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The ABCs of Bebop Ornamentation

The ABCs of Bebop Ornamentation

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A short essay on the basics of bebop ornamentation with musical examples.
A short essay on the basics of bebop ornamentation with musical examples.

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The ABCs of Bebop Ornamentation By Greg Fishman Have you ever listened to a classic recording of Charlie Parker, Sonny

Stitt, Cannonball Adderley or Dizzy Gillespie and wondered just what to call those fast “extra” notes they're adding to their eighthnote lines? Those notes are called “ornaments.” Bebop is a highly ornamented style of music. The "ornaments" are usually sixteenth-notes or sixteenth-note triplets within a line of mostly eighth-notes. They add a polished, sophisticated quality to the lines. The ornaments can be embedded within the line or sometimes used as a pickup to an eighth-note line. In this article, I'll discuss ways to incorporate these ornaments into your own improvised lines. CHRISTMAS TREES When I hear the word “ornament,” I immediately think of the colorful decorations used to hang on Christmas trees. Ornaments come in a wide variety of materials, shapes and colors. For example, some are glass, while others are plastic. Some are shaped like a ball, while others are shaped like stars or animals. Ornaments come in all different sizes and colors. The size, shape and style of the ornaments you'll use to decorate your tree will depend on your personal taste. For example, some people like lots of ornaments all over the tree. In this case, the primary focus for those viewing the tree is the ornaments. Others go for a “less is more” approach, using just a few ornaments, (or none) and choosing to place the visual focus on the beauty of the tree itself. Of course, the trick is to strike just the right balance between the tree and the ornaments. If there are too few ornaments, the tree looks too plain. If there are too many ornaments, the display can look gaudy. EACH PHRASE IS A BRANCH Why all the talk about Christmas trees? Just as ornaments can decorate the branches of a Christmas tree, musical ornaments decorate the “branches” of your musical phrases. Think of each phrase in your solo as a branch on a tree. You decide how you'd like to decorate that branch. If you want to draw someone's attention to that particular branch, you'll decorate that branch with lots of ornaments. However, not all lines need ornaments. Sometimes the beauty of the line will stand on its own, with no need for ornamentation. At other times, you might want to add some ornamentation to give the line a little bit of rhythmic sparkle. THE VISUAL CHRISTMAS TREE Try this experiment: Look at a Charlie Parker transcription (from the Charlie Parker Omnibook) from a purely visual perspective, and imagine the eighth-notes to be branches on a tree. Whenever you see the number “3” which denotes triplets, or if you see anywhere from two up to six sixteenthnotes within a line of eighth-notes, those represent the ornaments on the branches. Often, the

it's called playing in “double-time. turns and appoggiaturas as well as glissandi. but the bebop musicians put more emphasis on them. This approach will let you visually scan the solo and observe where the ornaments are located. red. WHAT ARE ORNAMENTS IN THE “TRADITIONAL” MUSICAL SENSE? In the world of classical music. lightly color them with the gold pencil. This will represent the electric lights on the Christmas tree. I'm not suggesting that ornaments weren't used by the swing and traditional players. lightly shade all of the eighth-notes with the green pencil. and where to put them. bebop players favored more chromaticism than the swing-era players. lightly color in the circles with the red pencil. a mordent is often indicated by a short. This is a visual representation of an ornament. I feel that there were two primary reasons for this: bebop players introduced faster rhythmic elements into the music as a result of the virtuosic technique of its top practitioners. to the year 1950. To take the visual perspective a step further. Next. Next. green and gold. Also. single alternation between an indicated note and the note above. THE BEBOP MORDENT The “mordent” is one of the most common types of ornament used in bebop. because they're going by so quickly. squiggly line above the written note.” (While double-time playing is beyond the scope of this article. such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. and the ornaments often injected quick bursts of chromatic flavor into a phrase without inhibiting the natural flow of the line. and by 1950. To create an upper mordent. When a musician plays these longs streams of sixteenth-notes. FAST-FORWARD 200 YEARS Let's time-travel about 200 years past the end of the Baroque period. It's almost like an electric current running through the notes.1750). and you'll quickly see where the ornaments are placed. A mordent is a rapid. red ornaments and gold lights. This is a visual representation of a tree branch. and you'll hear lots of ornaments as they were used in this period. it's an important part of the bebop language. and you'll have an idea of just how many to use. Vivaldi or Telemann. Bebop started around 1945 or so. Hold the solo at arm's length. Try this for a few solos of different players. ornamentation was used most extensively in music from the Baroque period (1600 . many elements of the bebop style were firmly established. mordents. and it will be the subject of a future article. First.triplets and sixteenth-notes are next to each other. Swing-era musicians also used ornaments. circle all of the triplets and short groupings of sixteenth-notes with the red pencil. take three colored pencils.) Double-time playing is brimming with energy. Listen to any music by Bach. If you see long streams of sixteenth-notes. and look only at the colors…you have green branches. play the written note and then play a note a half-step (or . In classical music. Color all of the double-time portions of the solos with the gold pencil. Baroque ornamentation includes trills. There are upper and lower mordents. and you end up with improvised lines that have the excitement of spontaneity combined with the intricate details of a carefully composed piece of music. Take the ornamentation from the year 1750 and apply it to the conventions of 1950s bebop.

