prof albetan: your last msg: i may have been downloading a portion of the pdf and copied
only step i. playing a seventh chord with the left hand and create phrases only with chord notes. i am still trying to find my way without trying too much detail and confusing my limited abilities.
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that's a good start. you could also try playing your left hand with just the single note "root" of each chord down low in a bass style half note rhythm. it sounds good and is often less cumbersone thatn fill chords in the left hand. oscar peterson sometimes played solo piano in that manner with his left hand sort of imitating the half note bass style of ray brown.
on the off beat, generally speaking.
starting with lefyt hand shell voicings (either 7th or 3rd) is even easier.
so when you have

1 and two and tree and four and etc...

the emphasis should be on the "and's"??

that doesn't really make sense to me.. that would make it really hoompa-like?
ok it seems logical when you start your lines on the "and's". but when you start a line on the beat, should you the also not emphasize the first note of your line??

and how does this relate to bebop... you often hear straight eights in bebop or am i wrong... plz explain me something about this
it will sound 'oompah like' not because you accent the 'and' (which is correct), but because of the length of each eight note. if the eight note on the on beat is very long and the eight note on the offbeat is very short, then you will have an extreme swing style like  wynton kelly.

or you can make your eight notes more evenly sized instead of the heavy triplet feel, then accent the offbeat. the style will be more along the lines of herbie hancock.

or you can play the lines marcato (detached) -- in other words non-legato, add the accents on the offbeat and you will sound like chick corea.

accents of every eight note is an important aspect of authentic jazz playing and many masters have come up with unique sounds here. the offbeat accenting is an authentic swing feel. it makes you fall into the offbeat so to speak.

and you should practice this. play scales and lines accenting the 'ands'. be aware of each line so that you know specifically where they fall on the beat so you know how to accent.

whether or not you start on an 'and' or not, the accent remains in the same place. remember you are playing against someone comping with a swing feel so the accents always remain in the same position to coincide with that feel.

straight eights vs. swing eights -- as i said above, there are degrees to this. but generally speaking, the slower the tune the more the swing ratio to the on beat (more triplet feel). but this is not necessarily true of all players. chick corea being an example. he would stay mostly straight eights even on a slow tune with just a slight swing. he will concentrate on the accents i mentioned above.

only if it's a quarter note, with no note played on the off beat. in jazz, notes that fall on a downbeat and are not followed by an upbeat generally get a little extra weight. otherwise the accent is always on the offbeat. also the highest note in any given phrase is usually accented, and if that note is an offbeat then it gets an even stronger accent than the other off beats in the phrase. at faster tempos like those you usually hear bebop players playing eighth notes tend to straighten out, like jazzwee said the degree to which eighth notes are swung is inversely proportional to the tempo, but the accents always stay the same.
my two cents...
it's great to practice playing with emphasizing the off beats. but when it comes time to don't want to do'll sound ricky-tioky. what you need are specially placed accents at the tops of phrases on offbeats, like charlie parker plays. at faster tempos, the eighths are closer to even, with no accents on the offbeats. you don't want it off want a smooth swinging lines. the rhythm section swinging underneath you will help it swing. nothing sounds more square than an overaccented, overswung bebop line.

jazzwee's breakdown of the players is pretty accurate. play along with some horn players that you've transcribed, and try to manipulate the feel. that's my best advice on how to learn that. practice with accenting the offbeats is most useful to break the habits of accenting the notes on the beat, and to try to get a smoother sound overall without thinking about it.
three great posts in a row.
there's a subtlety here that's not obvious in discussions. depending on the player, the amount of the accent varies. hancock has more intense accents. bill evans accents are fairly mild. but note that evans changes his swing from triplet to straight eights.

this is part of your stylistic voice. each one will probably accent differently.

as far as quarter notes are concerned, i accent the second quarter note of the line myself. i don't accent the first. stylistically, i never accent any note that doesn't land on the offbeat except for every other quarter note. another accent point is the length of the quarter note. you can size the quarter note so it has a swing feel as well (by approximating two notes in a triplet).

this same logic applies to repeated eight notes.

again, to emphasize that accents don't imply any banging on the piano of any sort on the offbeats. this is a matter of contrast. putting an accent on the offbeat, which is a little like leaning on the offbeat finger for a moment (at least to me), has a rhythmic effect on the line and for me at least, changes my phrasing and keeps me in time well.

by the time you get to higher speeds, the accent gets pretty subtle as it becomes impossible for most to maintain the accents -- unless you can play like wynton kelly. he can maintain the accents at faster tempo.

another thought -- i was taught to focus more on accents rather than on triplet feel for a modern jazz sound (in other words i play straight eights). this is a stylistic choice (like corea, hancock, jarrett). this is why it is an important topic because swing is much more complicated than talking about triplet feel.  

i think it is a worthwhile study for beginners to closely compare the playing of the artists mentioned here because that gives a good starting point for making a stylistic choice for oneself. and no one ever said you only had to play one way. maybe you can sound like wynton one tune, hancock on another tune, and bill evans on another.

