The dance wouldn’t be the dance without the music. Swing dances done to music that doesn’t swing just aren’t the same! But what is swing music? What does it mean to “swing”? Does country music swing? Blues? What about all that neo-swing music? Read on and find out!
What is Swing Music?
Wikipedia defines swing music as “A form of jazz music that solidified as a distinctive style during the 1930s in the United States. Swing is distinguished primarily by a strong rhythm section, usually consisting of double bass and drums, medium to fast tempo, and the distinctive ‘swing’ that’s common to all forms of jazz.” Many musicians will tell you (and they are correct) that there is no such thing as “swing” music – only music that swings. So, “swing” is not a genre of music – like Jazz or Rock or Punk – but it is rather a quality of music.
Technically speaking, what makes music swing is its swung beat. What does that mean? In some jazz music, it is assumed by musicians that pairs of written eighth notes are not played as literally written, but are instead meant to be played with the first note longer than the second. How much longer can vary from a quarter note/eighth note feel all the way down to just a very subtle ka-chink.
If you listen to good swinging jazz from the 30s or even to early rock & roll, you can usually hear this swing. It’s definitely very pronounced in songs such as Bill Haley’s “Don’t Knock the Rock” with its baseline “ka-CHUNK ka-CHUNK ka-CHUNK ka-CHUNK.” It’s less pronounced but still quite noticeable in songs like Glenn Miller’s “Pennsylvania 6-5000.”
Have you ever danced to a big band, but something felt just a bit “off?” Or were you more worn out than usual? The usual culprit is the band’s lack of that swung beat – it makes all the difference in the world!
So, What Music Swings?
Some genres of music that can and sometimes or usually do swing include: big band, jazz from before the 50s, blues, early rock & roll, country, western swing, and rockabilly. Some so-called “neo-swing” music does swing, but most of it is jump blues done with a relatively straight beat.