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This summer, I am a counselor at Stanford Jazz Camp at Stanford University. While here, I went to a masterclass with the great Clarinetist/Saxophonist Anat Cohen. She brought up something I have forgotten for a little while, which is to remember to swing often requires remembering to play quarter notes, either on or off the beat.

As an exercise, try to focus a solo only playing quarter notes both on and off the beat. I've found that it helps all the other lines feel better, it keeps the ideas fresh, and it lets the music groove more freely. As saxophonists, we are the worst when it comes to focusing on 8th notes I think. This is a really good exercise that creates a much more focused attention to groove and rhythm, something I need to improve in with my solos at least.

Has anyone tried this? Any suggestions about this?
 

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I actually don't understand what you mean :(

To me, good swing is all about articulation and the dynamic differences between notes and ghost-notes. Among other things ofcourse.
 

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To me, swing is about pushing your attack on the quarter notes back a sixteenth (or more if you want more swing). So rather than hitting the 1...hit the "Ee" or the "And"
 

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This summer, I am a counselor at Stanford Jazz Camp at Stanford University. While here, I went to a masterclass with the great Clarinetist/Saxophonist Anat Cohen. She brought up something I have forgotten for a little while, which is to remember to swing often requires remembering to play quarter notes, either on or off the beat.

As an exercise, try to focus a solo only playing quarter notes both on and off the beat. I've found that it helps all the other lines feel better, it keeps the ideas fresh, and it lets the music groove more freely. As saxophonists, we are the worst when it comes to focusing on 8th notes I think. This is a really good exercise that creates a much more focused attention to groove and rhythm, something I need to improve in with my solos at least.

Has anyone tried this? Any suggestions about this?
Very true!

I do a similar exercise with drum students in my school groups. They usially have a weak 8th note feel and shaky time in general. As an exercise I have them just play quarter notes with a walking bass....it's very revealing when you see two people try to feel perfect quarter notes together, especially at a slower tempo where there is more room for error between the beats. Just stripping things down to the quarter note helps get the time together in a rhythm section faster than anything! When the quarter notes are happening, everything else is much more likely to fall into place.

Young drummers forget (or don't know) that the fundamental swing beat is the quarter note, with eighth notes as embellishments. This is probably true for other instruments as well

Thanks for posting!
 

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I can't stand Anat Cohen's playing, BUT, I agree with you about the quarter note thing - as a matter of fact, Carmen Leggio told me the same thing back in the late '80s.
 

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As an exercise I have them just play quarter notes with a walking bass....

Just stripping things down to the quarter note helps get the time together in a rhythm section faster than anything! When the quarter notes are happening, everything else is much more likely to fall into place.
+1. If you want to hear the essence of swing in quarter notes, listen to a great bass player 'walk' those quarter notes. You'll also hear how horn players handle quarter notes; the best ones definitely keep that swing feel going when playing quarter notes.
 

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To me, swing is about pushing your attack on the quarter notes back a sixteenth (or more if you want more swing). So rather than hitting the 1...hit the "Ee" or the "And"
I call that 'rushing'. If you are early on quarter notes on, say, Li'l Darlin', you'd be doing the typical thing that hs bands do--increase the tempo unintentionally.

Swinging is about the weight you put on the notes, not the time you start them.
 
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I call that 'rushing'. If you are early on quarter notes on, say, Li'l Darlin', you'd be doing the typical thing that hs bands do--increase the tempo

Swinging is about the weight you put on the notes, not the time you start them.
I agree starting quarter notes at the right time only means your playing in time. It's what comes before the next quarter note.
 

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It must be quite challenging as an instructor/tutor and/or mentor working to teach 'swing' to kids studying music in school!
 

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I call that 'rushing'. If you are early on quarter notes on, say, Li'l Darlin', you'd be doing the typical thing that hs bands do--increase the tempo unintentionally.

Swinging is about the weight you put on the notes, not the time you start them.
I'll have to respectfully disagree with this. Swing is completely about feel.

The difficulty with teaching swing is it's supposed to be (if you are a traditionalist) a completely internally-driven concept. It's a slight alteration of timing that can't properly be notated, though there have been countless interpretations of it over time. Trying to teach it pedantically - the challenge for basically every jazz musician in an academic setting - has led to multitudes of exercises, all of which are effective from within their own point of view.

I think the fundamental skill though is having a good sense of metronomic time, or at least relative to whatever is being played at the moment. If you can't even line up quarter notes with 1234, then eighth notes become even more of a challenge, and so on. Everyone has their own take on the swing feel, but I think if you don't know where the beat is in a fundamental way, then it becomes an exercise in frustration.

After that, honestly the BEST way to learn swing feel is to listen to a variety of musicians and find the one whose timing suits your taste. Then learn to play a solo (or solos) exactly with the recording. Taking note of how it feels relative to whatever tempo is being given. Then keep playing it until you are at a level where you are interacting with the rhythm section (for example, focusing on the bass player's bass line and really trying to feel how what you're playing the solo with it. or the drummer's ride cymbal). This will give you a general idea of where you feel and like "swing".

That of course probably isn't something you can codify and package in the context of a summer/semester, etc...so in that case, I think being able to identify the beat (quarter notes) is the most critical thing you have to do first.
 

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and with that, I think it's completely possible to be able to swing but not have good time - a combination which may sound OK acapella, playing rubato....but a complete nightmare for playing with other musicians! A situation to avoid just as much as playing perfect time and not swinging!
 
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