10.TuSwing Notation

A lot of jazz is notated in even eighth-notes / quavers, but they aren't played evenly: notes falling on the beat are held for longer than the off-beat notes. We say that the rhythm is swung.

Here is the opening of Miles Davis' So What, for instance, with a recording of it played as written and then swung . . .

My Image

Why do we use this approximate notation? Well, there are a couple of alternatives, but neither are more accurate. You could, for instance, represent the long-short subdivisions of the beat as a dotted rhythm, or as a compound rhythm -

My Image

. . . but the reality is that the long and short parts of the beat are not rigidly or consistently measured. The proportions vary with the style and tempo and are more likely to be 3:2 than the 3:1 or 2:1 ratios above.

The player knows how to swing, and how much to swing. What they need is a clean, easy-to-read notation that doesn't constrain them. Even eighth-notes win . . .

A number of jazz and blues styles can be notated this way, and certain kinds of folk-music, too. Some Baroque dance rhythms were also meant to be played 'inegales', so Handel can also swing (sort of, sometimes).

Generous Portions

Here's a jazz canon ( the second player starts after two bars). Swing it!

  • Play the piece straight first to sort out the rhythms (they're already a bit more complex than you're used to). Then re-program your inner metronome to 'swing'.
  • Play the low A in bar 3 if you can - otherwise play the higher A. There's one high C, too, in bar 10.
  • ERROR in bar 7 - that should be a Bb.

How that sounds on C instruments . .