I just exported a Piano score from Sibelius with a swing feel:

enter image description here

I wanted to edit the MIDI in my DAW and noticed, that the notes actually weren't in a triplet duration. The second note was always off the triplet grid:

enter image description here

So I went back to Sibelius and searched for the reason. I noticed, that in the playback options, it gives the first note a duration of 61,7% and the second one 38,3%

enter image description here

So my question is... Why would this be the default option?

Do you really play the swing feel like this. If the metric modulation is notated like above, shouldn't be the note duration actually 66,6% and 33,3% instead?

  • 1
    It's a lazy, relaxed triplet feel, not literal. The notation given is a close and convenient representation only. – Jomiddnz Dec 12 '19 at 19:08
  • What ever it is default, you can adapt the ratios and the dynamic emphasis. But only dilettantes will like e.g. military band chiefs will make us believe that it has to be always strictly the same! – Albrecht Hügli Dec 12 '19 at 21:26
  • 3
    In comparison, the Musescore default is 60:40. – Dekkadeci Dec 13 '19 at 0:50
  • What version of Sibelius is this? At least in Sibelius 6.2 (the last good version IMO), there are no such metric modulation symbols in the Playback Dictionary. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 14 '19 at 8:33
  • @piiperi It‘s the latest version of sibelius ultimate 2019. – Andy Jan 8 '20 at 10:55

If you study the timings of human players, you will notice that they almost never play mechanically exactly what the theoretical written values would be. Timings, pitches, dynamics, everything. Musical notation is a means of written communication about musical ideas from humans to humans. It's meant to be subjectively interpreted by a performer.

Exact triplet swing tends to sound awkward, and the faster the tempo is, the more you have to straighten out the swing.

Why it's the default - maybe they listened to the 66.6/33.3 swing and decided that it didn't sound realistic? I think all of the things in the playback dictionary have been adjusted so that it would correspond to how people would actually play it. Another example is the note length percentages for normal vs. tenuto - I think it's just based on trying out different things and adjusting to taste.

The meaning of the metric modulation marking is actually explained in the Sibelius manual: (from version 6.2. Sibelius Reference)

Sibelius 6.2 Reference on metric modulations

I cannot provide any statistics, but in my experience the symbolic metric modulation marking is more widely understood than the English word "swing". And "swing 16ths" or "swing 8ths" would be even less widely understood... The symbols are a way to communicate the idea of swing without using English, even though there's the possibility of misunderstanding it to mean "to be played as triplet swing with machine-like mechanical microscopic accuracy".

To remedy the situation and cater for the microscopic interpretation - which might be becoming more and more common now that people experience life and communicate with each other through computerized filters instead of directly - it might be possible to use the "almost equal to" sign instead:

almost equal to triplet swing

The downside of starting to use this would be, it would be contrasted with the old symbol, and it would enforce the incorrect interpretation of the old symbol as meaning "robotically precise triplets". Which usually isn't the original intention.

Perhaps the better alternative would be to educate the microscopic precision folks about the actual real-life use of the metric modulation marking? :)

FWIW, the metric modulation swing marking in Sibelius 6.2 seems to produce a swing of about 60% when exported to a MIDI file. Here it is imported to Ableton Live, and the background is set to triplet grid.
Sibelius 6.2 metric modulation swing exported to MIDI

The swing isn't 66.6%, the length of the downbeat notes isn't precisely 100.0%, the notes don't have the same velocity...? That's because they specifically tried to program the Sibelius application so that its MIDI output would be close to a human player's interpretation of the notation.

  • 2
    It's more than that. No-one who has experienced Swing argues that it SHOULD be triplet. The metric modulation notation is not only unnecessary but also misleading. Stamp it out! – Laurence Payne Dec 12 '19 at 20:22
  • @LaurencePayne I agree that the metric modulation notation can easily be interpreted to mean triplet swing - and why shouldn't it - but if in practice few people play it exactly like that, even if they try...? Then what is a software company to do - it's in their best interest to make the program sound less mechanical whenever they can. :) This is just my speculation, but I suppose they thought the current default just sounded more realistic. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '19 at 20:54
  • How about options “swing” combined with “humanizer”? – Albrecht Hügli Dec 12 '19 at 21:19
  • @piiperi Reinstate Monica the software company implement a perfectly good version of Swing playback - and it isn't triplets! They also make it possible to (mis)use Metric Modulation notation to give an inaccurate description of what is perfectly well just labelled 'Swing'. – Laurence Payne Dec 12 '19 at 21:31
  • @LaurencePayne I don't have statistics, but the metric modulation symbol is more widely understood than the English word "swing". – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 14 '19 at 5:58

"Swing" only means "play exact triplets" in software where the authors didn't know any better.

For humans it depends not only on the genre of the music but also on the overall tempo. It can mean anything from only just over 50%, up to 75% or more.

If you include Viennese waltz rhythm as a sort of swing, the first beat is shorter than its written duration, not longer.

  • "Swing" only means "play exact triplets" in software where the authors didn't know any better." But this question is proof that that isn't true... You are neither answering the question or attempting to – user1079425 Dec 12 '19 at 22:01
  • @ByBw, I think I disagree. The question asks "Do you really play the swing feel like this" and the answer here is pretty clearly answering "no." The question also asks "If the metric modulation is notated like above, shouldn't be the note duration actually 66,6% and 33,3% instead?" and the implied answer here is "no, because that's not really how swing is played." That's my impression of what the answer is saying, but maybe I'm missing something? – jdjazz Dec 14 '19 at 4:27

One of the minor crusades of my musical life is persuading people NOT to use the 'metric modulation' notation when they mean 'Swing'. Swing covers a range of 'Notes inégales' but almost always isn't triplets. Sibelius playback recognises the word 'Swing'. So do live musicians. So does everyone, except some educators who seem frightened of the concept and prefer the precise but inaccurate 'metric modulation'. Don't do it!

  • Good luck fighting the windmills! ;) – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '19 at 20:19
  • I’m not sure whether I understand you correctly. If you mean it is not necessary to notate ternary rhythm to indicate “ swing” as musicians and programs know what to do ... then I fully agree. +1 – Albrecht Hügli Dec 12 '19 at 21:17
  • 3
    I think the problem with 'swing' is that there is no accurate proportion agreed upon. Get 18 musos playing together (as we obviously do - at least you and me) and there could well be 18 subtly different proportions going on. That's one reason why some bands swing, and others nearly make it. – Tim Dec 13 '19 at 10:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.