# How to describe occasional non-swing eighth notes using swing notation?

Suppose I have a melody using triplets, which has a swing feel:

To simplify the notation, I want to use eighth notes, and mark "Swing feel" somewhere on the sheet:

This is all good, but what if I have an occasional triplet in my melody, which doesn't fit the "swing model"?

I don't want to notate all these triplets. How can I use notation without triplets to describe the rhythm in this melody?

• "...which doesn't fit the 'swing model'" That's just not true. Songs that swing are allowed to have triplets in them. If I were a musician and I saw "Swing" or "Swing feel", that would only have an effect on how I played two eighth notes in a row with nothing in between them. That would have no bearing on how I play triplets. You've only mentioned that you don't want to notate triplets. Is there some reason that you don't want to? There's no reason not to. Jul 16, 2018 at 15:58

I would use a duplet for this. If it we notated the groove in 12/8, this would be the standard notation:

``````X:1
L:1/8
M:12/8
K:C
%%score T1
V:T1           clef=treble
% 1
[V:T1] C2 D E2 F (2GA B2 (c | c4)
``````

...which is actually nothing else but

``````X:1
L:1/8
M:12/8
K:C
%%score T1
V:T1           clef=treble
% 1
[V:T1] C2 D E2 F G3/2A3/2 B2 (c | c4)
``````

By extension, I think it would be understood what's meant if you write

``````X:1
L:1/8
M:4/4
K:C
Q:"Swing"
%%score T1
V:T1           clef=treble
% 1
[V:T1] CD EF (2GA B(c | c4)
``````

I'm not sure if that's actually what you were asking about though. If you actually mean

``````X:1
L:1/8
M:12/8
K:C
%%score T1
V:T1           clef=treble
% 1
[V:T1] C2 D E2 F G zA B2 (c | c4)
``````

then this would probably best be expressed simply with a staccato mark:

``````X:1
L:1/8
M:4/4
K:C
Q:"Swing"
%%score T1
V:T1           clef=treble
% 1
[V:T1] CD EF .GA B(c | c4)
``````
• For the OP's specific question, I figure the last item is the "correct" one and should be put first in the answer, with the other details and elaboration as follow up.
– Dave
Jul 17, 2018 at 3:16
• You might add that for an entire measure of 8th notes that shouldn't be played with sing, it is common to put staff text in that says "straight 8ths" with a dashed line extending as far as the non-switch portion of the music extends. Jul 17, 2018 at 13:17
• @ToddWilcox not sure I can typeset that in ABC... and anyway Laurence Payne suggested pretty much the same thing already. Jul 17, 2018 at 14:17
• Just for the record, I am using the last notation, with the staccato mark. It also seems pretty standard, specifically for jazz. Aug 9, 2018 at 21:27

I'm not quite clear what you're after, but all these notations are used and understood. (Though they don't all mean the same thing!)

Swing is not triplets. If you don't believe me, listen to 'Blueberry Hill'. If you really want triplets, write them, or use 12/8 meter.

• I'm not quite picking up the distinction you're making, Laurence. I just listened to Blueberry Hill as you suggest, and it sounds exactly like 12/8 time to me. Of course, the vocal line bends the rhythm a great deal, but the accompaniment seems very precisely in time. Can you elaborate on your "Swing is not triplets" comment? Jul 16, 2018 at 22:35
• 'Bluberry Hill' is 12/8. 'Swing' can be an elusive thing to pin down, but 'Bluberry Hill' ain't it! Jul 16, 2018 at 23:04
• Oh, I see. I thought you were saying it was a swing example. As you say, hard to pin down, but a couple of things I've noticed are a lot of tying a triplet 8th note to the quarter note of the next measure, and switching to duplets for decorative purposes. And especially in faster tempos, the 8th note often robs the quarter note of some of its value (especially in solo passages), so it really isn't a triplet any more. (To get these ideas, I had a bit of a listen to this.) Jul 17, 2018 at 0:05
• This is exactly the correct answer Jul 17, 2018 at 12:56

A common way to write swing/shuffle rhythms is to use dotted-eigth/sixteenth pattern as shorthand for triplet-quarter plus triplet eighth. Things written as triplet eighths or as straight eighths should be played as written.

``````X:1
L:1/16
M:4/4
K:C
%%score T1
V:T1           clef=treble
% 1
[V:T1] C3D E3F C2D2 E2F2 (3C2D2E2 (3C2D2E2 F4 |
``````

would thus be equivalent to

``````X:1
L:1/16
M:4/4
K:C
%%score T1
V:T1           clef=treble
% 1
[V:T1] (3C4D2 (3E4F2 C2D2 E2F2 (3C2D2E2 (3C2D2E2 F4 |
``````

But with one triplet bracket marking each of the first two triplet quarter/eighth pair (I can't figure out how to make that display properly)

If there's no need for actual sixteenth-note durations, this may be easier to read than trying to use triplet-quarter triplet-eight or relying upon performers to recognize which eighth-notes should be longer, shorter, or balanced length.