It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swung ... Rhythm


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As promised, here's a thread to consolidate the many side conversations we've had in the past few weeks about swing music, specifically the underlying rhythms that make swing music recognizable. Is it swing? Is it blues? Is it rock? Is it jazz?How do you know? That's what this thread is all about.

To start, I'm going to go back and pull some of the very informative posts from the past few weeks. So here goes.

I was looking for a couple discussions I remember about how to define music that is "swung." Didn't find those, but I will.
I can't find or link in sound clips right now so I'll just type stuff out but hopefully can add in some examples later or send you in a PM if I can't post links and all that being new here.

Now if you've got 4/4 count music there are 4 beats in a bar so bar goes

|1 2 3 4|1 2 3 4|1 2 3 4|1 2 3 4

dancers count up to 8 but in music notation with bars you just go to 4 since the bar has four beats in 4/4 music. Those beats all are even except there's usually a slight emphasis on the 1 (that's how you know it's the one normally). Those notes are usually called quarter notes and four quarter notes make up a full bar in 4/4 time.

Music doesn't only use quarter notes though so you can divide one quarter note into two eighth notes (that's where the one-a two-a type counting comes in for dancers often). You can also divide a quarter note even further into 4 sixteenth notes. So in the time it takes to play one quarter note you could also play 4 sixteenth notes, when you hear fast runs in classical music it's very often 16th notes.


These bars are basically the same as the ones I wrote out earlier except now I'm marking 16th notes (it would get too cluttered writing out the 1,2,3,4 for each bar so I just write out the 1 and then have dots for 2,3,4

Normal unswung 8th notes take up 2 16th notes each, so same bar, still keeping the 16th note dots for reference but have put a semi colon where the pulse for the unswung 8th notes go (the a in one-a, two-a)


When you have swung rythm the two 8th notes that take up a quarter note or a beat don't have equal duration. One borrows a bit of time from the next 8th note so the rythm isn't even anymore, it's swung.

Bit like this


However that notation isn't accurate either because the 8th note that's stealing a bit of time usually steals a bit less than a full extra 16th note and it does depend on the song exactly how much the 8ths are swung (or how uneven a pair of 8th notes is. Together they always fit in one count so it's still 4/4 music.

It's much easier to describe this with examples, I'll try to add some in later.

In lindy the triple steps are swung, as in the time between the steps is not even but follows the swung 8th notes, but this can only happen if the music actually swings. If the 8ths are not swung you end with a more of a cha cha cha rythm in the triple steps because no 1 is to be with the music and that' why I much prefer dancing lindy to swung music because I can really feel it in my body and the timing of my steps.


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Awesome post from siggav:

Glen Miller's in the Mood starts with a run of swung eigths, it's what gives the music the lilt and the swing. The whole song is swung and has that swung rythm but it's nice that it starts solo with the swung 8ths so they're easier to hear

If you can imagine all those 8th notes played "straight" i.e. not swung the song would feel really flat.

My current jam song, Carsie Blanton's Baby can Dance,

She sings her 8ths swung but it's harder to pick out I guess if you're not looking for it.
Anyway in that song at around 2:08 time you get a solo where you should be able to really clearly hear the swung 8ths again.

Then a counter example, this verison of Elvis Presley - Hound dog does not swing. You can hear how the 8th notes in the guitar are not swung

Then for fun, this is one of my favourite lindy dancing clips at the moment. Don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!

This is from a jack and jill competition, i.e. they entered as individuals and then got randomly paired up and have to dance to a song where they have no idea in advance exactly what song will play. The playfulness of their connection and musicality is just brilliant and that sort of lilting fluid playfulness is much harder to try to get when dancing to non swung music.


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Thanks. That's what I thought. To me, it's like unswung music is square or maybe angular. Swung music is curved. I know that sounds like a crazy description, but that's how it sounds to me. :)

Kinda reminds me of marching band (which I was in) versus jazz band (which my BF at the time was in.) My music? Square. His music? Curved. :cool:


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And now alittle bt about WCS and "swung"rhythms"

Sorry guys, just cruisin' and...

If you are talking about our current Argentine Tango, "there are no patterns."

People have preferences about what kind of music to dance AT to: traditional or not, basically. And that same discussion occurs with WCS. "It doesn't swing."
Has WCS ever been danced to music that is swung?
Swung as in by the awesome definition of swung that Siggav wrote out for us a week or two back in the ECS vs Lindy thread.

I ask in all sincerity. The music that was "swung" was largely big band music of the 40s. I thought WCS came into the picture later, around the time "swung" music was dropping off the scene.