THE TRIPLET ORNAMENT One of the hallmarks of the bebop style involves placing an eighth-note triplet on a downbeat. Check out beat one of the first measure of Dizzy Gillespie's “A Night in Tunisia. “Half Nelson. Examine Dizzy Gillespie's well-known bebop composition. However. preceded by an eighth-note.” Look at the first two measures of the tune. Sometimes the sudden sixteenths can occur as pickup-notes.” It has an eighth-note pickup (on the upbeat of beat four) and then an eighth-note triplet. When you have a line of eighth-notes. before returning to the original note. on the upbeat of beat three. It usually moves the distance of a half-step or whole-step above or below the original note in the phrase to which the mordent is being applied before reverting back to the first note. and Parker's “Dewey Square” uses a triplet ornament on beat four in the first measure. There are four sixteenth-notes on beat four. both employ triplets.whole-step) above the written note. look at the fourth beat of measure sixteen in “Groovin' High” for another example of a mordent. and suddenly the note values switch to sixteenth-notes just for two notes. COMPARING THE TRIPLET ORNAMENT WITH THE BEBOP MORDENT At this point. let's look at Davis' “Half Nelson. I refer to these sixteenth-notes “sudden sixteenths. If you remove those notes and play the first and fourth sixteenth-notes. Measure nine contains two eighth-notes on beat one. Another key difference is that the bebop mordent is limited in range. After all.” for some great examples of the bebop mordent. you'll hear the main melody notes without the ornamentation. An easy way to think of it would be to remember that the third note in the mordent must be the same as the first note. Measure ten is a variation on measure nine. and then revert back to eighth-notes. This is an excellent example of the contrast between the pure melody and the ornamental version of the melody. In the bebop style. using a mordent. Davis uses the sudden sixteenths as freestanding pickup notes to the new phrase. play the written note and then play a note a half-step (or whole-step) below the written note before returning to the written note.” In the fourth measure. Davis uses the sudden sixteenth device on the upbeat of beat three in the first measure of the tune. and the second and third sixteenth-notes represent the mordent.” An excellent example of this device can be seen in Miles Davis' composition. the upper mordent is more common. rather than in a moving eighth-note line. and on the upbeat of beat one in the second measure of the tune. I simply labeled this device the way I see it and hear it. To create a lower mordent. . Again. the triplet ornament usually has the rhythmic value of an eighth-note triplet. Also. while the bebop mordent uses sixteenth-note triplets. which occurs on an offbeat. The triplet generates rhythmic momentum which gives the line a feeling of forward motion. “Groovin' High. SUDDEN SIXTEENTHS For lack of a better name. you might be wondering why the triplet ornament isn't considered a bebop mordent. Charlie Parker's “Scrapple From the Apple” uses a triplet ornament on beat two of the third measure.