without a proper swing sound that is idiomatic to the genre, i think an improviser will not sound "jazzy" so this is something imho that's extremely important to work on. i was a little suprised at the lack of response to ayolt.
one more thing to note. if you played straight eights without accenting on the offbeat, it won't swing. you'll sound like a classical musician that accents on the on beat.
when learning the swing eigths it is best to do so in groups of 4,
with this group of four 1/8th notes there is a slight accent on the first of the group of 4.  there is no accent on the others unless you are at a later stage practicing special situations .... practicing syncopations .... accents on offbeats in the group of four are special drills outside of the normal practice of swing eigths.
i guess this is going to start the confusion here. stylistically speaking, those that swing more heavily accent less. those that play straighter eights accent more, with the accents implying a swing. so depending on the style you lean to, accents may or may not be as important. this is why i mentioned specific artists for comparison.

herbie usually accents all offbeats. but he plays straight eights.
respectfully.  for what it is worth.  i disagree.  herbie hancock swings in groups of four eigth notes he slightly accents the first of each group of four.  he does not accent the others unless it is part of a composition or a specific kick to do so.  i suggest it would sound pretty weird if he did otherwise.
gotta agree with mike on this one -- on what solo does herbie accent on all offbeats?  or even *most* offbeats?  certainly not on any solo with miles's quintet, at least not one i've transcribed or listened too carefully.  

also agree with mike that it would sound bizarre to do such a thing.  where are you getting this, jazzwee?
speaking of four note groupings, take a look at them in "forward motion" phrasing where they are displaced to start on the "and"
hancock - i'm listening to dolphin dance right now and i can hear it. he has a very sharp attack compared to evans for example who is more legato. and he's playing straight eights. this from the herbie hancock box (remastered) -- a collection from the '60s.
i'm listening to maiden voyage on the same album. i can duplicate that same sound by accents as i describe. very sharp attack on the offbeat notes and detached straight eight notes.

of course, although this is true in these cases, i also know that herbie varies his style. his solo piano work is more legato and i don't hear this accenting style there. so i'm sure he has a million ways of playing eight notes. however, i just note that my observation is a distinctively hancock trait that i can recognize. so if i heard it i would automatically know it's him, just from the accents.

if you're playing straight eights, you'll have to accent it somehow to get it to swing imho. if you're swinging it hard then the accents are just icing, i think.  

this is an interesting article, that's not complete imho. but it does discuss the practice of accenting offbeats.
that's a very concrete example, jazzwee -- since anybody who really learned the tune "maiden voyage" transcribed it from the original recording, and therefore is familiar with all of the solos, it's a great starting point for a discussion.  i'll need to look at it more closely, but it's a fantastic point of reference.  i look forward to learning more by re-listening, examining my own transcription, and hearing more opinions.
i disagree, jazzwe. herbie's eighth notes sound like they descend from wynton kelly. herbie does play eighths even at fast tempos, but the offbeats aren't accented, except for important ones: like a repeated off beat note, like on the solo from oliloqui valley.

for herbie's swing feeling, listen to the solos on the complete concert, like on all of you and there is no greater love in particular. his swing feeling sounds so similar to wynton kelly, especially in the length of the first's definitely not close to even.  dolphin dance, 6:08-6:17...when he's actually playing eighth notes on this solo and not just displaced triplets, he is swinging the eigths a huge amount.

i guess an important thing to note is that part of the swing feeling is how much behind the beat herbie plays, when he swings hard, like later wynton kelly.
ahhh. now the discussion improves. i have no doubt ou are correct on those tunes hepcatmonk. to say that herbie can swing like wynton kelly is most likely true. he can probably swing in a variety of ways.

but that's not his particular distinctive style imho. it's when he plays a piano (not some funk on keyboard, etc.) and plays in the style i describe that it is recognizable to me. historically speaking, herbie does so many different things though so i can only make a statement based on specific recordings.

chick corea can also swing like wynton. i saw a video of him doing exactly that. and he was playing legato. but we all know that chick's distinctive style is playing straight eights detached with a sharp attack. quite a bit more pronounced than anyone else.

i admit these are generalizations but given certain recordings, i was hoping a beginner can get a sense of the differences in accents.

wynton kelly swings the hardest among the artists i mentioned imho. that is his distinctive style. he can also maintain accents at a higher tempo.

