I'm going through some exercises in a blues piano book[*]. I've noticed that some rhythms are written with triplets (with an 8th note (quaver) rest in the middle), and others are written using 8th notes. While any exercise can be played straight or swing, my question is, assuming swing, would beats one and two below sound rhythmically the same? This pic is not from the book I'm using, I just wrote it down for an example.

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*Blues Piano by Mark Harrison, published by Hal Leonard, ISBN 978-0-634-06169-1

[Edit] Adding in a snippet from the book I'm using, previously referenced. This is from page 52. Hopefully this falls under fair-use.

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Given that, and we're assuming swing, are beats 2 and 4 in the right hand rhythmically equivalent? I'm really just asking about the general rhythmic subdivisions, I understand that the author intended for some definition during beat 2, while beat 4 might be a great candidate for legato.

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    What you're showing is somewhat reminiscent of the early Elvis stuff. When the session guys in the studio were steeped in swing from the 40s and 50s, but the new guys on the block were straight eight players. Listening to some of the recordings, there was a magic chemistry where the two rhythms melded into a special feel. Not easy to recreate! I feel that the last two quavers should be aligned vertically, unless they're supposed to represent an off-rhythm too.
    – Tim
    May 12, 2016 at 17:43
  • There were a couple of related questions about a year or so ago on this site that may be of interest. Sorry, can't earmark them for you.
    – Tim
    May 12, 2016 at 18:07
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    I totally love this era of music recordings! Chuck Berry has this too. Some players straight; others swinging quavers. It shouldn't work; but it really does. And it is hard to reproduce authentically... May 12, 2016 at 21:52
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    @BobBroadley - absolutely! Only achieved it a handful of times myself. Wish I knew the actual formula. Will this spawn a question?
    – Tim
    May 13, 2016 at 6:03
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    @Tim "there was a magic chemistry where the two rhythms melded into a special feel" - A comment from a jazz bassist, on another forum, years ago: "When you get new 20-piece big band together, the first time you play you have 20 different ideas of "time" going on simultaneously. You just have to keep playing, till everybody meets up somewhere in the middle". (And this applies just as much to classical music as to jazz!)
    – user19146
    May 13, 2016 at 23:31

3 Answers 3


If the song is swing or jazz, then most likely yes. Some sheet music will have a marking at the beginning of the song, which will read "Swing Feel" or "eighths (quavers) should be played as triplets" (Like in your example).But most sheet music won't have these markings, it is implied though, since most swing and jazz music are played using this swing feel. Meaning, eighths won't be played as eighths, but as:

enter image description here

But if you come across something like this in an exercise book, look for the markings. It might be an exercise that wants you to see how both of them sounds and it could be the case that the swing feel should not be used.

This part now is a bit unofficial, since I don't know if it is 100% correct, but it might help you to think that jazz/swing is written in 4/4, but by playing the aforementioned swing feel, it sounds like it is in 12/8.

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    I'm sure the exercise is designed to be played as both swing and straight, so there's no markings indicating swing feel. Perhaps that's why the author used both triplets and 8th notes. Makes sense to use both if playing straight, but maybe not needed, (or somewhat confusing) if playing swing. May 12, 2016 at 16:09
  • It's been a while since I've dealt with jazz, but doesn't marking the first note in a swung rhythm as staccato affect the swing in some way?
    – Tin Wizard
    May 12, 2016 at 17:57
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    Marking this as the answer, as I contacted the author and he said yes, assuming swing, and assuming 8th notes should be played as triplets (that is 66% and 33%, rather than a "heavier" swing like 70% 30% - my words not his), then the rhythm would be the same. Although there's great information in the other answers which I appreciate, this answer of "most likely yes" I believe best answers the question I was asking. May 25, 2016 at 16:23

I don't entirely agree with the other answers I see here. From my experience, as well as looking at quantization values offered in DAWs, a swing feel can be varied, sometimes based on genre but other times based on the style of the players and/or composer.

