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In my DAW I have the option to set 8th notes as triplets or normal 8th notes and put the swing option @ 100%. From what I understand, the normal 8ths with the swing @ 100% is considered to be "swing" whereas the triplet option would be like "shuffle" right? The difference I can see is that when I use triplets the note is divided into 3 equal portions whereas if I use the 100% swing option the note is only divided into 2 portions but with one triplet note at the end of the beat. This is where the confusion comes in.

In music notation, how do you distinguish between them? As far as I can see, sheet music for songs that use either of them seem to have the little sign at the top of the page that says two 8th notes = 3 8th notes so how do you know if the piece/song is shuffle or swing?

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From my readings, shuffle tends to be more strongly swung than regular swing is--I've read that shuffle tends to have its eighth notes in a 3-1 ratio instead of that common regular swing ratio of 2-1.

Other than that, read the swing notation marking on top (if any). If it's there, it'll tell you the ratio.

No swing notation found or you're creating the piece on a DAW? That's when you use your intuition. Read the title (the title may include the word "shuffle" in it) and come up with a decent ratio based on that. Or come up with the ratio, then create a title. Fast passages may end up lowering the swing ratio to something like 3-2 or even 5-4.

Unlike music with notated triplets, swing (and shuffle) generally has less of a feel of forcing the tuplet ratios. You can "mess up" swing and use a 3-2 ratio instead and actually be fine a lot of the time. Classical music with triplets will not let you get away with that.

  • I think you've mis-read! Shuffle is triplets, pr close to them. – Laurence Payne Dec 10 '17 at 21:26
  • @Laurence so I guess then swing isn't necessarily triplets because you only have two divisions per beat which are variable, right? Am I understanding this? – armani Dec 12 '17 at 7:45
  • @LaurencePayne, These two sources both support you, huh. Maybe I read that shuffle had a larger ratio than swing from a book, but which one.... – Dekkadeci Dec 12 '17 at 7:50
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I'm not sure what your DAW means by '100% swing' (it might have helped if you'd told us WHICH DAW?). When talking about swing percentages it's more usual to rate it in terms of 'Straight' being 50% (i.e. 8ths are equal length), 'Triplet' being 66.6% (the first 8th being twice the length of the second) with 'Swing' being something round 60%. It varies with tempo and style. In fast tempos Swing approaches triplets. In slower 'Heavy Swing' stules it can be considerably more 'laid back'.

Some would find a subtle difference between 'Shuffle' and 'Triplet'. But it's certainly near-enough triplet.

The 'metric modulation' notation you mention clearly demands triplets. Therefore it is WRONG to use it for Swing. I don't suppose we'll ever stop some publishers using it, but it's inaccurate and, as you say, makes Swing equal to Shuffle.

So, if you want Swing, write 'Swing'. Musicians will know what to do. The better notation programs will know what to do. If working in a DAW, do whatever it takes to get something around a 60:40 ratio for medium-tempo Swing. But experiment. 'Feel' is hard to pin down numerically!

  • I use Cubase 8. What I meant by swing @ 100% is that if you choose a normal 8th note grid, each beat is divided into to two exact halves. There is a swing option which allows you to "swing" the second note by reducing it's length and thereby increasing the length of the first note. This is a percentage setting meaning you have various amounts of swing you can apply by increasing the percentage. @ 100 percent the length of the second note is about the same as if you change the entire grid to triplets. With me? – armani Dec 11 '17 at 8:16
  • OK. So it's '100% of the way towards being a triplet'. Seems a pity to limit it there. Or can you set 110%? – Laurence Payne Dec 11 '17 at 10:23
  • No, that is the most you can set the swing to. When you set it to 100% the 2nd 8th note in the beat becomes half the length of the first 8th note. So the beat is divided into 66.6% and 33.3% roughly. I guess the difference then between swing and real triplets is that swing only divides the beat into two as opposed to triplets would be dividing into the 3. Is this correct? – armani Dec 11 '17 at 18:48
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How do you know if the piece/song is shuffle or swing?

It's difficult, as these terms are largely interchangeable. However, there are subtle differences.

Shuffle refers to a more strict triplet feel, where the note ratio is 2:1. The notated triplets provide an exact measure of this ratio.

Swing, on the contrary, is a more loose term for the altered rhythmic feel created by prolonging the first of two equal divisions in a beat. Swing often comes with an adjective, such as light swing (along the lines of 3:2), medium swing (close to shuffle feel) and hard swing (around 3:1).

Swing can often be applied subtly, for example John Coltrane's Mr. P.C. - this is a jazz standard that is swung, but the swing is so slight that it is hardly noticeable - indeed, the intro almost sounds straight.

Shuffle, however, is much stricter, and will not lose its feel when sped up. Furthermore in shuffle, there is a much stronger accent on the first note of each triplet. Listen to this Shuffle Backing Track - the feel is rather solid throughout, strictly 2:1 with no change, and the accent is always heavy on the beat.

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