Swinging: An Overview

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to my masterclass today, it was a blast talking with all of you and hearing you play! I was struck by your thoughtfulness and depth, as I found myself listening differently once again to recordings I have heard countless times.

For those of you who weren’t there or want a brief recap, here’s a summary of what we discussed:

1) The quarter note “pocket” (Oscar Peterson Trio: Things Ain’t What they Used to Be from “Night Train”)

With this track, we focused primarily on how the trio established a solid quarter note pulse. Even without talking about accents or subdivisions (see below), the way Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen lock in “swings” all by itself. That feel comes in part from the way they dig into their instruments, the “weight” behind each beat, and also from the trust they have in each other. I often find myself tapping along with my heel to this group, as that physical motion has a similar kind of “gravity” to it. Oscar bends the time constantly while the others stay solid, though he always knows exactly where he is relative to the underlying pulse. We also discussed how these three musicians felt time in almost exactly the same way, which is so rare even amongst the best ensembles.

2) Subdivisions: Accenting the third triplet (Count Basie Orchestra: Speaking of Sounds from “Chairman of the Board”)

We continued our discussion by focusing on how this all-star band subdivides the quarter note. Within eighth note lines, every third triplet (the shorter of the swung pair) gets an accent. It’s sometimes subtle, but these accents give the music an “up” feeling that is unique to Jazz and other related genres. Jazz players sometimes broaden the third triplet of the grouping, straightening out the swung eighths, but most of the time that accent remains. Plus, when you’re playing faster tempos your swing feel has to come mostly from accents and articulations since there isn’t time to subdivide into triplets. We practiced swinging scales, accenting the third triplet as much as possible. It’s much easier said than done! At first, it’s nearly impossible to maintain that feel while improvising since you’re also thinking about what notes you’re going to play.

You can even work on your feel while listening, by consciously tapping the beat with your heel and accenting the upbeats on your lap. It’s a great exercise to do along with your favorite classic swing recordings.

Thanks again for a wonderful day, and hope to see all of you again sometime soon!

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