The concept of swinging is that the note value that is swung, in your example the 1/8 note, is pushed back, closer to the following beat, making the first 1/8 note longer and the second 1/8 note shorter. The exact placement of the second 1/8 note does not have a specific definition, as I mentioned above, and often wouldn't be easily written with standard notation, as the swung note may only be stated properly with a very small note value accompanied by dots, rests and/or ties. For example, someone could have a swing value where the second 1/8 lines up with the 19th 1/128 note of a given beat, while another player might have their swing value line up with the 11th 1/64 note of a given beat. Both players would be said to be swinging because their second 1/8 note is shorter than the first and closer to the following beat.

So generally speaking, swinging is just making the second of your notes shorter. This is often done with 1/16 notes in Jazz, possibly more commonly than 1/8 notes but I don't have any statistics to back that up. A note that is pushed further back is said to swing "harder".

There are some genres where a swung note is typically equivalent to a triplet value, like you provided in the question. For example, Rock and Pop music tend to use a triplet value for a swing feel. Swing has also appeared in traditional musics and Classical music, which is based on a triplet feel but is sometimes referred to as a "lilt". I have heard Jazz players suggest that a triplet feel for swing is "lame" or "amateur", typically preferring a heavier swing.

I would suggest listening to a variety of Jazz players playing at different tempos (as tempo can influence the desired swing value) and try to feel out the difference between their swing values (just keep in mind that they are very often swinging the 1/16 note, so the 1/8 note values will be even, not swung). If needed, slow the music down and subdivide the beat so that you can try to nail down the placement. Once you become more familiar with swing in general, you should be able to feel the difference more inherently.

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    It's probably also worth mentioning that the faster a swung rhythm is played, the closer to even 8ths it is; at very fast tempos, the rhythm is often practically straight, but with accents on the beats. May 12, 2016 at 19:00
  • Interesting answer. There must be a point, though, where the 'triplet swing' actually stops swinging, probably when the rhythm is dotted quaver + semi, do you think?
    – Tim
    May 13, 2016 at 6:08
  • @KyleStrand - I can't say that I've ever put that together but thinking on it now, that seems entirely accurate. The available space to swing within gets smaller the faster you're playing, which I imagine has something to do with it. May 13, 2016 at 13:59
  • @Tim - Yeah, there would definitely be a limit in pushing out the swung note, pretty much when it gets to that point, dotted 1/8 + 1/16. That rhythm can feel somewhat like swing but I don't think it would be accurate to call it swing. If you move beyond that point, then I would have to say that it is the 1/16 note that is swung and not the 1/8. And when you say "interesting", do you disagree at all? May 13, 2016 at 14:02
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    According to one of the guys developing Sibelius (who also happens to be a jazz drummer) the comment "you swing like Sibelius (or Finale)" (i.e. in strict triplets) is now sometimes used as an insult.
    – user19146
    May 13, 2016 at 23:35

I wonder, did you mean the dot to be AFTER the third quaver (eighth note), rather than as a staccato mark? If so, the two are different. In the first example, the single beat is split into 3 equal parts, and in the second, the dotted quaver is three times as long as the last quaver, assuming the last quaver is actually a semiquaver (16th note), otherwise it won't add up. If it was meant to be purely two quavers, then certainly it won't sound swung: it'll be your typical 'straight eight', where the second quaver will actually be played slightly before you would play the third quaver of the triplet - if that makes sense!

Often, with swing time, the dots are written as normal quavers, etc., with a rider at the top of the music saying 'swing feel', or two quavers= the first and third of a triplet. Check on 'shuffle', which is another very closely related rhythm.

Shev is right in saying that a swing 4/4 is like a 12/8 feel. It's often easier to write (and read) in 4/4.

  • I meant the dot to be a staccato mark, as sometimes the book I'm using notates it that way. Perhaps it would be best if I scanned an image from the book, but I'm concerned about copyright. May 12, 2016 at 15:58
  • @MikeHildner - I'm pretty sure that for our purposes on this site, for analysis, a snippet is allowed. So, the staccato note is similar to the first quaver triplet, with a rest? Although music is not often played with that gap.
    – Tim
    May 12, 2016 at 16:28
  • @mikeHildner Tim is right. Usually there isn't a rest. That's why in my answer I used a quarter and then an eighth rather than two eighths with a rest in between May 12, 2016 at 17:24

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