to go from four to three subdivisions, still just playing an open string, just picking a single string. Attempt to make the subdivisions seamless, as seamless as possible. You want to make sure that you “make” the right subdivisions and that it doesn’t take you much time to readjust to the new gear.

[See the video for the demonstration] Some of them that are really difficult for me. Such as going from five equal subdivisions down to two, and then back to five. This proves very challenging because when you go back and forth, you always think that it’s faster, or it’s slower than it actually is. We always tend to overcorrect our timing. And that’s the beauty of this jazz guitar warm up.

Step Three: Add a Melodic Component

So now, let’s add a soloing part to this or even just a melodic part to those rhythms. Everything that we’ve covered so far still applies. This means that you are still aiming to do equal subdivisions of the pulse. You are also still going to be attempting to switch between gears if you can.

But the challenge and the fun in step three is to add scales, arpeggios and/or soloing. Believe it or not, this is one of the greatest ways to test yourself and see if you can improvise (or just “be”) within a scale and keep all this stuff together.

Be careful, this is not an exercise for beginners. At this point, you need to be very much in control of whatever scale or position you’re attempting to improvise with, right? [See the video for the demonstration]

Once you’re comfortable doing meditative rhythms (with say doing three subdivisions) by going up and down a certain scale, and by doing jumps in between subdivisions (say from three to five and so on)  see if you can let yourself go and improvise totally freely. This is more or less what I’ve been doing in the demonstration,  because I wanted to see if I could push myself and really play freely any melodic idea that comes to mind while strictly focusing on the timing. You should attempt to do this also. Put all your energies into the rhythms.

Step Four: Adding Accents

Now, for the fourth step we’ll be starting to work with accents. I don’t want to spend too much time on this because if you’re advanced enough to work with these topics, you already get it, kind of.

I’ll give you two examples of where I’d like to use accents. Say I’m playing five subdivisions. Instead of doing 1-2-3-4-5, I may decide to play the five as two and three, so: 1-2 1-2-3, then 1-2, 1-2-3 etc. And the accent is happening every time your say “one”. Of course, all the three previous steps can still apply. You’re aiming at equal subdivisions. You’re attempting to jump in between gears. Say, you subdivide your five with a certain accent pattern. You might want to go down to two or up to nine with a different pattern. Also, you are attempting to add melodic improvisation, whether it be completely free or within a certain scale or arpeggio.

Lot’s of stuff to juggle, uh? 🙂

So simple, yet so challenging … and effective.

Working with accents is very interesting. Another easy accent pattern to work with is the seven, where instead of counting up to seven 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, I will subdivide it like this: 1-2 1-2 1-2-3. Once again, the accent happens when you say “one”. [See the video for the demonstration]

Step Five (Advanced): Polyrhythms

That’s it!

In a last and fifth step, (not covered in the video),  you can look into polyrhythms. You see, throughout this jazz guitar warm up with Meditative Rhythms ,  we have only used subdivisions of one click (one pulse). But you may elect to subdivide two pulses. For instance, you might decide that your new unit of measurement is two beats and re-do all the same exercise.

Not sure? Here: see if you can subdivide two pulses into one equal part. Then two clicks into two equal parts. And go up with two clicks subdivided into three equal parts, and so on. This is a very advanced thing to do! Especially if you’re trying to use the previous four steps from Meditative Rhythms with polyrhythms. If you’re advanced enough, I’m sure you will be covering this on your own. Will ya?! 🙂

I hope this exercise really helps you have more solid time and groove better. I challenge you to add this to your practice session for the next month or so and see the results.

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