Rhythm and articulation


Swing music is a particular style of jazz that was enormously popular in the USA from about 1935 to 1945.  The instrumentation of a swing big band was heavily influenced by its jazz predecessors, with clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, percussion and piano as its mainstays.  This orchestration, as well as the style of the music itself (which often seems to symbolize the uninhibited celebration of the youthful spirit) makes swing music particularly suitable for young wind bands. Powerful contrasts between the brass, saxophone, clarinet and percussion sections also manage to give just about everybody a chance to shine.

 Swing has a rhythmic momentum that is difficult to describe. 
While most musicians are familiar with the need to “swing” quaver or eighth notes in the manner characteristic of the style, many secondary school band directors in Southeast Asia seem unaware that there is much more to the music that this.  As a result, swing music is often played badly.   As Duke Ellington once said, “It don’t mean the thing if it ain’t got that swing”.

Swing has a rhythmic momentum beyond the actual note values that is difficult to describe.   Even so, it is possible to suggest a few interpretive guidelines about the way the music should be played that will improve your band’s performance. Perhaps the most important point is the need to emphasize the fact that swing style music is generally played legato.  Use the syllable doo rather than tah, and ensure there is no daylight in between the notes.

 Try using different syllabes. 
Don Zentz [Swing Style Interpretation, mimeograph supplied to the author, Valdosta State University, Georgia, USA, undated] points out that horizontally accented notes should be “bumped” without breaking the air stream.  Separated notes – where they exist -- are usually marked with a capped or vertical accent.  In such cases the sound should be ended with a tongue stop.  Use syllables such as dot or dit, especially for up-tempo latin numbers. The syllable daht is more appropriate for slower tempos, however, because it helps to prevent the music sounding too choppy.  And when a line ends with an upbeat eighth note, says Zentz, really make it snap.  These notes are like periods or full stops at the end of a music sentence.

Many band directors complain that their jazz ensemble does not "swing" because they are cursed with a poor rhythm section. While this is often true, it is also worth pointing out that the group as a whole will not "swing" unless every member in it does. Ask each section to play in turn without the rhythm section and see if they can maintain the necessary tempo, style and sense of forward motion.

For the sake of clarity, the following guidelines have been divided into two sections: (1) rhythm and articulation and (2) dynamics.  In the absence of detailed directions from the composer or arranger, these principles should help ensure an authentic performance.

 Listen carefully to original recordings. 
For every generalization, however, there are exceptions.  It is wise, therefore, not to allow anything written here to degenerate into an ironclad prescription.  Listen carefully to original recordings by made by Benny Goodman and other famous exponents of the style, make your own observations, then let your sense of musical good taste be your guide

Rhythm and articulation


The beat is subdivided into triplets:


The rhythmic emphasis usually falls on the offbeat, especially when the melody moves by step. A series of quavers (eighth notes) is also slurred from the upbeat into a downbeat:


Upbeat quavers surrounded by higher notes, however, are de-emphasised:



Crotchets (quarter notes) falling on the beat are played short:


Syncopated notes are generally played short relative to the tempo:


Syncopated notes are played full value, however, when they are tied to a note of longer value:



The highest note or notes in a group or phrase receives special emphasis:


  Dynamics follow the musical contour, with crescendos accompanying an ascending group of notes and diminuendos accompanying a descending one:


A series of notes at the same pitch is played with a crescendo:



Long notes are played fp crescendo:


A moving line takes precedence over a static line: