Lesson: Jazz - How to Swing in Jazz

by David Bruce

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Learning how to 'swing' is one of the crucial first steps in jazz. Swing is a way of playing 8th notes so that they form a long-short pattern.

Here's how a scale sounds 'straight' - by which I mean normal, without swing:

Now here's the same scale played swung:

Notice how each group of two 8th notes forms the 'long-short' pattern which is what we're after. When we swing we are actually dividing the beat into 3 parts, rather than the usual two. So the 'long' - is two beats, and the 'short' is one - have a listen with the click track here to get the idea:

Here's a slightly more melodic pattern, firstly played straight.

Try to picture in your head how it will sound swung, before you click play below:

Did you get it right?

It gets a bit more tricky if we add tied notes into the equation. The trick is to keep that 'long-short long-short' pattern going in your head even if the short is tied over to the next note. In the first bar in the example below, the second short note is actually tied over to hold through the next long note, so it becomes 'long-short long-shooooort short long':

Here it is again a bit slower, and with a click-track playing the long-short pattern throughout so you can see how the tied notes interact with that:

Now try it again by itself:

That gives you the basics, but if you're interested in learning more, check out this video I made about the different ways real jazz musicians actually play swing

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