Swing Style

Beginner Band Home

What are Scales

How to Listen

Marking Up Your Music

Swing Style

A list of standard tempos

You'll often hear musicians talk about “swing style” when playing jazz-style music. Confused? Relax, it's not all that complicated.

A simple concept to grab off top is that when you have 2 eight notes on a beat you play them is a long-short style. Ummm, is this like having a dotted-eight note followed by a sixteenth note. Not quite!

Opps, no notes.

In the above example the dotted eight notes have a duration which is three times that of a sixteenth.

Instead we want something which is more like this:

Opps, no notes.

Playing gets a bit trickier when we have rests (doesn't it always!). Remember that the eight note pairs have to be on a beat. Again, the always present examples:

Opps, no notes.

Sometimes, especially in older scores, you'll see both dotted eighth-sixteenth and eighth-eighth pairs of notes. Unless there are specific instructions, it's very hard to figure what the intention of the composer was, but there are several choices:

  • Play them exactly as indicated,
  • Play the eighth notes straight and the eighth-sixteenths as swing notes,
  • Play both the eighth-eighth and the eighth-sixteenths the same, as swing notes.

None of the above choices would be wrong. But, in a band you better ask the conductor or leader ... it'll sound very odd (to say the least) if you don't all play them the same way.

Notice that in the examples, above, it states “sounds pretty much like”. It's not an exact science. Swing style if very much more a “feel”.

Another way to notate a swing feel is to use 12/8 time. You'll often see this used in “doo-wop” and other, older, rock music.

Opps, no notes.

Important: Even though the keysignature is 12/8 we still count and conduct as if it were 4/4 time.

Finally, you may see a notation like this on some scores:

Opps, no notes.
All this is doing is showing the eight note to triplet convention in a graphical manner instead of “swing” or “swing style”. Again, if in doubt, ask.

A final note: if there are rests in the piece, they are treated just like real pitches. A pair of eight notes are sounded “Long, Short” and a eight note rest followed by an eight note is “Long-silent, short”. Remember, a rest is just a way to notate a note with no sound.

For a more in depth article, this Wikpedia article is as good as any.

The entire contents of this article are (C) Copyright Bob van der Poel. All rights reserved.

If you wish to share this document with others please link to it.

Please supprt the author by clicking on one of the ads at the top of page. Every penny helps a starving musician.

Back to the essay list


Web Design--Bob van der Poel This page was last modified on 2024-03-21