back beat

A rhythmic device in which the second and fourth beat of a measure is heavily emphasized in 4/4 time.

Black Bottom Stomp (1926), Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers:


A slow song, usually of a romantic nature; sometimes used for any song of the AABA or similar popular song form.


Also known as measure. A grouping of beats, that establishes the meter of a piece of music.


An older style of piano, rough, loud, and appropriate to playing in noisy bars and dance halls.

bass drum

Also "kick drum." The largest and lowest-pitched drum of the drum set, and played with a foot pedal.


A heard or felt pulse of a piece of music.


Also "bop." A style of jazz characterized by long flowing melodic lines, irregular accents, non-symmetrical written themes, and elaborated harmonies; first heard c. 1943.

Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, "Things To Come" (1968)

Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie, "Hot House"

Shaw 'Nuff (1945), Dizzy Gillespie Sextet

Continue reading "bebop" »

behind the beat

Playing slightly behind the beat as articulated by the rhythm section or implied by the ensemble.

big band

An orchestra of more than 10 members.


The use of two different keys at once.

block chords

A series of chords with wide voicings that move in parallel motion. (See also locked hands.)

Stuart Mindeman Trio, "Billy Boy"

Continue reading "block chords" »


To improvise (on any instrument); to play.

blue notes

(1) Pitches in the scale that can be flattened or sharpened within the blues scale; (2) tones that are bent or changed to increase the expressivity of the music, not simply to alter the scale.


(1) A 12-bar form built on the I, IV, and V chords; (2 ) a scale with a flatted third, fifth, and perhaps a seventh; (3) a poetic form; (4) a way of articulating tones; (5) a set of verbal sentiments similar to those used in folk blues songs; (6) a vaguely defined, mythic "feeling" that some say is basic to all jazz.

The blues are an African American form, derived in part from the central Sudanic area of Africa (Mali, northern Ghana, northern Nigeria, and central Cameroon), and adapted to African American musical tastes and later to those of Euro-Americans. The historical sources of the blues have been debated for years, but evidence increasingly points to the Sudan as a likely point of origin. Whatever the specific sources, African musicians such as Toumani Diabaté and Ali Farka Touré have claimed the blues as a distant relative and have recorded with American blues musicians.

Just as popular songs have grown simpler in form over the years, so have the blues, losing much of their length, their varied structure, and their rhythmic complexity. Some writers on the blues, apparently unaware of the enormous body of country and folk blues, speak of a "refinement" in the blues of the city and vaudeville, a development that might better be described as standardization and simplification. In blues of the 1920s and 30s the form was far more flexible and irregular, and came in many forms such as chanted repetitions, elongated cries, and talking blues, all of which varied in bar length.

The melodies of blues are often described as characterized by "blue notes"—two or three flatted notes in a scale—but blue notes might be better described not so much as fixed pitches in a scale, but as areas around pitches that can be lowered or raised, or passed through on the way to a particular pitch. Some musicians speak of a "blues scale," with a "blue" or flatted third, fifth, and possibly seventh step of the scale, implying that the blues scale is a major scale that has been altered. It might, however, be better to think of blue notes as being tones that are bent or changed to increase the expressivity of the music, not merely to alter an existing scale.

Blues do not have to be sad, and not all sad songs (like "Stormy Weather") are blues. Many songs with "blues" in the title (such as "Blues in the Night") are in popular song form. The blues can be in major or minor (or other modes), and can be light-hearted, or even rhythmically driving (as played by the Count Basie band, for example). They can even be played as a march (as in Art Blakey's "Blues March").

Skip James, "Devil Got My Woman" (1966)

Count Basie & Oscar Peterson - Slow Blues

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, "Blues March"

Continue reading "blues" »


Originally, a Cuban mid-tempo form played by guitar trios; now more generally a slower and more sentimental form (Latin).

Deep Song (2001), Chris Washburne & The SYOTOS Band

Continue reading "bolero" »


Irregular bass drum accents (typical of bebop drummers).


Also bugalú. A rhythm and blues and soul-influenced Latin form originated in the United States and characterized by elements of mambo and chachachá with an added back beat.

George Benson & McCoy Tyner, "Alligator Boogaloo"

Continue reading "boogaloo" »

boogie woogie

A style of piano blues based on strong left hand eighth note figures. First heard in the late 1920s, but popular throughout the 1940s.

Meade Lux Lewis, "Boogie Woogie"

Boogie Woogie Stomp (1939), Albert Ammons and His Rhythm Kings

Continue reading "boogie woogie" »


The repertoire of a band or singer.

boot it

To play with energy and excitement (early jazz).


Recordings or made or sold without the permission of the performers or a recording company.


See bebop.

bossa nova

A Brazilian jazz/pop music form derived from the samba (originated c. 1960), influenced by cool jazz, and usually played quietly, with minimal percussion.

Tom Jobim & Toquinho, "Wave"

Moosha (2000), Chris Washburne & The SYOTOS Band)

Continue reading "bossa nova" »


A light, medium fast tempo piece (swing era).


A piano; a guitar.


A short suspension of rhythm or the flow of the music (usually of a four or eight beat duration) while the soloist or melody instruments continue playing.

Black Bottom Stomp (1926), Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers

Continue reading "break" »


The third group of eight-bars in a thirty-two bar chorus (see popular song form); also known as the channel, the middle-eight or the B-section.


Drum sticks with wire brushes on the end, sued to produce a quieter, scratching sound.

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