I'll have to pull up (I think) Steve's old thread re: music WCS was originally danced to, or something like that. I remember seeing the thread title,but am not sure I ever read the thread.
Yeah I've seen definitions sometimes when people say it's a swing dance because the follow swings from one end of the slot to the other. I find that sort of hilarious but I do think that the reason "swing" is in the name of the dance is because it evolved out of a swing dance (i.e. lindy hop) that was/is done to swung music. It's very much in the family of swing dances.

It's also complicated by the fact that people sometimes go oh the band's really swinging! when what they mean is that the band is kicking knat and being awesome. So I've seen people get offended when I mention the music doesn't swing and they read that as me saying the music isn't good, which isn't what I'm trying to communicate at all.

Anyway, could call the dance: West Coast. Just drop the swing off the end.


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I haven't yet gotten around to posting the stuff I've referred to at least several times, but, yeah, it has. But not in a way that many people would think of as "swing."

In the film "Hot Rod Gang" unacknowledged dancers, one of whom is Dick D'Agostin, dance "Western Swing" to Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps "Dance to the Bop." I think I posted details in the Original West Coast Swing music thread.

It turns out the "swung eights" were very common in Rockabilly. I know his for sure because I have a book of Rockabilly Hits sheet music, and the notation is there on many of the songs. One song actually has the note that authenic rockabilly is played ((swung eight)) notation.

Bill Haley had the Saddlemen before the Comets and did some of the earliest rockabilly on records.
Oh, and, an often overlooked fact is that "Western Swing" as a type of music, was a big influence on the rockabilly musicians, including Haley.
By the time Haley appeared in Rock Around the Click with the Comets, they had pretty much lost their swing, but there were traces of it as doucmented in Tamlyn's PhD thesis.
And the overlooked dancers there are Earl Barton, who ws a professional, and Lisa Gaye, who was (also) received training in the studio system.

Lauré Haile, who first described "Western Swing", listed the following songs/records as "Good Swing or Fox Trot Records":
" String of Pearls" by Glenn Miller ((1942))
"Let's Dance" by Ray Anthony ((Capitol L-258)(1951))
"Be-Bop's Spoken Here" by Les Brown Columbia 38499 (4/14/49)
"Also Good Swing - but unusual Chorus "AABA":"
"One Mint Julep", Buddy Morrow, Victor 20-4869 (June/July 1952)
"Dry Bones", Tommy Dorsey, Victor 20-3523 (1949?)
And a slight change up because I'm tired of wrting...

The term Shuffle Rhythm is used for the "swung eighth." It is essentally "swing" at a slower, more narrowly defined pace. And shuffle is found in many places. It was big in the early 60s with the Bill Black Combo, known to have been used for "Western Swing." Even swing is found in surprising places like hip hop, according to books on drumming.

Although that orignal music thread can be kind of painful at times, there is a lot of interesting (to me!) information there.
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Shuffle rhythm is not the same thing as a swung eighth, but you are right that at slow tempos swung eighths tend to start to get played in basically shuffle rhythm.

Just to add a bit more complexity to things, there's more to "swing rhythm" than just the swung eighths, there's also how the rhythm section in general emphasises the four beats. I saw it referred to as a train rythm.

Good post that talks about this sort of stuff:

Put dots in the spaces in the above url, I still can't post proper urls :(


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I've been reluctant to burden you with questions, but since you brought it up...
And I haven't written more because I'm not confident enough in what i think I know to post anything that I can't back up with multiple sources. And that's very time consuming.

I can't quite fit the steady 4/4 "sock rhythm" played by guitarists, with variations of how the notes / chords / or parts of chords are played, with the swung 1/8 notes thing.

Write as much as you want! I'm all ears.

What sort of comping do you do on violin when you play "gypsy jazz?"


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Shuffle Rhythm - any takers?

Best description of it Ive found is just from wikipedia:

"In shuffle rhythm, the first note in the pair is exactly twice the duration of the second note. In swing the division is inexact, and varies depending on factors such as how fast or slow the music is, on the genre of music, or the individual tastes of the performer, from almost equal (typically at fast tempos) to almost shuffle (typically at slow tempos)."

Don't have any videos off the top of my head that really features it though
When I youtubed it, I found this really great blues guitar tutorial. Too bad it cuts off just as he's about to bring it home. Still looking for part two. If this is the right thing, it's the most recognizable blues guitar line evah. :)



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Blues is actually a bit of a term like swing. There are a ton of different blues dances that all fall under the umbrella of blues and they can look quite different, but yeah the music is a major part of it.

There's a whole big thing about "fusion" dancing which is sometimes what basically dancing (something close to) blues to non blues music is called and there are people who really like doing that and others who think that's the worst thing.

