I was trying to tell to my fellow drummer friend, that he should play something behind the beat so that we can experiment some particular song. But then I realized that I have no idea how to translate to him. The only thing I could come up with is to say "Just try to play a little later than the beat as if you are playing a flam with metronome".

Do you have any clever ideas to pinpoint the actual swing amount in a sort of quantified fashion? Is it ever possible to translate this feeling to someone else?


2 Answers 2


Swing is generally somewhere between e. s and e e depending on the tempo, style, and drummer. You could suggest instead of playing [q e]3 triplets that he move to a 16th note upbeat, or move ahead to somewhere between the triplet and the straight 8th.

Really, though, he should just listen to some recordings of drummers that do this sort of swing style. You can't expect someone to play something (especially a drumset player) unless they can hear it in their head, and it's a heck of a lot easier to get something into your head by listening to someone else do it, rather than pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey trying to interpret verbal instructions into something as complicated as a drumset groove.

The top 10 of this Top 100 Jazz Drummers List would be a good place to start!

  • Being a drummer myself I totally agree with you. However, I am confused about translating the effect, in other words, when one feels that one is preferable while the others are not. That is the reason why I asked about it. We already listened a lot of songs about this yet it is not totally clear what is the amount of sloppiness making the beat groove. One last point is about distinguishing from playing at ahs of the beat and behind the beat. Sorry for the vague remarks, it is indeed difficult for me to express my problem.
    – user1306
    Dec 6, 2011 at 22:17

It's logical that it's possible to quantify the timing. If you record the pattern as you want to hear it, and compare it to a metronome, you can make confident statements such as "the third and fourth beats are played 150 milliseconds late". You can also do some sums, and express that "150 milliseconds" in fractions of a beat, if you prefer.

You could achieve this by recording a sequence using MIDI drums, or by recording audio and comparing the peaks on the waveform.

Whether that's useful information to your drummer friend, however, is another matter. Different people think in different ways. Some drummers will be able to handle instructions like "play all the off-beats very slightly early", whereas others will respond better to "make it sound more like.. " or "try to match the feel of this rhythm guitar part".

  • Thanks, indeed a computer approach to music notation is always possible. But, we narrowed it down to the flam context already. I think what I am failing to express is when to choose which. Maybe I should edit the question accordingly.
    – user1306
    Dec 6, 2011 at 22:53

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