What makes swing swing?

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Steve Killingsworth, Mar 19, 2004.

  1. I am playing a lot more with a group that favors a more swinging style than traditional bluegrass. The basic feel of this music-at least to my ears-is very similar to big band swing from the 30s and 40s.

    Exactly what makes music "swing" music? Is it the chord structure or something else? I feel a little like the supreme court justice who said he couldn't define pornography but he knew it when he saw it--I can't really define swing but I know it when I hear it.

  2. http://www.alisdair.com/pdf/articles/It Dont Mean A Things.pdf

    A little over-scientific, but this brief article and the included references bring out some of the main points.

    However, exactly where the notes are placed in time is a relatively simple question, which any nerd with a computer can study these days. But WHY listening to a well-played swinging rhythmic feel is so emotionally compelling is the deeper question, and probably ultimately unanswerable.

    I would think its one of those things where less analysis and more listening and playing is the best approach.
  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Unfortunately, I think the Judge is right.

    If you want to learn it, you gotta feel it. Go hear all of the live stuff you can, listen to recordings if you don't have the first. And even if you DO have the first.
  4. "Groove Quantization Templates"? I feel like I am back in graduate school.

    If I can intrepret what the guy is saying (in plain old Tennessee english) swing is more an exercise in timing than anything else.

    There is no question that this stuff grabs you.
  5. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Swing is a feel. The best analogy to this is that it is like a flavor or the sound of a language.

    • To really know what a banana tastes like, you have to eat a banana.
    • To really know what German sounds like and feels like, there is no better a lesson than going and spending time in Germany.
    This isn't meant to be flippant, it's just the only way you're going to get it.
  6. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I assume since your comment was tied to bluegrass, you are talking about Texas swing, like Bob Wills type stuff.

    It isn't really the chords. Most of the forms are going to be fairly common. And, I think you'll discover that most of the progressions are still the 1-4-1-5 or 1-4-2-5 that you are accustomed to in BG. You see a few more twists in the turnarounds but its the same animal.

    And most of the time you'll still be thumping out the alternating fifths.

    I am a huge fan of Texas swing. I can't really discribe it exactly, but I often think of playing as taking a walk. Sometimes you are walking a little intently with the shoulders forward of the feet. You are a man going somewhere. Sometimes you are mostly upright, and other times you have the shoulders thrown back and are just strolling along.

    This vision helps me a great deal with the feel. The feet are the beat, but the body isn't always right on top. I tend to feel most bluegrass with a lean into it type feel. With swing you have to lay back and let the groove happen.
  7. As for the article, nice try, Alisdair, but not one word explains Walter Page and Freddie Green playing 4/4 and throwing everybody right out of their chairs.
  8. Amen. IMHO, if ya wanna hear some of the most infectious swing ever recorded, listen to Basie.
  9. Interesting that you and Luckycharms get the idea across clearly in a few words. I understand what you are saying. I guess the analytical side of me gets carried away at times and tries to look too deep.
  10. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I am willing to wager that the name comes from the fact that you can't help but dance when you hear it.

    Just like big band, Texas swing drives a whole genre of dance.
  11. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. You can't beat that name or their tunes!

    Anyway, swing is the perfect name for swing feel - it, uh, swings. And one thing to keep ion mind is that a swung triplet aint really a 33.3333% of a beat scenario. Maybe that's what the article tries to explain, but I can't stand that sort of thing. Ray and Don have got it right.
  12. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    New Albany, MS
    I'm fortunate to play with the Playboys lead gutarist of many years, Mr. Benny Garcia. While a big part of the western swing movement, he is a great jazz guitarist and his feel is definitely swinging. Unfortunately, his mind is going and he can't remeber questions he asked you 30 seconds ago. However, on the last gig I did with him a few weeks ago, an elderly gentleman requested a tune none of us knew and Benny played the melody and told me the changes although by his admission he hadn't played that son g in 50 years.

  13. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    All good stuff. But there's no harm in taking a wack at a nuts-and-bolts answer.

    I don't need to tell you that bluegrass bass is all about:
    a) Beats one and three,
    b) Roots & fives
    c) Matching your part to the guitarists & vice-versa
    d) Percussive sound

    Obviously, there are exceptions, but if you hit those points you're definitely welcome back.

    In string-band swing and swing music generally, it's a different approach:
    a) Walking four-to-the-bar, the power is on beats two and four. Try practicing with your metronome on just 2 & 4. It helps tons.
    b) You're walking four-to-the-bar, so all the great stuff you read about here dealing with connecting chords comes into play on another level. That, as you know, is a ten-second condensation of a thirty-year study.
    c) You want to match the guitarist's rhythmic pulse (and, of course, play the right chords) but you're not trying to play his notes.
    d) The move from mandolins and flat-tops to electrics and steels means longer notes are more appropriate.

    I dunno, Steve, I suspect you're on top of this already but I hope it's a little help.
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    My Microcomposer has these and it does allow you to add swing to anything you have already programmed in.

    I haven't read the article - but using templates like this is a good way to hear what effect : adding "swing" has on different types of music...?
  15. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    None of this quantizing explains why a rhythm section playing nothing but quarter notes still swings. Or why music that isn't jazz still swings. Check out Hal Galpers' thoughts on teh subject.

    Swing is as much about note choice and line construction to propel the harmonic progression as it is about the duple/triple rhythmic approach.
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I'm not sure whether we're talking about Jazz here or not...;)

    But anyway - aren't there at least two meanings of the term "swing" in Jazz?

    So I will often hear people say - that band is really swinging, when they just mean that it all fits together well and they are on top of their game and it has a nice feel. But that may not be the same as : implying a 12/8 feel on tunes written as 4/4 ?
  17. Lovebown


    Jan 6, 2001
    Care to elaborate?

    A drummer can swing like crazy on his own, without having any reference to form or harmony.

    In my experience, the swing "feeling" (not talking about the genre of music that was popular during the 1930s) is almost only a rhythmic thing. To me the feel between Basies rhythm section and Tony Williams freebop trio with Sam Rivers and Gary Peacock isn't THAT diffrent... even though they have completly different reference to harmony and composition(assuming they're even playing one)!

    What I'm trying to say is nice resoultions and the "right notes" isn't going to make you sound swinging if the your rhythm isn't there, but on the other hand, the opposite can be true.

    Maybe I misunderstood what you said though...

  18. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.

    Sure it's hard for a drummer, cause they only have the rhythmic element to work with. So much of this "intellectualising" about the swing feel is predicated on the eighth note, but that (as others have pointed out) you take a bassist and drummer who are playing nothing but quarter notes and they can still swing ferociously.

    What I'm trying to say is that nice resolutions and the right notes ARE going to make you sound swinging even if all you are doing is playing quarter notes right in the center of the beat.


    Unfortunately, the article on time and swing seems to be down (there's a Forward Motion Advisory, check that out), but read through the rest of the articles, there's a wealth of really greta information there.
  19. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I like to read it this way: If all you are doing is playing quarter notes right in the center of the beat, nice resolutions and the right notes are going to sound swinging.
  20. Lovebown


    Jan 6, 2001
    Sure....nice website... I'll counter with


    He has some very very nice articles... I believe there is one on jazz rhythm that is interesting..