Swing timing

Blues Guitar Lessons

Swing timing is based on a triplet feel. Every beat is divided into three equal parts. You can count them as

1                2         3         4          1     
  And A   And A       And A        And A      



In swing you leave out all the "And's" but keep the same timing.

1                      2               3              4                1     
    A     A         A          A      



Note that this is not an even division of the beat. The A's are closer to the next beat than you would play/sing in a straight feel.

The exact timing of the A's can vary. You can play them closer to the next beat (and play them like you would in a funky feel) or play them earlier.

In a Swing, Jump or Rock & Roll band the drummer sets the timing. The combination bass drum and hi-hat tells you where the beat is. The bass player can be right on top of the beat or slightly late. This 'laid back' timing can really make the music swing.

As a guitar player, you have to be in the groove or set your own groove. Variations in timing will give your music extra tension. Timing late will make your rhythm and solo sound lazy and relaxed. The closer you time to the beat, the tighter it sounds.

Exercise 1: Set a metronome at 60 B.P.M. and play one note every beat. First try to be exactly on the beat and after you feel where the pulse is, try to be just a little late. Your note should be right after the click of the metronome.
Then try to vary the place of your note by being later and later, until you've almost reached the next click. After you've done that try to go back to playing right after the original click.

Exercise 2: Play swing eights (see above) with alternate picking (up-down-up-down) and keep the first note right on the beat. Try to vary the place of the A's by playing it closer to the next click, which will feel like a 16th or funky feel.
After that try to play it earlier and make it feel like straight eights.

Exercise 3: Play one of the scales you know in a triplet feel and swith to swing eights somewhere in the middle. Then switch back to the triplets.

Exercise 4: Play a simple solo on a blues chord progression tapping your foot on the 2 and 4. This is where the swing is. Feeling where the 'after beat' is is crucial to making your music swing. In swing blues the two and four is where a drummer will play his snare.
This is where you have to tap your foot, especially at higher tempos. This is the so-called "shuffle" feel.

In jazz type swing there will not be a clear 'after beat'. The drummer will keep the beat going by playing swing eights on his ride and using his hi-hat on the two and four.

But the key to swing timing is in your ears. Listening to others who play in this style will teach you the right timing. Listen to horn players and their laid back timing and slurring of notes.

Try to imitate that timing. Guitar players like Duke Robillard, Kenny Burell and Barney Kessel are masters of this way of phrasing.

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