lessons

Peter Erskine: Dynamic Swing

Phrasing involves dynamic as well as rhythmic choices. While the specific placement of a single note (or multiple notes) can determine the feel of the music, the accompanying dynamic – that is, the loudness or softness of each note in relation to the next – will also play a large part in how a drumbeat or fill turns out sounding.

Look at Ex. 1, a typical bebop line. Even though jazz is thought to be phrased in a triplet or swung eighth-note manner, a lot of jazz is actually played as straight eighths with legato phrasing and accents creating the swing feel. Listen to any good jazz saxophone player (especially Charlie Parker!) to hear this phrasing.

The relationship of this to drumming is evident when we look at the sixteenth-note pop/funk beats in Exs. 2 and 3. Play Ex. 2 as notated, with the first of the two bass-drum beats softer than the second. Even if you play it sixteenth-note accurate, it will have a slight sense of swing to it – an unintentional sense of swing perhaps – versus an evenly balanced pair of notes in the bass drum (Ex. 3).

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