may i just say that i was taught these specific stylistic accent styles so i spent a lot time emulating where the accent is placed.
wynton does not accent the off beat 1/8 notes either.  if you play your swing swing eigths like that what you end up sounding like is ... like one of those classical pianists who read in a book how to swing and never listened  and then just started playing i/8 notes like that thinking they are swinging.  that is not what it is.  the confusion begins because drummers accent the offbeats  in swing meaning something entirely different from what you are talking about.  it means they accent beats 2 and 4.  melodically we have to feel that these are the strong beats in swing but we do not accent them in the melodic line and we do not accent the offbeats or the "ands" of the eigth note groups unless they are specific kicks or we are going for a specific effect.  "swinging hard" comes from obtaing the consistent ability to play in the zone or in the "pocket" and has nothing do with what you are calling accenting offbeats.
remember that there are different degrees of accenting the "ands" :
loudly, medium, soft, very subtle, etc.
i am listening to sonny clark and i percieve a subtle accent in general on his "ands". of course he also occasionaly accents downbeat notes as all jazz pianists do because the accents serve the melodic phrase not the other way around. for example, in c jam blue the note on the beat gets the accent "dooo dat".
i'm listening to horace silver solo on "cherry blossom" on the tokyo blues album and he is accenting a lot of the "ands" in his runs and accenting a mixture of "downs" and "ands" depending on the phrase. for example when a detached quarter note lands on the down he accents, or when he repats a pitch in eight notes the first note on the beat gets accented (just like the motif in the head of c jam blues).
mike, i accent the offbeats and i play straighter eights. so i have no oompah oomphah sound when i play whatsoever. but maybe your idea of accents is different from mine. i lean on the offbeat. it is very subtle. i think i said that several times. i don't want to give beginners the impression that accents mean some sort of major sound contrast. my ears are very attuned to accents. wynton kelly is all accents (in my definition). i'm not sure how you can play authentic jazz without leaning a little on the offbeats.  

the contrast in sound between the on beat and off beat is not that great. however, the feel is on the off beat. i gave comparisons of different players varying their attack on the offbeat. herbie being noticeably sharp on the attack when he chooses to play this way. he does play differently at other moments so it is not a hard and fast rule. it is example of how to emulate.

i've learned to emulate these different styles and the way i do it is the extent i lean on the offbeat. a sharpness of attack is often a characteristic in my mind of an accent, not necessarily a big volume increase. the reason this distinction has to be made is that players like chick corea, make their swing statement purely by accent. sit and count off the eight notes of these guys. it sounds like this: tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. that's not doo-dat-doo-dat-doo-dat that's swinging. yet it swings, because the accents land kind off center when contrasted against some hard swinging rhythm section.

herbie may be a bad example since he does play such varied sounds. so let's focus on chick for a moment. can't you hear those sharp attacks and detached notes?

mike, you said:
"wynton does not accent the off beat 1/8 notes either.  if you play your swing swing eigths like that what you end up sounding like is ... "

this is where i'm being misunderstood. accents are more apparent when playing non-swing eights. bill evans accents are very subtle compared to wynton or hancock when swinging hard. but again this is a matter of degree. maybe you're hearing a different kind of sound when i say accents.

mastery of subtle accents lead to a change in sound imho. i'm fortunate that i had a teacher that learned from the original masters and has a very profound appreciation of this aspect. i'm just sharing what he has imparted to me and we worked out some of these little stylistic analysis that i've provided a little bit of here.

all i'm suggesting here is that new jazzers (or older ones) play with subtle accents and figure out what's best for themselves stylistically. i simply lay out some of these players as examples as kind of a pallette of choices. in most examples of major players i've studied, there is a subtle accent on the offbeat and the amount varies by player. there may be also stronger accents at other points to highlight some aspect of a phrase, but that is even over anything else i'm talking about.
from an interview in jazz guitar life .com

"i took two or three lessons with oliver gannon. i found him to be very direct and honest as he pointed out some problems in my playing that i wasn’t aware of. at the time i had an exaggerated swing feel in my lines that sounded old fashioned, he had me straighten out the 8th note lines with accents on the upbeats. also he alerted me to the fact it’s not against the law to repeat a note or leave some spaces in your playing. in addition he said if you don’t know many tunes you are not going to get much work."
when it comes to swing feel, i think kenny kirkland was a hell of a player. in fact, i wrote an article a few years back where i analyzed his lines in digital spectrograms. that way i could see the exact timing and amplitude of every note in his lines. this is what he does most of the time:

he accents all the offbeats heavily unless there are melodic leaps in the line, in which case he accents the high notes.

when the offbeats are accented, he plays straight eights. in fact, he even makes the offbeat notes longer than the downbeat notes sometimes. he also places his downbeats behind the drummers downbeats, so if the drummer is playing with a triplet feel the upbeats are syncronized.

when the downbeats are accented however, the swing ratio is very high. in slower tempos the upbeats are often shorter than sixteenth notes. the downbeats are syncronized with the drummers´.

kenny kirkland was heavily influenced by herbie hancock, and though i haven´t studied herbie´s phrasing in spectrograms i can hear these tendencies in his playing as well.

thanks , savage!

is the article you wrote available?
let me ask you a little more about the part where you wrote:

"when the downbeats are accented however, the swing ratio is very high. in slower tempos the upbeats are often shorter than sixteenth notes. the downbeats are syncronized with the drummers´."

at what tempos will keny kirkland typicaly play that way?

also, the part about the offbeat notes being a littlelonger than the downbeat notes:

"when the offbeats are accented, he plays straight eights. in fact, he even makes the offbeat notes longer than the downbeat notes sometimes. he also places his downbeats behind the drummers downbeats, so if the drummer is playing with a triplet feel the upbeats are syncronized."

