I have read this paragraph a couple of times, but I haven't really had a light bulb moment.

My interpretation is that the upper example wants one to play

In bar 1: four beats of ones own choosing

bar 2: the specific notes and rests as explicitly written

bar 3: a whole note

In the Lower example Four quarter beats per bar.

I am looking for a bit of help on this one. The wording itself has threw me a little bit.

Kind thanks,


enter image description here

  • One small comment no body else mentioned. Bar three, that whole note is tied to the last eight of bar two so it is held. Probably play a crash on the & of 4 and let it ring over the 3rd bar.
    – b3ko
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 11:44
  • @b3ko Nobody mentioned it, because it's clear from the music.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 11:53
  • PLease post the source (book, or web page,...) so that people can see more context Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 12:35
  • @b3ko - I mentioned it as a 'pushed' note.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 14:26
  • 1
    @PiedPiper clear to you but OP says in the question: “bar 3: a whole note“ so I wanted to mention it. That may not be obvious to everyone just because it’s obvious to you.
    – b3ko
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 15:41

4 Answers 4


Your interpretation of the first example is good.
The second example should be played exactly like the first one. It's just notated differently.

Both examples are badly notated: the Bb7 should be over the last eight note in the bar before.


It's not crystal clear! in the top example, I'd be playing kick on 1,2,3 and 4, while bass plays four A notes - or possibly A C E G. Second bar is syncopated,so kick and probably cymbal (maybe choked on notes 1 and 2) on all three notes, but bass would play A, A B♭ - the last 'pushed'.

The second is ambiguous! Perhaps the writer wants the bass and drums not to be ensemble, but play as two separate entities. It certainly could have been written more clearly.

  • I know it's not part of the question (and I am not the original poster either), but does the diamond shape in the first example denote a natural harmonic? I am not very familiar with guitar notation.
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 11:57
  • 1
    @Pyromonk - no. simply because Bb isn't a natural harmonic! But also because it represents a full bar note - a semibreve or four beat note. Usally oval, but as this is rhythm notation, it's diamond shaped.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 12:16

No, the explanation is not clear.

The 'four in the bar' slashes tell you to 'play time'. Basically do what a rhythm section DOES, in a suitable style for the piece.

The explicit rhythms in bars 2 and 3 of the first example tell you to play exactly those rhythms, and nothing else.

The second example tells the rhythm section to continue playing time, but adds information regarding what the 'front line' will be playing. A drummer will typically support these rhythms with cymbal hits, while maintaining the basic groove. Bass player would probably continue the basic groove. But it's always good to know what's going on in the rest of the band!

Yes, it's musical shorthand. If complete control was desired, the arranger would have used full notation.

  • That, or the arranger doesn't have much of a clue, or can't be bothered.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 11:05
  • That's a bit harsh @Tim. Both the examples illustrate standard practice in rhythm section parts.
    – Laurence
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 10:46
  • Yes a bit. But only a little. The point of writing anything out fr someone to follow is to produce someting as clear as possible. I didn't find this so, and obviously neither did the OP. I've seen stuff a lot less ambiguous. Unless the writer wanted to keep it vague, of course.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 11:12
  • OK, the OP was unfamaliar with this sort of notation But, in context, I find it clear. What else COULD it mean? The text descriptions are a mess though!
    – Laurence
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 11:23

The examples are from Dave Weigert's "Workshop for bass and drums - How to play in bands" book, one of the authoritative sources, I'd say.

The thing is, both examples are shown as examples of Non-Specific Notation. Basically, it is up to you to interpret it on the instrument.

One way I interpret the instruction about the rhythm slashes is - the first case is specific, so play only the rhythm syncopated as indicated. In the second case, play time that accompanies the rhythm indicated above the bar lines, while also syncopating the indicated rhythm (i.e. perhaps, first note accented a bass drum, next with the snare, then cymbal, etc., all while playing regular time).

Think about it this way - listening to that piece (without drums), what would you play had you not seen the notes chart?

That said, if you have the book, check the lead sheet for Nardis, for example. It contains the notation from the first example, where you're expected to play just the rhythmic figure. The exact drum sound is not indicated. Play it on cymbals, hi-hat, with brushes, on the rim, clapping hands, whatever you find appropriate. In all the sheets in the book, I have not seen the use of the second notation style.

You can check Tony Williams' interpretation or Bill Evans' version. Here you can hear that the syncops are played along with time. Note that the ensemble comes in only after ~4-5 minutes of Bill's intro.

In the end, I would reiterate the words: "Jazz in an aural tradition that should be learned primarily through listening, not reading."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.