~ Americana Musical Time ~

~ syncopations ~ rhythm ~

'learn to conjure your groove right out of thin air ...'

'Time' in music is what helps get everyone on the same page, for all share in the measure of time as the beats go by the same the world over. Rhythm, and especially the ones we each create, is the way we get our own timing to pulse and chime in with the rest of the world :)

~ Louis Armstrong ~

~ 'in 3' ~

~ big 4 ~

~ time check ~

~ and counting time ~

~ now finding 2 and 4 ~

~ the walking bass lines ~

~ swing and the 1/8th note ~

~ swing and the 1/8th triplet ~

~ power of repeating rhythms ~

~ a metronome clicks ~ the radio ~

~ forward motion ~

~ 8 launch points ~

~ improvisation ~

~ the gallop ~

~ 1234 2234 3234 4234 ... ~

Returning to Mississippi, Ms. Wilson remarked, "Helps create a certain tempo, a pace. I couldn't have gotten the same tempo in New York. And I don't just mean a measurement of time, but a measurement of feeling. The whole environment goes on tape."

A quote from jazz and blues vocalist Cassandra Wilson, from an article in the March 7th 2002 N.Y. Times titled "Jazz Diva Follows Sound Of Her Roots" by John Leland.

wiki ~ Cassandra Wilson
'a measurement of time'

Hmm ... a certain tempo, a pace, a measurement of time, a measurement of feeling, the whole environment. We can add these up all together to create the groove of our music and harness their energies together to create our own musical time.

Knowing time in music is something we all have known since the spark of our life came to being through our Mom and Dad. Mom's heartbeat becomes the pulse of our own. And in time, as our needs evolved, we found this pulse from other hearts.

In our musics, and especially in our combined Americana styles, we retain Mom's heartbeat, which throughout all of our discussions is termed ... the big four beat. And while there are many other beats to learn and consider, the big four is the one we all learned way back when.

Understanding time in music can be enhanced by a realization of our own sense time, when we're 'leaning into' our metronome. For once I realize where I'm at with the clicks, two things easily happen. First, I know where my sense of time sits in timing perfection, so I begin the shedding. Second, that whenever I get with other artists to make music, their time becomes my 'clicks' and we can lock right in at whatever groove got.

dance with a metronome ?

... boom Boom boom Boom. The timing that motors Americana musics is purely and uniquely Americana in part because historically, it is marching band music, so four beats to the measure. The 'left right left right' groove with the right foot stomping a wee bit more enthusiastically, the boom BOOM boom BOOM of the bass drum setting the foundation :)

This two part accented 'iambic' pulse creates the uniquely Americana swing, and the bigger the boom, the harder the swing. Well, not always but mostly. Oh and when the booms even out, so more like a 'boom boom boom boom' dud groove, the swing tends to go away :( That it reappears upon resumption of 'boom BOOM boom BOOM' is the magic that electrifies our Americana musics :)

In a nutshell. Time is what we all can physically feel in music. And time is the glue that bonds everyone involved in our music making process. Some folks used to say they can't carry a tune in a pail, kind of hard to imagine. For there's plenty of melodies to whistle while we work yes? And if that tune makes that pail swing a bit back and forth while walkin' along, surely we're carrying that tune in that pail :)

Overview of our American rhythm road. While the theory evolutionary rhythm road we travel as players is potentially endless, we still have to get on it at some point n'est-ce pas? So traditionally we start with big value notes and gradually subdivide or break them down into their smaller component parts. Eventually we group them into various odd and even numerical combinations. These groups become our rhythm patterns that synch up with lyrics to become hooks and motor the different styles of music we love.

What follows here. First is a multipart discussion of the basics of musical time which combined together core our Americana rhythm elements; defining the downbeat and backbeat, the four bar phrase, finding the 2 and 4 beat of common time, understanding the pull of swing, mixing in the triplet figure and then finding gallop it creates.

The second section takes these elements and advances the discussion into the rhythmic phrasing of our musical ideas. We do this here in academia by examining the various start points within a measure for energizing our lines forward. An essential component included here is the 'half step lead in', an easy way to 'jump start' our musical ideas and create a rhythmic forward motion. And if all this sounds back pocket to ya, there's four 'advanced' ideas at the close to up the challenge.