perhaps that comes form the the 1:2 triplet ratio, where the continuos swing eighth notes are reversed and have a more urgent push to them ("short long" instead of "long short" as when in the triplet the second and third eighth notes are tied instead of the first and second eighth notes)
i still disagree;  if you want to site where we are getting our information from i can be a lot more specific than you actually.  i learned how to swing personally mostly from listening to recording of many different people and also from being critiqued by a great bass player i played with for a while named keven frieson.  i learned how to teach swing and how to explain swing from dave frank a former piano professor at berklee  and the current owner of the new york school of jazz in manhattan.  dave frank learned how to swing and how to teach swing from the late great pianist and famous piano teacher lennie tristano.  dave studied with lennie from the age of about 3 years old.  lennie tristano is well recognized as one of the greatist teachers of not only piano but of jazz of all time.  there is a long list of famous jazz artists who went to new york back in the day to study with lennie tristano for at least a short period of time.  this list includes  bill evans, charles mingus, lee konitz, phil woods etc, etc..etc...  the most important facet of tristano's method was teaching the grouping 4 swing i/8th notes ...
putting a slight accent of the first of the group and no accent on the others exactly as i have been trying to teach you.  then he had his students write countless compositions consiting of flowing strings of these 1/8th notes and had them improvise flowing lines at home and under his supervision for countless hours endlessly critiqueing the flow and technique while executing these eigth notes.
   again i am not saying that we never accent off beats... it is just that this is the exception to the rule.  an accent on the offbeat is ussually part of a composition... a special kick ...  
it is not part of what we call swing 1/8ths and to say so would be misleading to someone who is trying to learn how to swing.
hi mike, aside from the quotes already pulled in by jazz+ and savage, which are consistent with what i've said, the descriptions i give is not new.

jazz+ happens to know who my teacher is so he is an independent party that can verify that i'm not providing b.s. information here. my teacher learned directly from the masters and played (and plays) with them.

i do acknowledge that tristano swings and plays differently. some of the stuff i'm heard of him (particularly his dynamics) is awesome. some of the stuff he plays is also lifeless. in any case, the tristano camp is a different group subject to another thread and a bigger debate.

you do repeatedly say "swing eights" and i keep saying "straighter eights" (i.e. closer to 1:1 instead of the 2:1 triplet feel), so are we passing each other in the night here? what jazz+ and savage posted are also in the same vein of what i'm describing and that is a less charleston-like eight note playing, more even division of eights but the accent implying the swing, in a more contemporary style. because of the sharp attack, it sounds almost like a 16th note, but the full time value is kept. this is what i refer to as an accent.

i listened to errol garner as posted by jazz+ and errol's eights are mostly straight too. wynton's eights are hardly every straight. bill evan's is mixed. chick corea is the straightest. herbie is mostly straight as well. kenny werner plays mostly straight eights. we can point to specific recordings so our ears can verify. i've tried to do that.

if you play straighter eights, you'll sound like classical music unless you accent the offbeats. classical music accents the downbeats. i have a feeling that your interpretation of accents is not the same as mine.

trying to discuss swing in words is pretty tough though. that's why i'd rather just refer to specific recordings that we can all look at and listen to.
and just to be doubly clear, if you play exaggerated swing (which is not a contemporary playing style), then what i'm saying on accents don't apply. it applies to straight eights. (i think i've said this in every post now). playing your eights straight is a stylistic choice. if you play like that, then accents are important. if you don't play like that, then accent as you wish.

phrase accenting is another layer that is on top of the normal swing feel. i'm not talking about that.
dave franks dvd video breakthru to improv  is perfect for any one who is not perfectly clear on how swing 1/8ths are played.  in the video he is at a piano and teaches a saxaphone player step by step how to swing.
and... am i mistaken the title of the thread is swing: beat emphasis?
and the question was where in the 1/8ths the emphasis goes.  my answer was there is a slight emphasis on the first of a group of 4.
you started out talking about the 2nd quarter note.  i tried to point out that this is for the bass and the drummer not the melodic line and not accented in the melodic line.  and btw this becomes a challenge for us solo pianists who like to accent 2 and 4 in the lh while walking but do not accent 2 and 4 in rh in the melodic line.  this is most definitely how i play, most definitly how lennie tristano, dave frank and dave mckenna swing at the piano.  i really do not think you would be swinging doing it otherwise assuming you were playing a walking bass line in the lh and swing 1/8 in the rh.
at any rate you are right that there is an accent on 2 and 4 it is just that that has nothing to do with the melodic line.
is there some reason why your teachers name is a closely guarded secret between you and jazz+?
if you think there is room for debate about lennie tristano does this mean you think there is room for debate about charles mingus.  if you do then it is quite pointless to try to talk to you.  i agree with some of the greats who say we should not deify but there are some givens none the of them is that charles mingus was an untouchable quanity in jazz, so was bill evans, so was lennie tristano.  if you find yourself on a level capable of debating lennie tristano then unfortunately i have made a grave error in thinking i am on a level high enough of thinking i can hold my in a conversation with you.  my most insincere apologies.
mike, tristano did not really play that much as you know. yet there's almost a cult following and secretive approach to his teaching style. in any case, there's no doubt about his contribution as an educator due to this following. let's face it though, there's not a lot known about his methods (by the general jazz public) and that's really why i said what i did about him. it would be interesting if you shared some of his methods to us maybe in a different thread.