trombones and non-fretted string instruments are idiomatically better suited to playing portamenti. The glissando is a colorful way of going from one note to another. such as half-notes and whole notes. While ornaments are usually used in conjunction with eighth-note lines. Thirds are most common when using the triplet ornament. but often. MORE TUNES FEATURING ORNAMENTS Many tunes from the bebop era feature ornaments as an integral part of the melody. In addition. they can be used anywhere you'd like to draw attention to the rhythmic detail of the phrase. with a long scoop up to a note. they're in constant ascending or descending motion between a starting pitch and an ending pitch. THE GLISSANDO ORNAMENT Glissandi can fill in very wide melodic leaps with splashes of harmonic color. Sometimes the grace note is simply placed in front of the first note of a phrase.” Lee Morgan's “Ceora. grace notes are commonly used to add character to longer rhythmic-value notes. Sometimes they're used as a pickup to an eighth-note line. but the notes of the triplet can be any interval. what's the difference between a glissando and a portamento? Johnny Hodges playing a ballad. John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman.” Tadd Dameron's “Hot House. The clarinet introduction to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is a famous example of a portamento.” from the classic album. However. it's simply represented by a wavy line between two notes. Although portamenti can be played on clarinet. especially when playing a ballad.By contrast. They're usually chromatic. Although ornaments are most commonly used in the beginning or middle of a line. listen to John Coltrane's recording of Guy Wood and Robert Mellin's “My One and Only Love. though they can sometimes be diatonic. PORTAMENTO The Portamento is similar in character to a glissando. Glissandi are especially effective when playing ballads. the grace note is a very effective way to dress up a plain line of eighth-notes.” Charlie Parker's “Confirmation” and the bridge of Duke Jordan's “Jordu. saxophone and trumpet. the triplet ornament can contain notes with larger intervallic leaps.” . THE GRACE NOTE ORNAMENT Perhaps the easiest to play from a technical standpoint. for example. but the pitches are not distinct. such as using grace note ornaments with half-notes or whole-notes. middle or end of an eighth-note line. Check out Clifford Brown's “Joy Spring. John Coltrane's ballad playing represents the use of glissandi. represents a portamento. So. WHERE DO THE ORNAMENTS OCCUR? Ornaments can be used in the beginning. each note in the glissando can be notated. Depending on the level of detail on a written part. For a great example of glissandi in action. it is also effective to add grace notes in the middle of a moving eighthnote line. it is possible to use them with longer value notes.

Please note that the music examples use the label “Original Phrase” to denote the phrase before the application of ornamentation. etc. 3A. The applications of the various ornaments are marked with letters after the numbers. such as: 1A. .THE EXAMPLES I have created a set of detailed musical examples which demonstrate the bebop ornaments as they're commonly used. 2B.

The first two measures of Example 1 show a phrase with no ornamentation. Note that there are three different rhythmic versions of the mordent.Examples 1A . Example 1B shows the ornament as a sixteenth-note triplet followed by an . Example 1A shows the ornament as four sixteenth-notes.1C Example number one demonstrates the use of the bebop mordent. one of the most common of all bebop ornaments.

and it's important to hear the ornament not just as a group of fast notes. Notice the subtle differences in the effect of the ornament with the varied rhythms. (as in the above examples 4A and 4B). Examples 2A . Example 4B uses the ornaments on beats three and four. This is in contrast to the use of just one ornament in the measure. Examples 3A . but places the ornament on the fourth beat of the measure. Play example 4C and then play example 4D.2C This example demonstrates the same ornament as Example 1. Play through examples one and two and note the different effect the ornament has on the phrase when placed on the second beat.4D Example 4A uses the ornament on beats two and four of the measure. . and Example 1C shows the ornament as an eighth-note followed by a sixteenth-note triplet. Examples 4A . Example 4C uses the ornament on each beat of the phrase. Each of these variations has a distinct feeling.eighth-note. leaving beat two with the eighth-notes from the original phrase. Example 4D uses three different rhythms for the ornament.3C This example also demonstrates the bebop mordent used in Example 1. which draws the listener's attention to the portion of the measure with the ornament. It is important to play each of these examples and notice the different effects produced by the slight variations in rhythm. leaving beat three with the eighth-notes. cause the non-ornamented notes in that measure to actually stand out as having a heightened melodic quality. but as a specific rhythmic grouping of the notes that will best convey your musical intent. It is interesting to note that the use of two ornaments in the same measure. but with the mordent applied to the second beat of the phrase instead of the first.