Rhythm patterns repeated. These are the things that probably govern our whole lives, really from our first few sparks to later when we when we move on, there's patterns of rhythms that work all the magics. In our musics, as we tell our stories, these patterns often become the directors or motors that get us from point to point in our tale. Along with melody and chords, we knit these three into phrases that bring our story to musical life and thus more easily share with our own communities.

For most folks are curious and like music. They have repeated rhythms and patterns of their own that shape their lives. So we all have our rhythms and patterns. And if we can draw them in by the musical rhythms, patterns and sounds we create, get them to 'lend a curious ear' to or musics, then we might get the chance to tell them even more of our stories and begin anew the building of our communities.

The repetitive rhythm pattern. Probably the simplest of tricks that brings the strongest of our community creating magics, to get everyone on the same page, is to play a lick we feel deep and just repeat it. Just extract the four bars or whatever and sing it, over and over and over and over and sure enough, it's juices will start to build. Want to bring the house down ? Trust me, 'this is the easiest trick in the book and it works like a charm ... every time :) There's a million of these, here's one if you need it. The pickup sets the line in motion. Dig the dotted 1/4 ~ 1/8th, just putting a rhythmic skip in the line. Example a.

Recognize this rhythm from a classic song? This sort of repetitive rhythm is very very often the 'time' side of a phrase, to motor the Americana essential we often term a 'call and response' format. A style of back and forth phrasing between voices; one 'calls' and the other 'responds.' This melodic weaving we can find somewhere within all of the music styles and genres we love. In the gospel, blues and jazz styles? Chock full of it.

New to all of this? Find your downbeat. So if you are brand new to all of this music theory and rhythm / timing ideas, no worries really. Do consider going to the rhythm discussion on the start page or just read on here. For the math concepts are really really easy and glue it all right up and there's a ton of coolness which follows directly.

In all of our Americana musics there's the downbeat. A strong and accented beat that we pat our feet along with, to help keep track of our feets when dancing, and the beat the band all hopefully plays consistently together to get and keep us on the same page :) Cue up some of your music, click on a radio if ya can, or just sing your favorite song and find the your downbeat :)

Counting measures. Perhaps the first thing to learn in pairing up ideas about the relationship between time and music is the way we use numbers to count along to keep track of where we are in the music as it moves along in real time. The trick to all of this is to simply do it till ya can do it, for once you got the understanding and the doing, you'll have it forevermore :) Ah, this is the magic and permanence of rote learning.

The process is to simply use the first beat of a bar as the measure counter. And in each successive measure simply add one as the measures go by. In 4 / 4time like this;

1 234 2 234 3 234 4 234

5 234 6 234 7 234 8 234

9 234 10 234 11 234 12 234 ...

top / 1234 2234 etc.

How many measures of 4/4 time did we just count to get back to the top? 12 ... 12 234 and then started again? Yep we sure did. So did we just count the measures of one full chorus of the 12 bar blues form? We did. A first for ya? Nice. Amigo, that's the total basis of counting measures. With adjustments we can apply this counting process to any music we might ever come across. A total handy! Here's a bit more ...

1 measure is 1 2 3 4

2 measures is 1 2 3 4 ~ 2 2 3 4

3 measures is 1 2 3 4 ~ 2 2 3 4 ~ 3 2 3 4 ... etc.

in 3/4 time eight measures would be;

123 223 323 423 523 623 723 823 ...

... easy if you want to be smart :)

'Invest yourself in everything you do. There's fun in being serious.'

Note values. If you're already hip to this math divisioning of our musical time and know the symbols and lingo, then surely you be ready to 'rock-ola' Amigo :) For newbies or a quick review, here's the math and mostly global now associated labeling vocabulary. Learn the wording here if needed as they base the discussions to follow. Example 1.

~ stgc ~ 1 whole ~ 2 halves ~ 4 quarters ~ 8 eights ~ 16 sixteenths ~

Counting the beats is easy. Example 1a.

Cool? So in the following discussions the concern is more about creating an inner sense and understanding of time and rhythm than their academics. Which is a huge topic to explore for those so destined. You'll know you've got the gist of what is included here when you can conjure up the core rhythm pulse of the music you dig to play and listen to, then count yourself into its numerical 1 2 3 4 metrics with a clap or snap or two of your fingers, conjured right out of thin air. Its theory is coming right up so master this basic 'time skill' if ya ain't got it yet but first we need the 'time core of it all Americana' ...