i understand what you are saying about walking bass and quarter note accenting, if you are trying to create a contrast between left and right hand. i'm thinking though about a particular melody line of quarter notes and a unison effect is actually a good thing. i didn't say everyone should accent the quarter notes at 2 and 4. that's just what i do when i do accent. otherwise i don't accent.

there's no closely guarded secret mike. if you want to start a private discussion in your room we can do that. or give me your email address.
when i was trying to learn to swing, i was focusing on making my 8th notes line sound like two tied 8ths + a sixteenth. and any beginner reading this on the internet somewhere will be getting this is a description to swing eights. my whole style changed when i was taught to focus on the accenting and not attempt to exaggerate the triplet feel.

then my teacher demonstrated major swing styles from different artists and we proceeded to dissect the sound and he showed me how to duplicate each. it was illuminating because at the time, what i thought i was hearing was not how it was actually played. one could record themselves and then compare it against some of the greats and then you can see if you're actually coming close or not.

because we started off trying out a wide variety of sounds, it was great for a student because then you can kind of try to see what fits to one's personaly style of playing. he wasn't trying to make me sound a certain way, but allowed my playing to evolve. i'm passing on a little bit of that teaching. i've had several jazz teachers, all well known in jazz, but this particular teacher had a really great way of communicating in a way i haven't seen before. and his technique works. many a time, i play with the intention of accenting but i hardly hear it really as becomes more of a feel in the rhythm. by planning on accenting, the whole rhythmic feel changes.  

in a way, this shows how it is so important to get a jazz teacher to learn all this because it is not that easy to describe in words.
so what kind of eights is billy taylor playing in this video:

it's the drummer who accents beats 2 and 4 not the bass player. ray drummond and john clayton both told me they don't accent the 2 and the 4.  

carol kaye's playing tips:

"no, you don't accent 2 and 4, altho' some people mistakenly think you do in order to get the "groove" going....the drummer does the 2 and 4 and the bass player has to have his great time sense really correct and play slightly on top of the beat (not rushing, but on the upside of the beat, rather than dead in the middle for playing jazz -- we used to call it the "ray brown edge"...ray is right, that's where you play and he does not accent 2 and 4 at all). "
very nice video ayolt.

most of this is not swing but he starts swinging for a little bit starting at 1:17 to about 1:55. on the shorter lines he swings a little harder to my ears and then straigthens out more on the continuous eight lines near 1:30 then swings a little harder again after that. this constant variation of swing is part of the feel thing and is a beautiful thing.

but ayolt, note that this is a slow tune. you'll really find that everyone will swing harder at this tempo and that it straigthens out as you go faster. wynton kelly will still swing hard at a faster tempo while others will already have straightened the 8ths.
i hear billy taylor playing mostly straight eights with the "ands" being played slightly louder.
hampton hawes swinging the eighths with ray brown yet still sounding modern.

1958 - horace silver in his prime swinging hard while accenting his "ands". check out the left hand slap comping behind the horn solos.

more from master bassist/guitarist carol kaye:

tip 76

"tip 76

for a good jazz feel in jazz improvising (bass, guitar or ?), be sure to not swing your notes or that turns into "country-swing". jazz is almost 8th notes in phrasing, no matter what instrument you play, a lot smoother than most are playing now. it's in a gray area, somewhere between straight 8ths (but leaning more towards straight 8th notes) and tied-triplets. and...for you guitar players playing freddie green-type rhythm guitar (and horn-like riff jazz comping), please do not swing and never accent 2 and 4. the more you swing, the more it sounds like a country swing thing (which is fine for country, but not for good jazz). just be aware of that -- playing mostly like straight 8ths. in fact, better sax players always sort of accent the up-beat 8th notes (no swing tho')."
jazz+, i had to make some distinctions on billy taylor since he swung it a little more at times on short phrases, but he leans closer to straight when he played any longer sequence. and yes i hear the accents on the ands. just to make sure my ears weren't cheating me, i tried to duplicate it and there's room to make it straighter. there's so much gray area in describing swing though as it is not mathematics.
jazz+, regarding your questions:

upbeats shorter than sixteenth notes while accenting downbeats happens when the tempo is below 120 bpm.

the reason for the upbeats being longer than the downbeats sometimes while accenting upbeats is that he plays his downbeats so far behind the drummers´ but still synchronizes with the drums on the upbeats. usually this occurs at tempos over 200 bpm.

i guess i could scan and post the paper here, but it´s in swedish and i don´t think many people here would be able to read it.
thanks for that, savage.
it fits right in with this research:

article: new scientist vol 168 issue 2270 - 23 december 2000, page 48  

"it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. but what is swing?  

