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Learn & Improve Swing Rhythm on Guitar

"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing". How to practice so you too can play in perfect swing time on guitar. It's easy with Taplature!

Don't over-complicate things!

There are only two sorts of timing in music, "straight" or "swing" and if you ever chanted nursery rhymes as a child then you already understand the difference, at least on a subconscious level.

Here we'll define, explain and nail down your understanding of "swing rhythm" timing for guitarists by comparing it to "straight rhythm" timing and by building from the ground (your foot tap) upwards!

The difference between straight and swing rhythm!

~ In straight time the beat is divided into two even parts

~ In swing time, we split the beat into three even parts

That's it! Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise!

Notice that the foot does not move on the second part of the swing foot tap ("Wait"), but stays down on the ground.

Grab your guitar!

Here’s the open G string played first in straight 8th notes and then in swung 8th notes. Notice the physical movements of the pick and the foot don’t change between the two patterns, but their timing, and therefore the end result, is very different.

In the straight version each note has the same length, while in the swing version, the first note rings for two parts of the three and therefore lasts twice as long as the second note. This gives a “bounce” to the swing rhythm.

Old favourites

I mentioned nursery rhymes above. Consider “Yankee Doodle” and “Humpty Dumpty”. One is in straight rhythm and the other is in swing. Would you know which is which yet?

Here I’ve drawn out the melodies of the first lines of both Yankee Doodle and Humpty Dumpty in Taplature.

Yankee Doodle - Click for demonstration

Humpty Dumpty - Click for demonstration

If you weren't sure before, you can see now that Yankee Doodle is in straight rhythm and Humpty Dumpty is in swing rhythm. It's entirely possible to force either melody into the other type of rhythm but neither would be as recognisable.

Try playing the two melodies while counting out loud and tapping your foot as shown. If you find anything you can't yet do correctly, you're being shown a gap in your musical understanding.

Not just for kids!

Every piece of music is either in straight time, swing time or (occasionally) some combination of the two. Which category do your favourite songs fall into? Which cause problems when trying to play them with the foot tap and counting recommendations demonstrated in the videos above? How easily can you cure those problems?

Today's challenge!

Here's the first bit of one of the most famous guitar riffs of all time. Once you can play this bar correctly the rest should fall easily into place.

It's played over a swing beat but this often comes as a surprise to a student trying this piece for the first time. The way the guitar riff sits on top of the swing rhythm creates an interesting effect (known as a "polyrhythm"). The target speed is 150bpm+.

Rise above the pack!

To play this one along with the foot tap and out loud count forces you to understand the swing rhythm to a deeper level than most guitarists ever achieve however this doesn't have to take very long when approached correctly.

Attack any problems using the Taplature "Million Pound Challenge for Guitar" approach and you'll soon be programmed to perform it with perfect timing and effortlessly!

Here we're only examining the very basics of the swing rhythm with at most a single note on each part of the foot tap. Things can get a whole lot more intricate than that (see the image at the top of this article for an example) but they'll always remain off limits to anyone without a strong grip on these basics.

Bonus - This classic melody drawn out in Taplature swing rhythm!

Everyone knows this melody (even if you couldn't name it until now). Here's a version I wrote up a few years back during a lesson. It rolls quite nicely under the fingers once learned:


Old Swanner.

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