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I am trying to learn jazz and still can't find a solid answer to the swing in eighth notes. I understand swing follows the "long-short" pattern (quarter-eighth), but since triplets have a third division, does the same thing apply? For example, with a triplet it would be "long-short-long" pattern, or are they just played straight?

For example in the song "Livery Stable Blues", how do you play this three-eighth-note figure?

Pickup measure of three eighth notes

Will it be a "long-short-long" fashion or just three straight eights? Is there such thing as swing with eighth note triplets?


Here is the whole page. It came free (via eMedia Piano software) from Guitar Center when I purchased my keyboard. The triplet is in the pickup measure. I was just curious if these are always played straight or with the swing long-short pattern.

"Livery Stable Blues", mm. 12

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    Your example is not very clear, since we can only see three eight notes and not the full bar. In any case, if that is a triplet, it should have the "3" on top or bottom of them, and they are played exactly as triplets, without any modification. Sep 6 at 22:54
  • @musicmante ok yeah because I google "is there swing in eighth note triplets" but can't find any clear answer. For example where it says "swing" it shows just two eighth notes with a beam and it gets an extra half value on the first eighth making it an quarter, right? Basically the triplet has an eighth that would get the extra time value because there is swing. Just because there is third eighth does that take away from the rhythm making it straight?
    – tk123
    Sep 6 at 22:59
  • What I am saying is the parts that shows "swing" is just an eighth note. Does that apply to the triplet below?
    – tk123
    Sep 6 at 23:01
  • as I already said, and as confirmed by the answers, triplets are played as triplets, no modification. The "swing notation" is just for simplicity, it says that you have to read as quarter+eight of a triplet whenever you see two eights. If you see a triplet, it's a triplet. Sep 6 at 23:50
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    A better assumption is that the three notes are part of a pickup measure, and therefore the pattern is short-long-short, just like the last three eighth notes in a swung bar of 4/4.
    – user45266
    Sep 7 at 7:53
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An 8th triplet among swung 8ths is played as a normal triplet.

But now you've shown us the piece:

The pick-up bar (and bars 6 & 8) are NOT triplets.

The beaming in your example is very confusing. The 3-groups that are NOT triplets (i.e. most of them) should be beamed as a single note then a beamed pair. Otherwise they're far too easy to confuse with actual triplets.

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  • ok thank you. that's the confirmation I was looking for. lol. I just wasn't sure since there was swing if it affected the triplets.
    – tk123
    Sep 6 at 23:15
  • I agree with Laurence. This are not triplets. The motif of 3 eighth notes re-appears in the next phrases several times, also in the left hand: !see these phrases Sep 13 at 6:24
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Triplets are just triplets. The confusion stems from thinking of triplets as being made up of "eighth notes". We speak of triplets that way, and use the eighth-note symbols, but triplets are their own entity with their own rhythm.

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  • In fact, if you do the math, you find that the duration of triplet notes notated as "eighths" is actually closer to a sixteenth than to an eighth. Sep 7 at 6:45
  • But now we've seen the page, note that the notes I think you were referring to as triplets aren't triplets. Sep 18 at 14:30
  • @LaurencePayne The underlying question is still valid, even though the OP example didn't demonstrate it.
    – Aaron
    Sep 18 at 14:32
  • @Aaron Indeed. Which is why I have not changed my main answer, just added a codicil to it! Sep 18 at 14:36
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For the sake of simplicity, swing is based on a triplet feel - as written in the legend at the top of a lot of music, as you did.

So in its basic form, two quavers would be long - short, and a written triplet would have three equally spaced notes.

Swing is basically that, but often gets morphed into hard or soft swing, meaning the two notes aren't exactly 66/33%, and could be 60/40%, for example. Any decent player would reflect that subtle difference when playing what's written as triplets, and probably not play 33/33/33% - it will depend on the piece, who's playing, and the tempo. but a great starting place will be as above.

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Now that we have the full sheet music, the 8th rest-quarter rest in the lower staff of that pickup measure tells you all you need to know - that's not a triplet, it's three 8th notes. You therefore swing that as short-long-short (how the rests are spelled out in that measure is an enormous cue).

The triplet in Bar 10 is legitimately played as an 8th-note triplet, though, with no room to swing its notes at all. Those notes should all be played with equal lengths.

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