when the musical west side story opened in london in 1958 the producers had a real problem. they didn't know who should occupy the drum stool. leonard bernstein's score was hard. and it was jazzy. at the time most of britain's jazz drummers wouldn't do because they simply couldn't read music well enough. the classical percussionists, though flawless readers, also had an irredeemable failing. these "straight" musicians, as the jazz world calls them, just couldn't swing.
swing is at the heart of jazz. it's what makes the difference between music you can't resist tapping your feet to and a tune that leaves you unmoved. only now are scientists beginning to unravel the subtle secrets of swing. even today, many drum instruction manuals lay down a rigid formula for swing, based on alternately lengthening and shortening certain notes according to a strict ratio, says anders friberg, a physicist at the royal institute of technology in stockholm, who's also a pianist. but these rules are misleading. "if you took them literally you would never learn to swing," says friberg.
the fundamental rhythmic unit in jazz is the quarter note. when you tap your feet to the music you are marking out quarter notes-or crotchets as they are called in britain. superimposed on this basic beat are melodies. often melody lines consist of eighth notes, which last half as long on average as a quarter note.
but no one plays music exactly as it is written, just as no two people would read a passage from a book the same way. if you want to hear music played exactly as written there are thousands of midi files on the net which are direct translations of sheet music. and very tedious they are too-convincing proof that computers don't have a soul. real musicians shorten one note, lengthen another, delay a third and accent notes. it is all part of creating an individual style.
in jazz this interpretation is taken to extremes-and the way jazz musicians play their eighth notes is one of the keys to swing. faced with a row of eighth notes on a sheet of music a straight musician plays a series of more or less equal notes. a jazz musician plays the eighth notes alternately long and short. the long note coincides with the basic beat, the note clipped short is off the beat. there is a similar but less pronounced tendency to play notes long and short in folk and baroque music as well as in popular music.
many drum instruction books say that the long eighth note should be twice as long as the short one. but you simply can't lay down a rigid formula for swing, says friberg. it all depends on the tempo of the piece you are playing. although professional musicians are largely aware of these complexities-or can at least feel how to swing-inexperienced musicians may not be so lucky. friberg points out that many contemporary rock drummers may pick up bad habits because they practise keeping time by playing with drum machines, which may rely on the simplistic swing formula.
friberg measured the ratio between the long and short notes, the swing ratio, of four drummers on a series of commercial recordings. they included some of the best drummers in jazz, such as tony williams who played with miles davis on the my funny valentine album, jack dejohnette, part of keith jarrett's trio and jeff watts, who played with wynton marsalis.
friberg used a frequency analysis program to pick out the distinctive audio signal of the drummer's ride cymbal from a series of 10-second samples from the records. in modern jazz, drummers normally play a pattern of quarter notes and eighth notes on this cymbal with their right hand. he found the drummers varied their swing ratio according to the tempo of the piece. at slow tempos the long eighth notes were played extremely long and the short notes clipped so short that they were virtually sixteenth notes. but at faster tempos the eighth notes were practically even. the received wisdom of a 2 to 1 swing ratio was only true at a medium-fast tempo of about 200 quarter-note beats per minute. "the swing ratio has a more or less linear relationship with tempo," says friberg.
although this relationship between the swing ratio and tempo held true for every drummer, there were some notable stylistic differences. "tony williams, for example, has the longest swing ratios," says friberg. this is partly his style. but jazz is also a cooperative style of music-you have to fit in with those around you. "it's partly a matter of who he is playing with," says friberg.
friberg backed up his findings by creating a computer-generated version of a jazz trio playing the yardbird suite, a theme written by charlie parker. he then played the piece back to a panel of 34 people at different tempos and asked them to adjust the swing ratio. he found that the listeners also preferred larger swing ratios at slow tempos while at fast tempos the ratio was closer to 1.
the results are impressively consistent-and they also give a clue to the split-second accuracy that jazz musicians have to achieve if they are going to keep the listeners tapping their feet. at a relatively slow tempo of 120 beats per minute most listeners prefer a swing ratio somewhere between 2.3 and 2.6.
part of the reason for this relationship between the swing ratio and tempo, says friberg, may be that there is a limit to how fast musicians can play a note-and how easily listeners can distinguish individual notes. at medium tempos and above, the duration of the short eighth notes remained more or less constant at slightly under one-tenth of a second. the shortest melody notes in jazz have a similar minimum duration. friberg thinks this should set a maximum practical tempo for jazz of around 320 beats per minute, and very few jazz recordings approach this speed.
he points out that there's a limit to the speed listeners can process notes. when the tenor saxophonist john coltrane made his first solo recordings in the late 1950s jazz critics began referring to his fast succession of notes as "sheets of sound". "this is what you hear if you don't hear the individual notes," says friberg.
just as jazz musicians have a standard repertoire of tunes, so there is a similar repertoire of jokes. one has a member of the audience asking: "how late does the band play?" to which the answer is: "about half a beat behind the drummer." that joke turns out to have more than a grain of truth in it.
in his latest research, friberg went back to the same recordings and looked at the timing of soloists, such as miles davis, to see if they used the same swing ratios as the drummers. he found that the soloists' swing ratios also dropped as the tempo increased. more surprising was the fact that the drummer always played larger swing ratios than the soloist they were playing with. even at slow tempos soloists rarely had swing ratios greater than 2 to 1.
the difference helps to explain why a soloist can seem to be so laid back on a particularly toe-tapping number. when playing a note that nominally coincides with the basic quarter-note beat, the soloist hangs back slightly. "the delay can be as much as 100 milliseconds at medium tempo," says friberg.
this tendency to hang behind the beat goes back to the musical ancestors of jazz. in the introduction to the 1867 book slave songs of the united states charles ware, one of the editors, observed that when they were rowing a boat, the oars laid down the basic beat for the slaves' singing. "one noticeable thing about their boat songs was that they seemed often to be sung just a trifle behind time," he said.
members of the audience synchronise with the band by tapping their feet to the basic beat. but musicians have a more subtle strategy. "if you generate a solo line with a computer and delay every note relative to the cymbal it sounds awful," says friberg. "the funny thing," he adds, "is that there is a distinctive pattern that most musicians are not aware of. they synchronise on the short eighth note."
he says that this off-the-beat synchronisation of the soloist and the rhythm section is crucial in keeping the band from falling apart. effectively the musicians synchronise their internal clocks every few beats throughout the piece. when the off-the-beat notes are synchronised, says friberg, "you often don't realise the soloist is lagging".

