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Play-a-Long Series



Rhythmic Displacement

Having been a horn player professionally in London for over 25 years now, I've played with numerous rhythm sections that are ALL outstanding. I've listened to quite a lot of solos ( just a few :) and 'over analyzed' them all for not only my own benefit, but to pass on my knowledge and thoughts to my conservatoire students. 

I always find it interesting listening to rhythm sections play behind different soloists and in some cases wonder 'what it is that they're doing?'. 


In my opinion...A lot of horn players play incredible changes, up and down the horn, great lines and funky ideas as if they are jumping on a wave and letting the surf carry them to the beach.


For me, I love soloists that don't simply 'ride' the wave, but they attack it, in and out of the water, creating there own momentum and using the wave for there own spring board.


As improvisers we learn SO much about chords, scales, licks and patterns ( which are important ) but I feel that rhythm is underestimated and in some cases more important than the harmony. 


Once we have learn't the details of whatever standard or tune we are playing on, I think we tend to forget the overall structure of the song and this is what makes the song what it is. 


So, on that note..


     Simply acknowledge the form on your solos and even better..aim for the cadences, now your solos will start to take some shape and start moving with the rhythm section.


     I should say.. after mastering this ( which is easier said than done) the next step is to then choose where you want to cadence, maybe you can sustain an idea through an obvious cadence and resolve it 4 bars later or even a whole chorus later. ( More on this in future volumes )


So now we are aware of where the cadence are, we are now aiming for the release of the cadences, we can now start distorting the rhythm approaching the release to cause even more tension. ( Just like we would by adding darker harmony notes to dominant chords).


I have spoken to many horn players about this and I think there are a number of different stages that improvisers use but should actually go through before they are truly on top of this..

When rhythm section players start 'throwing it around'


Stage 1

     a) totally ignore them and stick to your safe 8th note patterns, squeeze your eyes tightly shut and tap your foot in size 15 shoes.

     b) stop playing and fix your spit valve until it's safe to go back in the water.


Stage 2,

       Modulate into the new tempo with them, start making the same rhythmic hits, but forgetting the original time feel that was originally set therefore being left high and dry when the rhythm section cadence on the one, leaving you... totally lost.

        This is what I hear the most often... Horn players actually get so good at this,  that as soon as the rhythm section come out on 1, horn players can quickly adapt back into the original tempo again...professionally blaggers :)


Stage 3

      Learn a load of patterns.. groups of five 8th notes, seven 8th notes, triplets in groups of 4's and 5's. Play them and stick to them. Or same principle.. of working out that there are 'X' amount of hits before it comes out on 1.

     This has its problems and in some cases can be quite unmusical. If you miss the first hit then you are going to be OUT when it comes to the resolution.


Stage 4

     Be able to not only start a rhythmical idea, that the rhythm section can choose to either ignore or grab hold of with you.

    OR.. Jump in and out of there idea, going back and forth from one tempo to the other as you choose. A nice advanced to start groups of five on 8th notes.. once the rhythm section grab hold of it, start groups of sevens ( now, in theory, creating 3 different time modulations, ALL resolving out on the one) Again more of this in Volumes 2 and 3.


So what is the answer?... You need to be great at ALL 4 stages.


For me, this topic of conversation was what brought Jim ( Watson) and I together to do this little project for you guys.


A REAL, LIVE BAND ( not digitally quantized or edited ) jamming on some hip grooves, throwing it around and allowing us improvisers to break it down and practice this stuff at home rather than on the band stand.


Have some fun. Barnaby x

Jim Watson Keys


Playing in a rhythm section behind a soloist is just that , providing a rhythmic and harmonic support to the soloist.

Often the interaction and rhythmic displacement behind the soloist is usually led by the rhythm section, sometimes leaving an element of guesswork to the horn player/soloist.

This play-a-long aims to give the soloist a deliberately (often perversely!) displaced accompaniment without explicitly stating the downbeat, helping the soloist to develop and strengthen his/her sense of time whilst the rhythm section are changing it around.

Comping figures and displacement isn’t just the preserve of a rhythm section and hopefully by using this play-a-long with its mix of rhythmic figures and styles it can hopefully push the soloist to take charge and dictate to the band rhythmic comping figures,  rather than the other way round.

We’ve tried to make it as ‘real’ as possible with a live band , no overdubs, so it feels authentic to the soloist playing along with it,  We hope you enjoy it!’

Volume 1
1) Drop me like a hot potato SAMPLE - London Horns
2) Its just round the corner SAMPLE - London Horns
3) You can't eat soup with a fork SAMPLE - London Horns
4) Slightly hung up about a woman SAMPLE - London Horns
5) I don't know where you're at SAMPLE - London Horns
10) Camper Van Sample - London Horns
9) Race you up the stairs SAMPLE - London Horns
8) Be Grateful SAMPLE - London Horns
7) Help! Sample - London Horns
6) 5 Lives Left SAMPLE - London Horns
1) Drop Me Like A Hot Potato -   CONCERT
6) 5 Lives left LONDON HORNS Eb   PART.j
5) I Don't Know Where You're At Bb   PAR
4) Slightly Hung Up About a Woman   CONC
3) You Can't Eat Soup With A Fork   Eb P
2) lt's just round the corner Bb   PART.
8) Be Grateful, LONDON HORNS PLAY A   LO
9) Race you up the stairs LONDON   HORNS

Graeme Flowers Trumpet


When I’m improvising, I really want to build

my solo together with the rhythm section.

Shifting up the gears to build tension

and excitement.


One of the most effective ways of doing this is to

imply and react to more complex rhythmic ideas,

aiming for and outlining phrases and cadences.

This is something I have tried to do, but always with an element of guess work.



This new play-along really makes this process so much clearer. It has helped me to sit down at home and really break down what is actual going on, whilst playing over an amazing rhythm section, like in a real gig situation. After a bit of work with this play-along, it is already filtering into my playing without me really realizing.


I feel that this is an under-discussed area of improvisation, particularly for horn players, and that this play-along is absolutely essential.

Graeme Flowers Pic.jpg
London Horns E-flyer.jpg
London Horns play a long vol 1 Front Cov
Guest Videos

Over the next few months I would like to invite you to send in a video of yourselves playing over the Play-a-long and I will feature some of the best ones here on the sight.



I think it will be really interesting to hear the different ways that people interperet these rhythmic changes and how they handle them.

I will be recording some and I will get some of my favourite players to record some to...WATCH THIS SPACE.



Play Video
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