I'm learning "Blues No. 1" from "The joy of Boogie and Blues". I found that all the demo in Youtube are played in swing rhythm (Boogie rhythm, shuffle rhythm ...), but it's obviously not shown in the sheet (I do see the 'swing' mark in sheets from the Internet).

So how could I identify it from the sheet? Is it the keyword "blues" in the title?

  • 1
    It's fun to actually play it straight and swung. There are many pieces which lend themselves to both. In fact, in our small jazz band, we'll sometimes start a piece one way, and end it another. Or play straight - swing - straight.
    – Tim
    Jan 6, 2019 at 14:23
  • Yeah, I've heard several ragtime pieces played both straight and with swing, to the point where I've seen the occasional heated quarrel about whether ragtime should be swung or played straight. Ragtime traditionally does not come with a swing indication anywhere.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 6, 2019 at 16:01

3 Answers 3


Yes, 'blues' strongly suggests you should swing it.

When I looked at it (you can preview the first few pages on the Amazon store) it struck me that the melody is in fact classic ragtime, which would be played straight. It would have a different tempo and different left hand though.

I agree, in material at this level an explicit instruction would have been helpful.

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  • Looks like ragtime to me also. The phrases remind me both of Scott Joplin and Glenn Miller.
    – PeterJ
    Jan 6, 2019 at 13:58
  • What year was this piece originally published? From my experience perusing RagtimeDorianHenry's YouTube channel, early blues resembles ragtime a lot and sounds fine straight.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 6, 2019 at 16:04

Normally, at the beginning of the piece where the tempo marking is, there is a note that says to play it in a swing style, or a marking to show that the eighth notes are meant to be uneven. In the absence of these, the "blues" in the title would be a clue. However, in my opinion, a lack of the swing markings at the beginning of the song are a deficiency in the notation.


In the world of jazz and blues, how something was played by the greats, rather than what's written on the score, has always been the authoritative reference.

Additionally, notating swing tuples as triples would make the score unnecessarily more complicated. So notes are written as plain eights, and everyone knows what they are supposed to do with them.

So if you're ever in any doubt about how a certain blues or jazz piece should be played, find a well respected recording, and there's your answer.

At the same time, if you want to play it any other way, with or without swing, and so on, you can always do that too, why not.

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