how the written and played music differ  

so how did the producers of west side story resolve their drumming dilemma? even after 42 years musicians still tell the story. at the time britain's best jazz drummer was phil seaman, who was a good reader. but he had a problem. or to be precise, two problems. one was alcohol and the other heroin. but after some dithering, the producers gave him the job. all went well until one matinee, when the regular conductor took the day off.
seaman had a habit, half-affected, half-genuine, of appearing to doze when he wasn't playing-and during one pause in the music, his head began to nod. fearing that he had dropped off and wary of his reputation, the conductor gestured frantically to the bass player to wake the dozing drummer. the bass player reached across and prodded seaman with his bow. startled, seaman stood up and fell backwards over his drum stool, straight into the chinese gong-which reverberated around the theatre and stopped the show.
seaman stood up, cleared his throat, and announced: "ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served." the management promptly sacked him.
one thing that occured to me whilst i was reading posts in this thread by mike and jazzwee is that i'm not sure they are defining 'offbeats' in the same way.

i may be wrong (and probably am) but i think jazz wee refers to offbeats as the 'ands' in a line of eighth notes whereas mike is taking that to mean beats 2 and 4 in 4/4 time.

i have a feeling that this is one of those occasions where the medium we're communicating in is causing some confusion.

however, as the guy who invented tipp-ex said 'correct me if i'm wrong'!
hi barry, you are correct as far as my reference. although, there's an additional discussion of quarter notes in here, which has reference to to 2 and 4 so i don't know if there is confusion there.  

what i thought the confusion was related to what an accent is and how it contrasts to non-accented lines. to me an accent may be distinct or it could be subtle, but either way, you can detect the change in the articulation and phrasing.
my friend tony writes:

"a strong leap up in the musical line of a swing melody or solo,  
especially in bebop, almost always impliues an accent, regardless of  
whether it falls on a downbeat or upbeat. the often-shifting accents  
of a bop melody such as "donna lee" would be a fine example, as it  
"dances" between accenting various upbeats and downbeats according to  
the line.

the term "swing" carries two meanings in the jazz lingo. one is  
literally the loping-eighth feel associated with swing music and all  
uneven-eighth jazz that followed. the other is simply "a great  
groove": it would common for a jazz listener to say of an afro-cuban  
artist such as poncho sanchez or tito puente, "that cat really  

that said, yes, one of the beautiful things about articulation is  
that it can be applied across traditions. not only can chick and his  
peers achieve a personal sound by sometimes accenting the upbeats  
within even-eighth lines, artists such as clifford brown, clark  
terry, and thelonious monk regularly perform in "swing" formats by  
playing phrasings that are more even-eighth than swing-eighth. and  
artists that follow any of the above artists carry these applications  
somehow this discussion really confuses me.  

when playing swing eights, you should accent the off-beats, but play them shorter than the non-accented downbeats... this seems a bit counter-intuitive, as playing longer is also a way of accenting!!

also i find it difficult to distinquish what the pro's are doing.. as when i listen to bud powell, i often hear him play 16ths and 32ths. witch an occasional eighth note in between... how should i listen???/
" this seems a bit counter-intuitive, as playing longer is also a way of accenting!!"

that's really the point. you have to counter your natural inclination to accent the longer note. that's what makes it swing authentically. you can think of it this way, soften the attack on the longer note (in comparison to the shorter note).

just try this for practice. this is something my teacher had me do first to get it to sink in. forget about long and short. just do straight eight notes.

now accent the 'ands'. keep the length of the notes the same sort of like chick. but do it very legato. you'll need to know how to play straight eights before you can focus on over swinging. do a whole solo doing that. play melodies doing that. listen to the effect.

i'll have to think of a good single track that best demonstrates this. there's this guy at pianoworld forum (virtousc1) that played donna lee exactly like this but extremely smooth and legato. he learned directly from tristano. mike was criticizing my advice as being different from tristano, yet a direct tristano student has the exact sound i speak of.

ayolt, the propulsion in swing comes from doing something contrary to what the ear expects. so loud downbeat notes aren't it. even just trying to not accent the longer note is in effect an attempt to accent the offbeat 'and' note.
it's still difficult for me to grasp, some recording examples would be useful...

