What is Swing? (Jazz Rhythm Knowledge) (2/2)

how to play swing rhythms

Keep reading for more tips on how to play swing rhythms.

How to play swing rhythms

Alright, you’re most likely wondering how you can learn to feel and play swing rhythm yourself.

The best way is with practice—you should listen, play along with, and even transcribe the great swing players from jazz and blues music.

That track from Art Blakely shared earlier is a great one to jam with—because the shuffle rhythm used throughout fully outlines the swing pattern.

With that out of the way, here are three things to remember when learning how to play swing rhythms.

1. Chew to-bacca

There’s a jazz joke out there that goes something like “why don’t blues players smoke cigarettes? They prefer to chew to-bacca, chew to-bacca, chew to-bacca”.

The punchline here is taking part in the sound of swung eighth notes, with the “bacca” part of the phrase emphasizing the offbeat.

So next time you’re trying to play swing rhythms, remember that phrase and say it to yourself as you play.

The Chew Tobacco Rag might help you understand the visualizing this rhythmic phrase too.

Billy Briggs - Chew Tobacco Rag

By the way, smoking and chewing tobacco are dangerous for your health, we don’t endorse it at all.

Tobacco use killed so many great jazz players, so use this phrase but keep away from that stuff!

2. Spang-a-lang

Spang-a-lang is a different phrase that drummers use to interpret and explain the feel behind swung jazz.

This onomatopoeia refers to the sound a jazz drummer’s experience cymbal makes when taking part in the most fundamental of swing grooves.

In case you ask a drummer to “spang-a-lang” they need to know what you’re referring to.

spang a lang swing pattern - how to play swing rhythms

And if you’re trying to learn to swing on the drums, keep this one in mind and take a look at playing variations of it on the ride and with fills on the snare and kick.

3. Practice triplets with a backbeat accent

If you’re really struggling to wrap your head around swing feel, you should go back and practice clapping or playing your triplets.

The best way to practice triplets to learn swing is by putting an accent on the backbeats discovered on the two and four-count of a 4/4 bar.

Swingin’ away

Swing music is a big part of modern music’s cultural lexicon—it’s the basis for rhythm in jazz and blues, the two grandfather genres that gave birth to rock and roll, R&B, and hip-hop.

So it’s super essential for musicians and producers alike to learn, understand, and feel swing rhythms in their playing, songwriting, and music productions.

Now that you understand a little bit about the history of swing and you’ve got a little bit of context around learning it, go find some jazz records and discover a swing feel that inspires you!

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