Blues & Boogie Woogie School: Shuffle/Swing Rhythm & Notation

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Did you know that it is a common practice to simplify the music notation for shuffle/swing music in order to make the score easier to read?

That said, if we wanted to perform the notes [almost] accurately in swing/shuffle rhythm, the music notation might look a bit like this, using a 4/4 time signature…

piano-ology-shuffle-rhythm-and-notation-exact-4-4-time-signature

Written using a 12/8 time signature, it might look a bit like this…

piano-ology-shuffle-rhythm-and-notation-exact-12-8-time-signature

Notice that we said “almost” accurately and “a bit” like, not exactly like.

Anyway, it is common practice to simplify the notation by simply using “straight” eight notes as follows, with the understanding that the eighth notes must be swung or shuffled. Notice how much easier this shorthand notation is to read!

piano-ology-shuffle-rhythm-and-notation-shorthand-straight-eighths

The notation looks “straight”, but its rendition might sound something like this…

In reality, none of these notations necessarily captures what it really going on with the time. Precisely how much time to add to the first note and subtract from the second note depends on the tune, tempo, style, and feel you want to capture.

In general, the difference tends to get “wider” (approaching a 2:1 Blues shuffle) at slower tempos and “narrower” (approaching straight eighths) at faster tempos. Ultimately, it is all about what feels right.


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