so wynton kelly plays swing eights, accenting the off-beat and playing the on beats longer though less loud?
"so wynton kelly plays swing eights, accenting the off-beat and playing the on beats longer though less loud? "

yes, ayolt. that is correct. when i started playing jazz, i too had the same problem with this concept. but sometimes you'll have to just release that concern and just play it.

don't miss out on the other concept i said. do this with accenting only. play notes evenly (or at least try to). when you accent the 'ands', you will find that it will not come out evenly, even if you want to, so you'll have to purposely delay starting the next upbeat note to keep it even. that gives it a dragging feeling that's common in swing.

do you have a teacher ayolt? it's hard to take a stab at your issue since we cannot hear you. i'll give you another advice that's kind of hit or miss since i don't know how  you play. have a light touch on the piano. playing solo is a tender thing. so when i say accent the offbeats, do it in a gentle fashion. this is all a subtle feel not a tonky-tonky sound.
i'll look for a good straight eight example, but let's look at swing eights. get wynton kelly's solo on freddie the freeloader (kind of blue).

watch for the sharper attack on the 'and' of wynton's playing. you can play long and short without an attack. wynton's attack on the 'and' is distinctive and makes the 'and' seem shorter than it really is. i think savage mentioned that. it will sound shorter than a sixteenth note but the space is held for a longer time value.

now compare it to miles davis. he plays a lot his solos in straight eights and the accenting makes it sound like it's dragging. a lot of straight eight playing (with accents) sound can actually be found in horns.

i'm not even going to discuss coltrane here since he's playing sixteenth notes and that will always be straight.
note that the sharp attack on the 'and' is something you will find in hancock and corea. no surprise for hancock as you will find that he is heavily influenced by wynton kelly, who played before him in miles's quintet.

corea took over from hancock in the miles band, and similarities were raised in chick's playing and hancock's. i think their playing evolved from this but if you listen to the early playing of these two, the accents are very distinct. at least from hancock, it's probably from wynton's influence (which he acknowledeges).
(main parts of this paragraph paraphrased from the book "the making of kind of blue" by eric nisenson).
since mike brings up tristano. let's go to tristano. go to the link below and listen to 'line up'. that's one of the most amazing phrasings i have ever heard. notice the focus on accenting and straigther eights. but here tristano takes it to an even higher degree as he varies the level of the accent on the 'ands' and so it has another layer of sophistication. he doesn't rely on the 'swinging' of the eights for effect but more on accenting and dynamics. this is definitely very advanced. in fact i don't remember anyone ever playing swing like this.

my other samples of tristano playing don't sound like this. maybe it's the recording quality that doesn't reveal the nuances.
thanx jazzwee, you're being a big help. i can definitely hear wynton's style, and hear herbie hancock doing a similar style on dolphin dance (on the maiden voyage album): sharp attack on offbeats and longer notes being played on the beat.  

do you know a good example of chick corea playing straight eights? i have some stuff, but he plays some much sixteenths etc. no eights!
i hear also red garland playing heavy swing eights with a really hard attack on the ands... am i hearing this correctly?

on red garland's piano - if i were a bell
i just got this wonderful dvd of chick for christmas. "chick corea akoustik band", a concert in 1986. here he's playing standards. that would have been a good example.

here's a video of chick with a little more swinging eight notes than usual.

learning to swing is a little bit like learning how to listen, isn't it ayolt? sometimes these subtleties have to be brought up then you're able to recognize little tidbits.

there's more though. this is just like a basic introduction. over swing you can vary the intensity of the accents as i showed you with tristano. then listen to guys like errol garner dragging the beat. each person's swing style becomes like a personality trait.
ayolt, i just listened to a few tracks of garland (i don't have "if i were a bell") but he i noticed that he varies. on "skinny blues" he played with even accents and slightly detached on straight eights.  on "blues in mambo" he swings it more and accents the 'ands'.
jazzwee those are all great examples- i just wanted to add that it would be highly beneficial to listen to stuff other than just piano players. i'd reccomend listening to some of the classic big bands from the 30's and 40's that originally defined swing, the count basie orchestra, duke ellington's, woody herman's, lionel hampton's, glenn miller's orchestras, etc. also listening in particular to horn players, clifford brown, sonny rollins, etc. horn players have the ability to make their accents much more precise because they articulate using their breath.

learning to swing is just like picking up a foreign accent. ayolt, i don't know if you've ever traveled in a foreign country, but imagine if you went to,say, england for a month, (i'm assuming you're from the us) when you got home you might catch yourself speaking with a british accent occasionally. if you spend a month during which all you put in your ear are jazz records, the subtleties of swing will start to manifest in your playing without you even being conscious of it. the idea is, like with everything else, to be able to do it without thinking about it.
erroll garner had this way of playing his swing eighths in his solos way behind the beat and then later in solo or even in the same phrase he would speed up onto the beat which created an exciting effect. some people thought he had bad rhythm the first time they heard him.
i'm listening to bud powell live in 1962 and he almost sounds like a cross between monk and wynton kelly
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