What is Swing?

jazz sax

A swing rhythmic feel refers to a particular way of playing rhythm that is commonly associated with jazz and swing music. It is characterized by a specific type of syncopation that emphasizes the off-beat, giving the music a bouncy, lively feel.

At its core, swing rhythm is all about dividing the beat into two unequal parts, with the first part being longer and the second part being shorter. This creates a sense of tension and release that propels the music forward. In practical terms, this means that musicians play the notes on the off-beat with more emphasis than the notes on the beat, creating a distinctive "swinging" feel.

How to play "swing"

One way that swing rhythmic feel is achieved is through the use of swung eighth notes, also known as "triplets." Instead of playing two evenly spaced eighth notes per beat, musicians play them as a triplet, with the first note longer and the second note shorter. This creates a bouncy, lively feel that is characteristic of swing music.

Another way that swing rhythmic feel is achieved is through the use of syncopation. Syncopation involves emphasizing beats that are normally unstressed or off-beat, creating a sense of forward motion and momentum. In swing music, syncopation is often used to create tension and release, with the emphasis shifting between the beat and the off-beat.

Overall, swing rhythmic feel is a complex and nuanced concept that is an important part of the jazz and swing music traditions. It involves a particular way of dividing the beat and using syncopation to create a bouncy, lively feel that propels the music forward. While it may seem simple on the surface, it is a sophisticated rhythmic concept that requires skill and practice to master.

Examples of songs with a swing rhythmic feel

One famous example of swing rhythmic feel can be heard in the classic jazz standard "Take the A Train," composed by Billy Strayhorn and made famous by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The song features a swinging, syncopated rhythm that creates a sense of forward motion and energy. Another example is "Sing, Sing, Sing" by Benny Goodman, which features a driving, infectious groove that makes it a popular choice for dancers.

Another classic example of swing rhythmic feel is "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller, which features a distinctive two-beat pattern that creates a sense of swing and momentum. The song's catchy melody and infectious groove have made it a staple of swing dance culture.

More recent examples of swing rhythmic feel can be heard in songs by artists like Michael Bublé, Harry Connick Jr., and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. These artists have all drawn inspiration from the swing and jazz traditions, and they incorporate swing rhythmic feel into their music to create a sense of energy and excitement.

How to learn swing

Overall, swing rhythmic feel is a hallmark of swing music and jazz, and it continues to be an important part of popular music today. Its emphasis on the off-beat and its use of syncopation create a unique, infectious groove that makes people want to dance and keeps the music moving forward.

A great approach to learn swing is to spend time listening to music with a rhythmic swing and try to play along with your instrument, with body percussions or by singing while accentuating the swing rhythmic characteristics mentionned further up. 

Make sure also to complete the rhythmic Jazz Workshop of EarMaster on your phone, tablet or computer, as they will introduce you to different swing patterns with progressive exercises that will give you instant feedback as to whether you're getting that swing feeling right. 

Happy training! :jazz hands: