Straight eighth notes are halves of a quarter note. Swing eighths are often notated as

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or as

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But if you actually play as notated this sounds clunky.

What are the real time values of swing eighths?

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    There is no fixed value, obviously. It can be anything between straight eighths and a dotted eighth plus a sixteenth. The interpretation depends on the period/era, the song's tempo, and the artist. – Matt L. Oct 23 '15 at 16:57
  • A similar question emerged about a year ago, here. Sorry, I can't find it yet. – Tim Oct 23 '15 at 17:10
  • @Tim this one music.stackexchange.com/questions/6276/…? – Dom Oct 23 '15 at 17:11
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    It depends on the speed of the piece. At very fast tempos, there's almost no distinction (try playing it as a triplet quarter + eighth, it sounds really hokey). At slower speeds the second note is delayed much further in comparison. – mkingsbu Oct 23 '15 at 17:15
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    There is no "real" time value in an objective sense. You have to listen to great swing players and imitate what they do. It's a bit like learning a regional accent in a language. – musarithmia Oct 23 '15 at 22:28

There is no "real time value" for swing eights in jazz. It depends on the style of the piece (dixieland has different conventions than John Coltrane tune), on the speed of the tune (you can get almost dotted eighth + sixteenth or even more at slow tempo, and fully straight eighths at high tempo), on the mood of the musicians... Even on a given performance, you can get different values among the musicians, with e.g. the drum player having a heavy triplet feel and the soloist playing quasi straight eighths, which can create interesting tensions.

You may say that on average, you'll get the triplet feel, but there is a whole range around the real 'quarter note + eighth' triplets which is totaly legit. Beginners are advised to start with triplets which makes a notated 4/4 bar a 12/8 bar for convenience. Then as they study, listen, play and build their own style, they diverge from this starting point, and get to understand that the feeling of swing and the importance of phrasing and accentuation.


In the classic case, the triplet representation is the actual value of swing eight notes in 4/4.The first one in a pair of swing eighths are two eigth note triplets while the second is one eigth note triplet as it's typically notated the following way:

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You can also think of it as a quarter note followed by an eigth note in 12/8 as seen below.

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  • That's shuffle, not (necessarily) swing. – Matt L. Oct 23 '15 at 16:58
  • It's not even necessarily a shuffle. The fiddle shuffle in folk music uses swung eighths and a lot of bow drive. – xpro Oct 23 '15 at 17:10
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    @MattL. swing eights default to this pattern though. There are variations to the length that are up to the performer and piece as you suggest in your comment, but if you ask for the general case, this is the answer. – Dom Oct 23 '15 at 17:10
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    Nobody I know swings like that, @Dom. About fifteen years ago there was a fantastic discussion of swing values on a bass player's listserv I used to subscribe to, but sadly I can't find it now. – xpro Oct 23 '15 at 17:19
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    The question is what is meant by "swing eighths default to" something. I've seen many pop or rock musicians play like this when they try to play jazz, and it sounds awful. Many times swing is just (almost) straight eighths with appropriate phrasing. The only answer that can be given to the question is "listen to good swing players and try to copy their rhythmical feeling". – Matt L. Oct 23 '15 at 17:26

I am not jazz expert but I know the drums accent the beat on the let of 2 and 4. So it would be 1-2-let-3-4-let then you play it "freely" so it swings. I dont think you can actually put an exact time to swing because that misses the whole point of what it is.

  • Can you explain what a "let" is? – Todd Wilcox Oct 27 '15 at 18:09
  • Oh sure its trip-let. Jazz drums use triplets. You would count 1-trip-let 2-trip-let 3-trip-let 4-trip-let but its usually too fast to actually count like that so you would just count 1-2-let-3-4-let. Thats the jazz ride cymbal. – Breakbeats Oct 27 '15 at 18:28
  • Oh, lots of people use triplets. I call that the "uh". As in "1-and-uh 2-and-uh". I've also heard "1-and 2-and trip-uh-let 4-and", I just didn't connect that "let" to your "let". Thanks for the clarification! – Todd Wilcox Oct 27 '15 at 18:39

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