I remember way back in music class, at the top of the sheet music it would say things like the name of the piece, beats per minute and sometimes it would say something like Style = Swing.

What exactly is this called? The rhythm style? What are the different types besides swing, shuffle, and none? Where can I go for more information?

  • I have removed the identification portion from your question, since that is considered off-topic here.
    – user28
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 7:15

2 Answers 2


Specific to performance, swing is a type of timing which some define as dividing each beat in to three pieces and then playing the first and third part of that division. However many would fault this definition, claiming that swing is a "feel" that is not precisely divided into three, or four, or two, but some vaguely specific timing where the beat is divided somewhere between that and a rhythm of dotted eight - sixteenth note paring. I hear it as very close to the latter (dotted eight - sixteenth note) but the triplet(divided into 3) feel is still there somehow. Listening to some swing examples and then coping the rhythmic feel is a good way to get an understanding of what it is. Sometimes I interpret swing differently depending in part on the context(is it jazz? Is it slow, Is it fast? etc.), and my mood.

Note that when a composer writes two eighth notes in a piece or section that is indicated to be swing, the composer could intend for you to actually play the rhythm I describe above. Just as often as not, it could also be written as dotted eighth - sixteenth note pairs.


Shuffle is similar to swing but more dotted eighth - sixteenth perhaps even a little late on the sixteenth..... but this is up for debate.


None, or "straight" would be an instruction to play rhythm exactly as written.

There are many many styles and cultures in the world. and many (not all) of them are basically either swing or straight with a little extra context or subtlety.

Stride might be another good style to look into.

  • Can you please elaborate on the "not all" part of "and many (not all) of them are basically either swing or straight with a little extra context or subtlety". That is the point of my question. What else specifically is there?
    – zoplonix
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 15:03
  • This aspect of the question is braod. I certainly don't have a list. Off the top of my head... Traditional Irish music, Blues, Jazz, Stride Piano, Swing, Boogie Woogie, and countless others are similar in concept to swing. Rock, Pop, Country, and classical tend to be more straight. Polka, reggae, and Bluegrass and perhaps Irish music emphisize the up beat enough that maybe they are an entirely different feel and with the exception of Irish are straight. This is where @Matthew Read's answer comes in: It is impossible to define all styles because anyone can make one up.
    – amalgamate
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 20:16
  • Worse than that all styles have examples that break the rules that we discuss. For example Chuck Berry is considered rock, but his style is similar to Stride piano and Boogie Woogie.
    – amalgamate
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 20:18

The style of a piece is entirely subjective, and the composer or editor can use any term they wish!

There are, however, a set of common tempos that are also related to rhythm and style (that page lists some that are primarily related to "mood and character" rather than speed). For example, agitato is used to denote not only a hurried pace but actually playing agitatedly! This might take the form of some extra staccato, and/or small random liberties with note durations, or something else fitting. It's all a balance between the composer's intent and the player's interpretation.

Swing would probably denote something of a relaxed pace with definite fluidity when it came to note duration, or "borrowed time".

  • I think you are talking about how quickly or often the beats occur. I am asking about how/when the notes are played within the beats. Notice how that wikipedia page doesn't list swing so it's not talking about the same thing. You don't tap your foot with a swing (what you are describing) you play the notes with swing (what I am asking about)
    – zoplonix
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 15:08

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