~ the Americana big 4 beat ~

'the beat goes on ... boom Boom boom Boom ...'

'conjure your groove right out of thin air ...'

~ 1234 2234 3234 4234 ... ~


The big four. This term comes to us here thanks to our own Americana maestro trumpet master of today Wynton Marsalis via the truly amazing creation of Ken Burns documentary titled 'Jazz', a 10 part video series that chronicles our own indigenous artform we simply call jazz. During the first episode, Mr. Marsalis talks about how our jazz started in his home town of new Orleans. Originally coming from the marching band drummers that create the beat for the parades in New Orleans. 'Boom boom boom boom' of the bass drums creates the quarter note pulse of one measure of 4/4 time is the big four.' We can then add an accent on 2 and 4 and bring on more a bit more swing. Any approximation of a 'walking' bass line is probably an example of the 'big four.'

wiki ~ Wynton Marsalis
wiki ~ Ken Burns

The downbeat of the big four. By downbeat we mean the first beat of each measure. In this next melodic sequence of quarter notes, the downbeat is 'accented', meaning it is emphasized thus played a bit stronger and so sounds a bit louder than the other three beats in each measure. Example 2.

This rhythm of the last idea is as old as the hills really. Hear the native indigenous grooves with the accent on one in the four beat measure? Cool, for surely it is an essential spoke in our Americana wheel. Modern styles with a strong downbeat on one? Feel some rock, blues rock or rock and roll in the pulse? Right on, for 'hitting it hard on one' is a big part of what makes rock 'rock.' Thinking primitive here rhythmically? Absolutely and marvel at the effect on the dancers :)

Hey ya ya ya hey ya ya ya ... old Native American Indian chant. Mucho powerful.

Finding 2 and 4, the backbeat of the big four. So the downbeat gives us a starting point in each measure or bar of our music. We need this starting point as our next evolution moves the strong accent to the second beat '2', often termed the backbeat. Here we evolve our last idea so that we're accenting the 2 and 4 beats in each measure. Ex. 2a.

In broad terms, the core of American physical time is based in a 4 / 4 time signature. We layer in our artistic time by simply accenting the 2nd and 4th beats of each measure. Often termed a 'backbeat', this becomes simply the 'boom BOOM boom BOOM' of our groove.

How we understand and negotiate the spatial relationship between our regular 1 and 3 beats of 'boom' and our accented 2 and 4 of 'BOOM' is an immediate rhythm tasking for the emerging artist. If you get this one combined time and rhythm concept, then the hunt is on as they say, for somewhere in between these two beats is where 'pull' of swing lives.

At the core of it all is 2 and 4. We'll need to hear this last example again. Feel the bit of a push on the accented 2 and 4? Hear how the unaccented measure seems to flatten out? That the accented measure has a wee bit more contour and dynamics in the beats? Cool. For in that 'push' between accents is where the pull of swing lives. And capturing that sense in sounding our own rhythms is about half of the magic of 'rhythms Americana.' Here's the line again. Example 3.

"There has been an influence of African rhythms in American jazz. It seems there are some things jazz can borrow harmonically, but I've been knocking myself our seeking something rhythmic. But nothing swings like 4/4. These implied rhythms give variety."

What swing is. We'll need to hear this last example again. Feel the bit of a push on the accented 2 and 4? Hear how the unaccented measure seems to flatten out? That the accented measure has a wee bit more contour and dynamics in the beats? Cool. For in that 'push' between accents is where the pull of swing lives. And capturing that sense in sounding our own rhythms is about half of the magic of 'rhythms Americana.' Here's the line again. Example 3.

Boom chick. We'll need to hear this last example again. Feel the bit of a push on the accented 2 and 4? Hear how the unaccented measure seems to flatten out? That the accented measure has a wee bit more contour and dynamics in the beats? Cool. For in that 'push' between accents is where the pull of swing lives. And capturing that sense in sounding our own rhythms is about half of the magic of 'rhythms Americana.' Here's the line again. Example 3a.

Musical fun with a master. In this next idea we use our 2 and 4 skills while listening to J.S. Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. Simply click on his pic to start of the music. Find the downbeat and click yourself into the music with 2 and 4. Might take a try or two but Herr Bach, in spots, is one hard swinging bro :)


The four bar phrase. While musical time includes a number of essential things, our Americana arts will near always center itself on a four bar phrase with the big four beat. For in all of our styles the four bar phrase is really the eventual winner in popularity to carry the lyrics of the story being told. Most everything will come down to a four bar phrase.


