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When I play jazz on the saxophone, I use a technique I was taught called "Jazz Articulation" (I'm sure that's not its only name) which is basically an articulation where you slur every other note with a tongue in between while playing straight eighth-notes to give your sound a swing feeling.

I was also taught that "faking" swinging eighth-notes, which is basically intentionally shortening and lengthening the notes to give it a swing feel, is bad practice and should be avoided

This jazz articulation works all fine on the saxophone but on the piano, this isn't really possible as my air flow isn't controlling the sound coming out of the piano. How do I swing eighth-notes on the piano and not make it sound like I'm trying to create a "fake" swing sound?

And/or, is the advice I was told incorrect/inaccurate?

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    What do great swing-jazz pianists do? Pianists can articulate and create different kinds of flow, too, and all the good ones do. – musarithmia Oct 15 '15 at 3:49
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    "swing" and "slur" on the piano is partly rhythm and partly overlapping notes so as to hide the attack on the second note. – Carl Witthoft Oct 15 '15 at 13:51
  • I'm looking forward to reading an Answer to this! My son studies with a jazz pianist, and your concern has never come up -- he just plays the swing eighth notes as triplet (quarter - eighth) and I've never heard any complaints, and it sounds great to my (non-expert) ear. However, when I hear him practice saxophone, his school instrument, something's been sounding all wrong with his jazz articulation. – aparente001 Oct 16 '15 at 13:02
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I've honestly never had to explain swing other than, "Hear that? That's swing. DO THAT."

You could try by starting with your 16th note vocalization:

1 e + a | 2 e + a | 3 e + a | 4 e + a

Now get rid of all e's. Then push the "a" closer to the down beat, further away from the +.

1 x + a|2 x + a|3 x + a|4 x + a

That's a rough outline of what swinged 8ths sound like. If you're European you probably use hemi demi semi quaver instead of 1e+a.

Now I know you said that you heard this method is bad practice, but that's literally what's going on. I'll refer to my Harvard dictionary of music when I have a chance to see what it says.

It would help to practice swing using other percussion instruments that are not chromatic. Even if it's just clapping or thigh slaps.

  • You're first line is just perfect: "Hear that? That's swing. DO THAT." – SirPython Nov 2 '15 at 21:10
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The concept of a "swing feel" is very much more about timing and dynamics than it is about articulation, though you clearly can accomplish an approximation of the feel by tonguing a note.

  • Could you elaborate? I like the path that you are going on so far. – SirPython Oct 18 '15 at 21:45

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