Examples 5A . there are some occasions where the sudden sixteenths may occur on downbeats. .5H demonstrate the use of “sudden sixteenth-notes” applied to the original phrase. It is important to note that it is common practice for the sudden sixteenth. I've listed them all here for the sake of completeness.5H Examples 5A .notes to occur on the upbeat (as in 5A and 5C). However.

all notes in the original phrase or lick remain intact. except that the sudden sixteenth-notes are triplets. This is a great way to imply a double-time feel. or to indicate to the rhythm section that you're about to go into double-time. the sudden sixteenth-notes are approaching the 'B' natural on beat two from below. I've included multiple versions starting on the upbeats of one. is that the ornamental notes are not included in the original phrase. and they're approaching the original phrase chromatically from above the 'B' natural on beat two. Notice that the previous examples all applied the ornament to the notes of the phrase itself. The difference with Example 5K versus Example 5G. Example 5K Example 5K demonstrates the use of the sudden sixteenth-notes as pickup notes to the original phrase. ornaments sometimes are applied to existing notes in a phrase or lick.5J These examples demonstrate the sudden sixteenth-notes applied to the first two notes of the phrase. . aside from the fact that the ornament is approaching from below the original phrase. three and four. two. while in Example 5L. and the ornamental notes are new notes which did not occur in the original phrase. Example 5L Example 5L is similar to 5K. This is a subtle but important point to remember. This is especially common in the case of the ornament acting as a pickup to the phrase. and at other times.5N Examples 5M . rather than two notes.Examples 5I . Notice the different effect the ornament has when starting on different beats in the measure. Example 5M .5N demonstrate the use of the sudden sixteenth-notes in groupings of four notes.

6C These examples demonstrate the use of the “Triplet Ornament. there is a pickup note a half-step below the original opening note of the phrase. This is a very common practice. Notice that in Example 6A.Examples 6A . Compare the original phrase with Example 6A.” This is one of the most common ornaments in the bebop language. and it's an effective device because it highlights the original opening note .

8D These examples demonstrate the use of the glissando ornament as applied to the same phrase used in Example 7. Listen to one of your favorite recordings. especially in his early 1950s recordings. be sure and play the melody notes in time. Examples 8A . The grace note is usually a lower neighboring tone a half-step below the note to which the ornament is being applied. Try to apply the ornament to some of your musical vocabulary and notice how much sparkle and life you can bring to even your most familiar licks or patterns. There are also some occasions where the grace note can be an upper neighboring tone. there are some occasions where it could be a whole step. Example 6B demonstrates the use of the bebop mordent ornament applied to beat three of the phrase. This is good example of using two different ornaments (the bebop ornament and the triplet ornament) in the same phrase. if a note occurs on the upbeat of beat one. and you'll start hearing in much greater detail.7E These examples demonstrate the use of the grace note ornament. I guarantee that you'll start to hear the recording in a different way than ever before. Examples 7A . you might want to start with whichever ornament appeals most to you. This is one of the easiest ornaments to execute. In other words. and you'll notice just how much more rhythmic energy is present in Example 6C when compared to the original. Play through all of the examples and notice the effect the grace note ornament has on each note in the phrase. Examples 7A through 7D demonstrate the grace note applied to each note of the original phrase. When playing the glissando. Play the original phrase and then play Example 6C. . It's important to take your time and explore each ornament at your own pace. FINAL THOUGHTS Ornaments are a great way to stylize your playing.by preceding it with a lower neighboring-tone. and try to focus on nothing but the ornaments used by each soloist. Example 7E demonstrates the grace note ornament applied to all four notes of the phrase. while still maintaining the original rhythm indicated by the phrase. For example. However. Example 6C is a hybrid of Examples 6A and 6B. It took me many years to gain control of the ornaments. Sonny Stitt often used grace notes in this manner. They add a professional level of detail and polish to your improvisations. you can't arrive late to that note just because there's a glissando. You need to make the gliss smooth and precise.

and the audience.As a final suggestion. the band. . Think about these different ornaments as additional variable factors in your improvisations. It will definitely keep things fresh and exciting for you. mix and match the different ornaments when improvising.

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