But yeah there's different types of blues dance and they're often mixed up within one dance, slow drag blues is really easy to pick out. That's the one when the follow looks like she's draped over the lead pretty much, with contra body motion while travelling a fair bit and covering a bunch of ground in each step. Slow blues is more of a spot dance, both of those done in closed embrace.

However you can also dance in a more open embrace or just in full open.

I did a workshop last weekend where they just focused on slow blues, stroll and shuffle, it was a lot of fun. Im pretty new at dancing blues though, only been taking regular lessons for around 4-5 months so nothing close to an expert


Active Member
Hi Steve, a few things. First of all I'm just a hobby violinist, studied swing fiddle for a bit but never got properly good at it, mostly just played with my teacher (he played guitar as well as violin). I actually went and saw a really good gypsy jazz trio last sunday though and they were really awesome.

I didn't really "comp" the violin is very much a melody instrument and you have a tendency to just not play when it's not your turn to be playing the tune or doing a solo or doing melody support kind of thing. The violinist in the trio I saw tended to join the guitar, actually putting the bow down and holding the violin sideways like a mandolin and just plucking some chords to help out and join the guitar or the double bass.

Clip of Grappelli playing and you can see how him and the other melody instrument players just "shut up" so to speak when it's not their turn. Not my favourite version of minor swing but it's great to actually see them play

Another thing is that gypsy jazz is often too fast for lindy and/or doesn't quite have the right feel. It can work great for balboa though. Bit of an elaboration of the too fast for lindy, it's too fast while not being super high energy music. You can lindy really fast but it needs really driving high energy music to match the energy output required to dance at that speed (in my opinion anyway)

Aaanyway back to the rhythm in the guitar vs the melody lines and riffs. The guitar in swing is a part of the rhythm section along with potentially double bass, drums, left hand of piano etc. The steady quarter notes on every beat playing in the 4/4 rhythm is necessary to provide the stable base that everyone else syncopates around. The guitar doesn't play swung eigths, that's for the melody and solos etc.

One thing to be aware of as well is that there are a lot of things that together create that genuine woo I want to lindy to that swinging sound. Almost every one of those details can be found elsewhere. You'll find swung eighths in not really danceable music, the sock rhythm guitar thing is quite common in old school country and some folk music. It's all been a melting pot, however you need all of those things together to get that swing sound.

Another thing to add, I know we're getting quite technical and complicated with all this now, it's not that hard to identify swing music normally, listening for the swung eights and that swung feel is pretty easy once you know what to look out for

Steve Pastor

Staff member
Yeah, but how am I, and anyone else, going to learn if we don't get into it?

I want to know what people are talking about when they use certain terms, etc. In eventually comes down to "feel," as even the most detailed writers seem to get to eventually.
I THINK I've come a long way since I started asking questions years ago.

I may go delving into all these books I have out of the library right now... and do more than study them!
I can see that Skippy Blair's sheet music for dancers fits right in with most of what I'm reading. So that's pretty cool.
I THINK can can dance WCS with that swing feel, and even put in in line dances when I feel it in the music. And I'm pretty sure I can PLAY some very basic things on keyboard and guitar with a swing feel.
Still, there always seems to be more to learn.
And THAT I think is pretty cool.


Active Member
Oh absolutely re: having to start somewhere and all that. I more finished my last post on the feel talk because, I didn't want people to feel too intimidated, a lot of people can learn to identify what swinging music feels like without being able to nail down exactly what it is beyond the swung eighths that makes it feel like full blown swing music.

Slightly sideways, this track always amuses me. It was written pretty much specifically to trip dancers up with lots of breaks and slightly unexpected accents etc, it is a lot of fun to dance to you really have to be musical to dance well to it. Can't just do basic patterns because of the playful teasing of the music itself

Anyway there's tons of good stuff on the myjazzcanbeatupyourjazz blogspot co uk blog it's written by a swing band leader who really knows his stuff and is a dancer as well so he's very aware of the difference between danceable jazz and jazz that's more intended just for ears.


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You totally rock ... or should I say swing? ;)

I can't see the Jimmie Lunceford piece in the US because of copyright stuff. Is this it? LOVE this piece, and if this is it, I see what you mean about the playfulness of the music. Nice. :)



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Anyway there's tons of good stuff on the myjazzcanbeatupyourjazz blogspot co uk blog it's written by a swing band leader who really knows his stuff and is a dancer as well so he's very aware of the difference between danceable jazz and jazz that's more intended just for ears.
I perused the website a bit last night. Good stuff. I found it a bit difficult to navigate beyond the front age, though. How did you find the archived stuff?

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