Rhythm First!

A Beginner's Guide to Jazz Improvisation

by Tom Kamp


The first book to teach students to start soloing using rhythms instead of scales and chords.

  • In a step-by-step fashion, Rhythm First! builds up the student's library of rhythmic figures and has them playing along with the accompanying CD to get the sound and feel of jazz soloing under their fingers.
  • Melodically, the book starts with playing simple rhythmic figures on any note, then on the tonic of the F blues scale, followed by the tonic and one other note. Over the course of the book, it progresses to show how and when to use three kinds of blues scales.
  • This Rhythm First! method is more fun and therefore more successful in getting kids starting to improvise than any other approach. A must for any school band program!
  • 103 pages, including demonstration/play-along CD!
  • Available in C, Bb, Eb and Bass Clef versions!

Sample Tracks


This book can be successfully used in the following ways:

  • As a teaching guidebook for beginning improvisers, even as young as elementary school (9 or 10 years old with about a year of playing experience).
  • A player in a middle school, junior high or high school jazz band who has never tried to improvise can get started soloing easily with concrete steps to build solos that sound good.
  • If you can already improvise a solo but find all your solos sounding the same, this book will help you listen for more than just "the right notes" and create solos with rhythmic and melodic interest.
  • Rhythm First! can be used by a professional musician or teacher who has had limited jazz playing experience but needs to teach jazz improvisation.
  • "Classically" trained musicians can use this book to teach themselves swing feel, jazz rhythm reading, and improvisation.
  • Even an accomplished player looking for fresh ideas can find useful, challenging ideas here to stimulate creativity and add rhythmic vitality to solos.

Sample Endorsements from Music Teachers

Rhythm First! is a much needed resource for the developing jazz ensemble. The concept of creating improvisation from a rhythmic starting point is what has been missing from the jazz literature until now! Tom skillfully crafts this book to meet this need in a way that is sequential, musical and entertaining. The audio tracks are terrific and fun to play along to. Rhythm First! also strengthens students' rhythmic vocabulary which not only prepares students for soloing but for chart reading as well. Every school should have this book as a dietary supplement to inspire and develop their students' skills.”
— Chris Colaneri, Director of Columbia Middle School Concert Band and Jazz Band, Berkeley Heights, NJ

I really appreciate the idea of a book about rhythm in improvisation. The idea of students having a set group of rhythms to build on is great. I especially find chapter 14 useful. It is tough sometimes to get kids to improvise, they don't know what to think about. To give them an extended list that they can have in front of them is priceless. There are so many ways I can incorporate this into my program. Thank you for taking the time to put this all down and share it with everyone.”
— Tracy Walsh DeRagon, Music Coordinator, K-12 Ballston Spa (NY) Central School District

Rhythm First: A Beginner's Guide to Jazz Improvisation is so well put together. I love the pacing of the CD tracks that are included, and the whole concept of rhythm as a starting point from which the creativity of improvising can flourish. For any student of music, at any age, this book can make learning, or improving upon, jazz and improvisation fun and accessible.”
— Dr. Noreen Harris Baer, Instructor of Trombone and Chamber Music, Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University