7 Jazz Riff Techniques Every Musician Should Know

Jazz has always been a powerhouse of creativity, and learning the basics of jazz riffs is essential for any musician. Get ahead of the game with this guide to 7 different techniques!

jazz music

Jazz riffs are musical phrases that add a unique flavor of improvisation and creative flair to a song. Learning different styles of jazz riffs is key for any musician looking to make their mark on this genre. Here, we will explore seven different techniques for mastering the art of the jazz riff.


Chromaticism involves replacing a chord tone with its neighbor note – either the one above it or below it. This allows for an increase in chromatic harmonic progressions, creating an interesting harmonic effect. It’s a great way to add a distinct flavor of texture and color to any song, making it sound more complex and interesting.

Swing Rhythm

Swing rhythm is an important element of jazz, and often gives a song its signature sound. It involves playing with equal emphasis on each beat of the measure, creating a shuffling triplet effect. This can be done by ‘dropping’ some downbeats and upbeats, depending on the texture you’re after. Experiment with different rhythmic possibilities to create exciting riffs!


Call-and-response riffs feature two instruments or voices repeating a phrase consecutively. The response can be a variation of the call or an entirely different musical idea. When playing with other musicians, use the call-and-response technique to interact musically. This can help build improvisation skills as well as unity between players.

Pentatonic Scales and Modes

Pentatonic scales and modes are melodic patterns that span five musical notes, rather than the usual seven-note octave. In jazz masters, these are often used as a riff or melody line because they provide an energy that pushes jazz music forward. Pentatonic scales can be combined with other scales to form a figure eight pattern when used in soloing. As you explore pentatonic scales, experiment by playing both the major and minor versions of each scale.

Passing Tones

Passing tones are one of the most important jazz guitar techniques (modern jazz quartet) used in soloing and riffing. By using passing tones, you can create tension and release within a phrase to make your lines more interesting. Try inserting chromatic notes between two scale tones to create this effect. For example, if you were ascending an A major pentatonic scale pattern (A B C# D E F# G# A) then you could add a G note between the F# and G# to create a sense of tension followed by a resolution as you ascend through the octave.


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