Learning the swing feel in jazz can be frustrating when you’re first starting out. What gives jazz that feeling that makes you want to dance? Why do you feel like taping your foot every time you listen to an album. I’m sure you know because of the title of this blog, but yes, it’s the swing feel in jazz. That swing is the best part of jazz and can either make or break an entire artist. No matter how much vocabulary you have or musical creativity, as Duke Ellington said “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing”. In this blog post I’m going to give you a brief introduction into how to start feeling the “swing feel” and how you can practice to improve it.
What does “Swing” look like?
First off, what does the swing feel look like when it is notated. People tend to represent this in different ways. Sometimes people will notate it as a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note into the next dotted eighth note. I don’t prefer this way of notation because if creates a very boxy sing feel. The use of the sixteenth note turn the swing feel into more of a straight march type feel, which jazz is definitely not. So please don’t think about swinging in this rhythmic fashion.
The best way to think about the swing eighth note is in triplets. If you divide a quarter note up into 3 beats this creates a triplet. Funny enough, the word triplet has three syllables so we use it to describe the rhythmic notation of a triplet. Say it with me. Tri-pl-et, Tri-pl-et, Tri-pl-et, Tri-pl-et. The best way to learn how to swing is to place your eighth notes in a triplet. What do I mean by this. Our two eighth notes for one quarter note in jazz are going to be on two syllables of the word jazz. Which syllables you may ask? The syllable “tri” and the last syllable “et”. So tap now with your finger on “tri” and “et” as you repeat the word triplet out loud to yourself. Tri-pl-et, Tri-pl-et, Tri-pl-et, Tri-pl-et. The rhythm you are currently tapping is the swing feel! Those are actually considered eighth notes in jazz. This takes a little while to understand but the more you practice it the better you will get.
How to practice swingin’.
The best way to start ingraining the swing eighth notes into your playing is through scales. Simply take your C major scale and instead of playing it straight with a metronome, you should swing your eighth notes. Once you practice all of your major scales in this fashion you should have a really good feel for swing eighth notes. This is the same rhythm we’re going to use when we begin to improvise!
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