Swing In Music: How To Play With Great Feel

Swing In MusicWould you like to learn how to put some great swing in music.

You’ve come to the right place.

In this lesson, you will learn how to get that great swinging feel in your piano playing.

Let’s go!

The First Thing You Need To Understand

Swing In MusicTo understand swing in music correctly, you need to learn all about the backbeat.

Classical music in common time i.e. 4-4 has the strong beats on the 1st and 3rd.

However, contemporary music such as pop, rock, blues, and jazz has 2nd and 4th beats accented. This is known as your backbeat.

To put it in another way, the accents are all on the upbeats rather than the downbeat.

To understand swing well, you need to get a feel of the 2 and 4 first.

This is because putting some swing in music heavily relies on accenting the second note in every pair of notes.

What you essentially do in swing is create accented 2s and 4s in smaller subdivisions of the beat.

Let’s learn how to do it in a traditional sense.

How To Understand Traditional Swing In Music

Swing in music is usually encountered in styles such as ragtime, blues, and jazz.

This is traditionally seen as eighth note groupings where the first eighth note is held longer and the second one is shorter.

What we know as swing in music is derived from a triplet eighth note grouping like this:

Now imagine merging the first 2 eighth notes as a quarter note and we keep that last eighth note:

swing in music

That’s how many people understand swing rhythm.

Here’s an example of a swinging jazz piano solo:


Normally, we insert that metric modulation marker swing in musicas well as a tempo marking (swing, medium swing, fast swing, etc.) to indicate swing in sheet music.

While that is all fine and good, swing is much more than that. Read on.

Why You Need To Be Aware Of Levels Of Swing In Music

In practice, swing rhythm is much more flexible than thought of in western music notation.

In fact, swing can also be written as swing in music

When you hear swing, it can even sound like anything betweenswing in musicand swing in music.

If you get a chance to take a look at digital audio workstations, drum machines, and similar musical devices or apps, you’ll see a control knob for swing.

This control knob sets how much time the first eighth note is held before the second one sets off.

The more the first eighth note is held, the “harder” the swing in music is.

Inversely, the less amount of time the eighth note is held, the more “straight” the rhythm is.

In practice, you don’t really play a strict “written” swing.

Now you might be wondering why knowing all of this doesn’t enable you to play with great swing feel. There’s another element missing.

The One Element That Makes Swing Great

Would it be odd if I said even if you hold back your first eighth note so much, it still won’t swing great?

More than that, what if I said a strictly straight rhythm (even eighth notes) can swing?

Remember, the first thing we talked about is accenting 2s and 4s.

If you think about, say for example, swing 8ths, you get to have pairs of notes for every beat.

More than just prolonging the first 8th note, you also need to accent the 2nd one. This is what really makes it all the more groovy.

The best way to learn this is through studying jazz articulation.

Let’s learn some jazz articulation syllables to get you swinging harder.

  1. Doo – sing this syllable over the 1st eighth note.
  2. Dah – this syllable is for the accented 2nd eighth note.
  3. Dit – Use this syllable for staccato notes.
  4. Dat – This syllable is for marcato notes i.e. really loud stabs.

To start, sing the syllables along this short passage:

Swing in Music

By trying out the exercise above, you should be able to get a grasp of jazz articulation.

Next, listen to some great jazz solos. One of the best, grooving solos is Miles Davis’ solo over “So What”.

Listen to the solo and learn it by singing along:

You can go the extra mile and learn how to play the solo on the piano.

The last step is for you to try out jazz articulation over the following:

  1. Scales – Play a single chord and play an appropriate scale over in 8th notes while using jazz articulation.
  2. Arpeggios – Practice arpeggios over the appropriate chord.
  3. Licks – Work these over a single chord or over a simple chord progression.
  4. Improvised lines.

Let’s look at the last step to round it all up.

One Final Step To Get That Swing In Music

The last step you have to take is none other than learn tunes and solo over them.

Nothing beats practical application.

Start soloing over simpler songs after that.

Many 12-bar blues tunes are also good places to start.

In terms of jazz, C Jam Blues is a great tune to learn how to swing.

Final Words

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on swing in music.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions even for the next lesson, let us know below.

Have fun practicing.

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