The usual example of eighth-note swing in jazz...

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...skipping rhythm in 6/8...

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...is there any difference in how these are executed rhythmically?

...is the eight-note in swing a little bit longer than in straight 6/8?

  • What exactly does the second example mean, it is nonsensical to me. – Neil Meyer Oct 15 at 18:13
  • The second example is roughly what you play if you see the first example & above it is scribbled 'swing' ;) – Tetsujin Oct 15 at 18:20
  • @NeilMeyer - the 2nd example means, as it shows, a triplet feel, which is a good start point for the swing timing. Often a similar note arrangement is posted at the top of a piece, indicating that although it's written like the top example, it's to be played like the 2nd. It simplifies both writing and reading. When counting a dep. drummer in, 1,2,3,4 gives tempo, but it's still important for him to know if it's straight or swing. – Tim Oct 16 at 6:52
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I tend to think of swing as the 12/8 version of 4/4. So two lots of 6/8 is pretty close, watching the 'second bar' of 6/8 for emphasis, or lack of.

Having said that, there's swing and hard swing, where the rhythm is closer, but not too near, to dotted quaver/semi. Someone did actually time and work out the proportions of various jazzers, and there is a difference between bands, but also numbers. Some feel the need to be swung more gently, others harder. Suppose it depends what mood the band's in.

EDIT: some homework reveals a study which states a ratio of between 2.5:1 and 1.5:1, the latter tending to be on faster pieces, all taken from recordings of famous jazz players, so a start point of 2:1 is good. I tend to use 'Humpty Dumpty' as a start point for students. Right now, I have a French guy for whom Humpty Dumpty has no particular meaning. So, looking for a similar rhythmic name/phrase in French. Any offers?

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    I've also heard of swing that's closer to straight 8th notes (e.g. 3:2 ratio). I've heard this occurs for faster, often bebop numbers. – Dekkadeci Oct 15 at 14:33
  • This is what I was thinking. With something like Art Blakey, Moanin' it easy to get the swing triplet feel. But something like Bud Powell, Anthropology it sounds straighter at the fast tempo. – Michael Curtis Oct 15 at 16:59
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    Simple really. Faster tempos leave less room for the semis, and they'd sound odd clipped, therefore a straightening out of note values is almost inevitable. – Tim Oct 15 at 17:04

Swing is not just about the length of the two notes, but also where the emphasis is placed. In swing, the 2nd 8th note (or eighth note following the quarter if thinking in 12/8) is stronger, with more emphasis. I think "doo-BA." The "doo" is longer, but the "BA" is accented. The accent on the 2nd note is part of what creates the syncopated feel in jazz.

If you think "DOO-ba", you will get a western-country feel as in the folk song like "Goodbye Old Paint" in which this kind of accompaniment really does sound like an old pony plodding along. Accenting the first note in the uneven 8ths also sounds like boogie-woogie. It's a very different feel.

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