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Swung notes

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Swung notes are a feature of many types of music. Notes are played alternately longer and shorter than usual though normally notated all the same length.

Like this:

Types of music that use swung notes include jazz, Celtic music, some dance and country music, and early music particularly France from the middle of the 16th century to late 18th century.

For more background information, see the wikipedia article onSwung Note.

To find out more about the early music use, you can follow these links: [égales notes inégales (wikipedia)l and the Dolmetsch site on notes inégales with precursors much earlier in the Ars Antiqua rhythmic modes.

Gentle Lilt

In nearly all types of music the beats in a bar are uneven in a subtle way. You notice this especially if you compare it with computer generated music with the notes all exactly the same length. Varying the beat with a gentle lilt makes the music much more natural sounding and it is likely to be easier to play along with. For some links on research into this see Links: Timing and Tempo variations and Micro Timing

So, if you find it easier to play along with other musicians than a metronome, it may well be because you are used to playing with a lilt and can't adjust your playing to the strict clock like beat of a metronome. This gentle lilt in your playing is something good, to foster. So when you do metronome practice, it is good if you can adjust the metronome to play a lilt :-) (unless you need to play a clock-like strict beat for some reason for a particular piece say).

To do this in Bounce Metronome Pro, just use the gentler settings for swing, such as Gentle lilt. You may also want to unselect "Swing parts with most beats only". This lets you apply a bit of lilt to all the parts in the rhythm, e.g. do the four beats of 4/4 with a lilt to them - a gradual change of timing through the bar. You probably only want a small amount of lilt for this. Then you could use a larger amount of swing if you want to swing eighth notes subdivisions of each beat.

Amounts of swing

With swung notes, you can feel that the beats are uneven in a more noticeable way than a gentle lilt. The second beat in a pair is normally faster than the first.

The amount of swing can vary. So for instance you can have a light swing with the beats in a ratio of 3:2 or a hard swing of 3:1 or a medium swing of 2:1. Or the swing can be in between those amounts, it's not a fixed thing that it has to be 2:1 for instance.

You may have heard of triplet feel, or dotted eighth note type swing. This is how they relate to the ratios:

If you count the quarter note as 2 eighth notes, the triplet swing
♩ : ♪ (i.e. quarter note : eighth note)
is the same as
2*♪ : ♪ (i.e. 2 eighth notes : 1 eighth note)
i.e. 2:1

Similarly for the dotted eighth note type swing:
dotted eighth : sixteenth
3 sixteenth notes : 1 sixteenth note
3 : 1

But the other notes you would expect to get (sometimes) in a triplet rhythm or a dotted eighth note rhythm are missing, so it would be confusing to notate e.g. triplet feel using a compound time signature. It is usually notated as eighth note duplets (swing not notated at all) - but understood to be played with a "swing feel". Also the swing feel doesn't have to be a clear 2:1 or 3:1 ratio. It varies, according to the feel, also varies according to speed - notes tend to get swung a bit less (when you measure the timings) at a faster tempo, and more at a slower tempo.

For more about this see the wikipedia entry: Swung note

Here is what it looks like in Bounce Metronome with the sliders to adjust the swing:
(screen shot only - to use it Download your Free Test Drive of Bounce Metronome Pro)

You can set any of these amounts of swing in Bounce Metronome Pro by adjusting the slider.

Triplet Swing - really a swung duplet with triplet timing.

The medium swing is also called a triplet swing because of the triplet timing. But it isn't really in compound time because of the missing second note. It is a beat with two subdivisions with an uneven rhythm. So, it is really, more accurately, a swung duplet with a triplet timing.

Scottish and Irish Jigs are played with Swung Triplets (not to be confused with triplet swing)

Sometimes though you get true swung triplets - I mean triplets of three notes played with a swung feel to them, as in jigs in Scottish or Irish traditional Music. So in those, you have three different note lengths there rather than just the two note lengths of ordinary swing. The usual two numbers such as 2:1 for a medium swing aren't enough to specify the amount of swing of a swung triplet.

To find out more about the swing rhythm forjigs in Celtic music see Jigs: trickier than probably you thought. There are different ways to play the swung triplets of a jig. See this discussion thread at The Session.

Indeed there are many more ways you could play a triplet, with three notes - you could choose any note to be the shortest, then any other note to be the longest, giving six possibilities (L M S, L S M, M L S, S L M, S M L, M S L), and that's not taking account of all the subtle variations in timing within each of those options.

However, one natural and straightforward way is inspired by the way a drum stick behaves if you drop it lightly on the drum. It plays several subdivisions one after another each faster than the previous one, followed by a slightly longer beat to raise the drum stick for the next beat. You get the same rhythm if you drop a bouncing ball from a height. So that's the L S M option. That is exactly how it's played in the various styles of jig rhythm - whether that's a coincidence or not I don't know.

So that's how it's done in Bounce Metronome Pro. So you play the first beat a bit slower than usual, and the next beat a bit faster. That's followed by a medium length beat to raise the drum stick before the next series of bounces. So - just like the way you play the rhythm in a Celtic Jig.


Another subtlety about Jigs is that the bars vary in timing too with a lilt - again if you listen carefully, the first bar may be normal speed, second bar a little faster, third back to normal, fourth a bit slower than the first, the tempo varying very slightly in waves like that. That's common in many styles of music but perhaps a little more noticeable in Celtic music. In slow jigs the centre beat may be slightly swung away from the middle of the bar.

Here it is in action with all those features switched on:

Not perfect I'm sure, but may be easier to use for jig practise than a normal metronome with a steady tick.

Here is how you set it to play like that in Bounce Metronome Pro within the Swing metronome:


Notice how I have "Swing part with most beats ony" unselected in order to very gently nudge the centre beat with the second swing slider.

And if you want to use the "lilt measures" feature you do it here:


Swung notes with four or more subdivisions

When you have four or more subdivisions, then Bounce Metronome Pro does it in the same way, each beat is played faster than the previous one, like the bounces of a bouncing ball or drum stick. So in a four subdivisions swing, the first note is slower than normal, then the next one is a little faster, the third note is the fastest of all, then followed by a slower note again for the lift of the drum stick before the next main beat.

Of course there are many other types of rhythm or "grooves" with uneven timings. Or you may want to vary the swing in subtle ways in the bar.

If that's what you need, you can also set the timings of the beats individually or tap out a rhythm for the bar yourself.

Get Bounce Metronome Pro

Download your Free Test Drive of Bounce Metronome Pro Now (with free taster metronome yours to keep)! It's easy to use - just choose a preset rhythm and click on the dial to set the tempo - and has many special features to help with your metronome practise.

I also maintain a list of other software and on-line metronomes, which you can find here:

A big list of some of the other metronomes available for Windows - and Online Metronomes

About the author of these pages

I'm Robert Walker, the inventor and programmer for Bounce Metronome Pro. These Many Ways to Use a Metronome pages arise out of the research I did for the program, and feedback from users of the software.

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