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I'm a software developer creating a MIDI player that can play with "triplet feel" -- that is, when it sees two eighth notes, it plays them as if they were a triplet of quarter note + eighth note. This is traditionally notated like so:

Triplet feel notation

From a programming perspective, here's how I'm handling this for eighth notes:

  • For any eighth note that falls exactly on a beat, its duration gets multiplied by 4/3.
  • For any eighth note that falls exactly on the "and" of a beat, its duration gets multiplied by 2/3.

My question is: how does triplet feel affect non-eighth notes? Clearly quarter/half/whole notes are not affected, but what about dotted eighth notes, sixteenth notes and thirty-second notes?

Also, am I correct to assume that, for eighth notes, I should only alter their durations if they fall directly on a beat or the "and" of a beat?

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3 Answers

As always in music, it's very subjective. There is no one rule that applies to all and everything. This is particularly true for jazz, it is very free.

1. On triplet feeling

Swing feeling does not necessarily place the eighths exactly on where exact triplets would. Exact triplets make a song sound kind of stiff and not very "swingy" (again, subjective). It might fit for a dixie tune, or old swing. It wouldn't be good for another genre. My recommendation if you are writing this program is to give the user the opportunity to relax or tighten up the triplet feeling.

2. Which notes get affected?

So my answer is: it depends. If you have a group of four 16th, a human musician might very well want to play them long-short-long-short. There is no rule that always applies.

Also, am I correct to assume that, for eighth notes, I should only alter their durations if they fall directly on a beat or the "and" of a beat?

Are there any other cases? Do you mean 16th rest, 8th note, 16th rest? Deal with that case as you would a 16th.

3. What is swing feeling?

One definition of "swinging" a tune that I like better than just giving eighths a triplet rhythm, is that the accentuation is on the off-beat. In a group of eight 8th, you would play the second, fourth, sixth, and last note stronger that the other ones. This leads quite naturally to these notes starting a bit later, thus getting a more loose rhythm towards triplets. Try to give these off beat notes a little boost in velocity, I think that would be a nice effect.

This is also what would make the "triplet feeling" apply to the group of 16th I mentioned earlier. Weak-strong-weak-strong, and you naturally get this loose rhythm.

It is quite usual to hear musicians (often classical) who are new to jazz play with exact triplets and accents on the beats. It doesn't swing very well.

This all is of course a bit depressing for someone trying to write software.

Some more food for thought: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swung_note#Swung_note

You had me read a great article about swing feeling:


Yes, everyone is taught the standard “off beat” articulation of swing eighth notes, and you’re right, swing is much more complicated than that. It’s not even that it’s more complicated. It’s that swing cannot be defined by anything that you can write down.

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The swing feel only affects eight notes that are together on a beat. It does not affect any other notes. From a programmers perspective the quarter note - eighth note triplet pattern is assigned to the two eighth notes if they are beats "X &" where X is any strong beat i.e. 1,2,3,4,5, ect. Usually songs with swing feel don't have 16th notes,32nd notes, or dotted eighth notes because it screws up the long short feel that the song is suppose to have even if they were also in a similar pattern.


Like I said in my comment I have looked at many different answers and it seems that the swing rhythm only applies to eighth notes (though there is a way to swing 16th notes.)

The links below are some of the information I have found on the topic and it seems swing eighth notes only apply to eighth notes. Not 16th or dotted eighth notes, although a dotted eighth and a 16th however do make a separate swing feel.The reason for this is even though jazz is a lot more free tonally, the rhythm section almost always stays with a constant "feel".

Types of Swing

Definition of Jazz Rhythm

Swing 16ths

Discussion about swing rhythm

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Thanks for the answer, but I do know for a fact that dotted eighth notes get affected by "triplet feel." I made a few examples in the software Guitar Pro, and it does indeed treat dotted eighths differently in that case. I'm looking for a definitive list of all note values that should change. –  Adrian Holovaty Dec 14 '13 at 0:31
You know for a fact? You want a definitive list? Write insurance software then. –  charlieparker Dec 16 '13 at 12:22
@charlieparker is not very friendly, but right in questioning your "for a fact". If a program does something, it doesn't mean that it's the correct thing to do. How does it deal with dotted eighths? –  Gauthier Dec 16 '13 at 15:03
I've been digging around other sites and I have found out what I've thought in the first place seems to be the case. Unless it is a common misconception, only eighth notes are affected I will post the links in my answer. Guitar Pro may have just a catch all way of handling swing epically since the lowest subdivisions using a swing rhythm is usually eighth notes. –  Dom Dec 16 '13 at 15:25
@charlieparker: In my defense, I'm a jazz guitarist and (I daresay) know how to swing. I'm just not sure how to approximate it with software! :) Here's me playing gypsy jazz: youtube.com/watch?v=qKyEK_WYAOQ –  Adrian Holovaty Dec 16 '13 at 19:14
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From your comment on Dom's question, I see you are familiar with playing jazz yourself.
You can try to play different swing feel music you know well, and record it. Then use some sound software to find out how it is by examining the sound waves and examine the length and velocity of the swing notes. This way you can find out what technically makes the swing feel. You will probably find that there are different things for different styles, but you have to try to find some common middle way, or find out how to best notate and differentiate the different styles in the midi language.

An alternative to record it yourself is of cause to rip existing recordings from CD that represent the style you want to express.

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