So first off, let's get hip again to the way we can 'theory count' this four bar phrase to get this all on the same page right out of the gate. The only trick here is to use the right measure number, one through four, throughout the phrase; to count the beats and measures of four bars in common time.


Do this enough times correctly so that it sticks with you forever. Rote learn? Right, rote learn this counting process. For not only is it the basis of quite a bit of the 'time coolness' in all musics really; Americana, Euro and the wide world beyond, for those that go onto to read written notation, it's essential. And for those that look to direct their bands and 'tighten up' the parts, numerically naming where a lick starts is priceless. Simply click the music and count along. Ex. 4.

So easy do for you? Do the big 1,2,3,4 downbeat numbers of each measure help? Once we've done it a couple of times we're usually groovy. Additional benefits? First and foremost that with enough practice we can numerically dial into most any musical phrase we hear and thus have a way into numerically, thus quickly and accurately, share how the rhythm of an idea works.

Also, knowing of the four bar phrase also plays an oversize role in understanding our musical forms for composing. For the most common of forms build up these units of four bars into the forms for our songs. This is in most Americana; from the three / four bar phrases of the 12 bar blues form onward to the larger 32 bar song forms. Got this bit of counting together? Cool, then good to go :) No? Just keep trying and you'll get it.

~ stgc / right out of thin air ... ~

'the task ... counting off the band using 2 and 4 ... '

An American groove. Adding up the last few ideas gets us to this point where we want to think and play four bar phrases with an accenting on 2 and 4, for this is basis of Americana time that runs through all of our styles. While more predominant in some than in others, by mastering this phrase and accenting, we can then really cover just about anything that comes along. Of course things change in all styles as the music goes faster; and 'up tempo number', but that's often more about chops to do than the core theories of the groove or pocket.

Getting our arms around this. So it just turns out that having the ability to count off the band, or even just to count ourselves into a clicking metronome, for some reason can become a personal game changer in how we each understand and conquer American musical time.

Until we can confidently and consistently do this, there's this sort of hesitancy that creates a weird sort of barrier to one's own true understanding of, and ability to create, that magical feeling of swing, in whatever musical manner so moves them. Easily conquered, so if necessary, let's do it together in exercise which follows.

Becoming a rhythm motor to generate musical time. The further we dig back into our collective musical past, I'd imagine at some point everybody in the band was a drummer, meaning we all kept the time at some point and helped to motor the groove along.

So while in today's American musical world that is generally not the case, especially as guitar players, the importance of timing, of syncing everyone up in musical time and getting everyone helping to propel the art through real time, becomes a big part in working the time magic.

Physical time. For the emerging guitarist, strengthening rhythm and sense of time can be achieved by steadily working with a metronome or some time keeping device, playing along with recordings, backing tracks etc. The initial process here is really just two fold to start.

First to develop the ability to physically keep up with the beats. This is about developing the necessary motor skills and hand coordination. Termed physical time, it is the rigid 'tick tock' not unlike the second hand clicks of our regular clock.

Artistic time. Artistic time is simply when we can be consciously pursuing our musical ideas as the real time flow of the music moves along. Focus and concentration play a big part in making this happen. A bit further down the road here we'll want to begin to think ahead in the music we're playing, planning on what's coming up next while the measures flow by. Setting up the verse to chorus / bridge, solo breaks and ending solos, all these are shaped by our own sense of artistic time. And just like telling stories with words, how we phrase the words is really what tells the story.

Phrasing. So once we're up and motoring along in synch with physical time, we can begin to create in artistic time. How an artist shapes their ideas is often termed phrasing. Having a sense of these two different types of 'times' sets the thought process to phrase how a melody or musical line of any variety will flow. This is probably the biggest part of our artistic signature.

Getting started. Using the metronome, which is set at 60 beats per minute in the following example, make each click one beat of 4 / 4 time. Start by simply singing or clapping your hands along with the clicks 'one two three four.' Additional coolness emerges here in that, when we can't hear the click as we clap or sing along, we know we are right on top of the beat :) Slowly now, example 5.

