Basics of Jazz Articulations

The notes of a chart are just that – until you tell the players how you want those notes to be played. That is where articulations bridge the gap – from just a bunch of notes, to EXACTLY how those notes should be performed by the players in the ensemble. The articulations you write for the players will literally make or break the sound of a chart – assuming that you are dealing with half way decent players.

If you are a horn player, you have undoubtedly been reading articulations throughout your musical career. Many rhythm section players, however, are pretty clueless (in my experience) when it comes to writing articulations for horn players in a chart.

This lesson covers 99% of the articulations you will need in your arranging career for horn players. There are certainly many more if you are writing for strings, but these are the basics when it comes to arranging for small groups up to big band. Please let me know if you have any questions by leaving them in the comments.


3 Replies to “Basics of Jazz Articulations”

  1. Shane Kershaw

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for that. The bit about assumed articulations is helpful, particularly when trying to explain such things to younger composers/arrangers who indeed may over articulate their writing

    From a conducting point of view, I find that sometimes spelling out the twists and turns yield better results, particularly with younger bands. Either that or to have example interpretations as part of the learning material for the chart for them to practice ensemble phrasing and solo phrasing.

    Hope there is an articulations part two to cover the doit, kiss and other instrument specific articulations including the use of certain articulation for mutes


  2. Jim Martin

    Bandcoach: I think there is a fine line between having just enough articulations and not enough. For example, in a swing line of 6-7 eighth notes, I may only articulate the & of 4 with an accent. In that situation every note doesn’t need an articulation. Quarter notes usually do because everyone in the band could play a different length unless you tell them. It really just depends. That’s why hearing it, then articulating it works well.

  3. Erick Florez

    Hi Jim,

    This is my first day with your lessons. I am studing horn arranging with berklee online so your lessons will help me a lot.

    As a rhythm section player now I am learning about the articulations…

    Thanks a lot for your lessons.

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