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Swing


Halifax
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I *think* I know what folks mean when they say a tune has swing, but I'm curious about what other people think. Swing could make a tune sound more lilting, but swing is also important in heavy tunes that depend on a drone note. Is swing a feeling? A tempo? A lightness? A digging-in? I'd love your thoughts.

 

From that Wiki article: When asked for a definition of swing, Fats Waller replied, "Lady, if you gotta ask, you'll never know."[5]

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I think that in the context of folk/traditional music, "swing" is a descriptive word rather than a word with a fixed single technical meaning.

 

I'd say that a tune swings when you can hear the shape of the phrases: subtle changes of emphasis which match the (imaginary?) dancers surging forwards and retreating back to place.  It's the music flowing in phrases of 2 bars, and the phrases of 2 bars working together in bigger phrases of 4 bars, and so on into 8 bars.  It's moving past the simple number of beats in the bar, to an awareness of the number of bars in the phrase.  It's about the tune having changes of momentum rather than merely a relentless driving beat.

 

How to achieve this?  Spiritually or artistically by knowing the tune well, by whistling or humming it when you're driving, or in the shower, or in time with your steps when you're out for a walk.  Technically, by changes of volume (bellows pressure) and subtle changes of emphasis, and by leaving gaps between the notes.

 

Or something like that.

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As the WP page says, there are two distinct meanings of "swing": groove or feel, and playing unequal notes. I say distinct, but of course the latter feeds into the former.

 

A common example of unequal notes is the hornpipe. These tunes are customarily written down with pairs of equal quavers, but that is not how they are played. You can think about the swing in different ways, depending how your brain works:

- The first quaver is lengthened and the second quaver is shortened;

- The second quaver is played late;

- It is played as a crochet + quaver triplet, or as a dotted quaver plus semiquaver, or somewhere in between.

 

Another common example is the Viennese waltz, where the second beat of the bar comes fractionally early, and the third beat slightly late (though I don't think this is usually described as swing).

 

Lilt is similar, but (to me at least) lilt refers to triple-time tunes and swing to simple time. But I may have just made that up.

 

As for playing with swing: the ideal is to "just know" how it feels, and have sufficient command of your instrument that you can make it happen. For the rest of us... I dunno. If you want to analyse it, you could try getting a computer to play the tune, which it will do absolutely soullessly and straight, and compare that to the concertina in your head (which, if you're anything like me, sounds much better than the concertina in your hands) and see what you would emphasise differently. Emphasis can be playing a note a bit louder (or suddenly softer), or a bit more (or less) staccato, or for a longer duration, or with an appoggiatura, or whatever other musical effect you can think of. Different styles of music will prefer different effects, of course.

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58 minutes ago, Moll Peatly said:

A common example of unequal notes is the hornpipe. These tunes are customarily written down with pairs of equal quavers, but that is not how they are played. You can think about the swing in different ways, depending how your brain works:

- The first quaver is lengthened and the second quaver is shortened;

- The second quaver is played late;

- It is played as a crochet + quaver triplet, or as a dotted quaver plus semiquaver, or somewhere in between.

etc...

Thank you! I was getting a little confused following this thread.

 

Am I correct in thinking that the 'reverse' of this, ie: The first quaver is shortened and the second quaver is lengthened

is known as a 'snap', and that it is common(ish) in 'Scottish' music?

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10 hours ago, lachenal74693 said:

Am I correct in thinking that the 'reverse' of this, ie: The first quaver is shortened and the second quaver is lengthened

is known as a 'snap', and that it is common(ish) in 'Scottish' music?

Yes, a snap or a "Scottish snap" is a pair of notes where the first is shortened and that time is added to the second.  It goes "da-daa" rather than "daa-da".  It is a very Scottish sound, although not exclusively so.

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8 hours ago, Mikefule said:

Yes, a snap or a "Scottish snap" is a pair of notes where the first is shortened and that time is added to the

second. It goes "da-daa" rather than "daa-da".  It is a very Scottish sound, although not exclusively so.

Thanks for that! I've been 'repairing' a few badly mangled ABC transcriptions of strathspeys, and came

across the term while doing that...

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