Accenting 2 and 4. Same idea as just above, four quarter note beats per measure. The new added twist is that now 2 and 4 are strongly accented. Example 5a.

Finding 2 and 4. Feel the backbeat? Cool. One more step to rhythm stardom! So same idea as just above but now we want to make all the clicks be the 2nd and 4th beats of a measure of 4 / 4 time. Wow, glad we started slow! So I learned this trick decades ago from drummer Jim 'Sticks' Crawford who, in three very patient tries, taught me the magic of counting into moving time.

Simply set your metronome @ 60 beats or so per minute, then snap your fingers, sing or clap your hands on each of the clicks. Use the last musical example above which is @ 60 beats per minute. Here it is again. Example 5b.

Once I was snapping along with the clicks,

I simply spoke the word 'one' before the snap of my fingers.

So ... one ~ snap ~ one ~ snap ~ one ~ snap ~ one ~ snap ... etc.

Took three wobbly tries but got it :)

So Jim then said to me, 'keep snapping right along Joe and add the correct beat number by counting the words of one, two, three and four back into the line.'

So, one ~ ( snap + two ) ~ three ~ ( snap + four ) ... etc.

Then the whole tamale. Jim then directed me to count a whole four bar phrase in this same manner, adjusting my first number in each group to account for measure #'s one through four while keeping my fingers snapping on 2 and 4. This is the same as the measure counting above now with the 2 and 4 added twist.

So ... one ~ ( snap + two ) ~ three ~ ( snap + four ) ... etc.

Two ~ ( snap + two ) ~ three ~ ( snap + four ) ... for measure two.

Three ~ ( snap + two ) ~ three ~ ( snap + four ) ... for measure three.

Four ~ ( snap + two ) ~ three ~ ( snap + four ) ... for measure four.

"That's it, said Jim. Then ya got it." Then gently added ... "That's really all there is to it man. Now practice this counting into the music and four bar phrase for the next six months whenever you think of it. And try it with whatever music you might hear; on the radio, at home, or just out and about. Oh and one more thing laddie ... please get yourself a metronome ... :)" So I sure did.

Counting off the band. Thus empowered, we now get to 'count it off' for our bandmates, find the pocket in anything we here, really just to 'conjure any groove right out of thin air.' And it goes like this ...

'ah 1 ah 2 ah 1 2 3 4 ... :)

The price of admission. So will all things being equal in theoryville, if you gain this one rhythm / time skill and perspective of creating real musical time right out of thin air, i.e., learn to count into the 2 and 4 of any of Americana groove ya hear, then I'll have earned the price for admission (free) to this educational text. For once this skill is mastered, you'll have it forever, you'll always be able to feel and find the pocket of any of our musics. With practice, you'll add your own strength and powers of time to whatever musical situation you get yourself into and thus empowered have the knowledge, skills and earned grace to share the magic with those still in need to get hip to these changes.

If you need help find it. So depending on the musicianship you are bringing here, this last exercise in counting beats into a clicking metronome is quite simply not an easy thing to do. Once we got it we'll probably wonder, why was that so hard? Regardless, if Ya need help in conquering this, go get it. Maybe post up on our facebook page and see what other players are doing. Surely ask around at your local music store if that is a possibility, for most if not all pro cats can handle this essential magic of American time with just a snap of their fingers :)

~ stgc ~ to find and feel the swing of an accented 2 and 4 ...

Find the swing. So just like the swing sets we all hopefully got to ride on as kids, as musicians we want to create that same joyous motion and sensation of moving through time and space. And everyone gets to ride on the same swing together :) So in the following discussions, the term 'swing', as it generally applies to Americana music, describes a magical combination of time and rhythms that we aurally hear and physically feel as we motor our music through time. Pure Americana in origins, the swing rhythms were first pioneered and captured by Louis Armstrong.

Some history. Coming out of the polyphonic Dixieland traditions, swing as we know it today was originally created by one cat in the band who interpreted their melody lines in a free flowing manner, free from the metrical time the band was laying down. This ongoing push ~ pull elasticity of the musical sounds between the two simultaneous 'times' going down creates the basis of what we feel and call swing. The common denominator of these two musical times? The two and four beats.

For back when the whole band and especially the rhythm section was 'chopping wood' four to the bar, adding the melody line with its own sense of time transformed everything. The first to lead this revolution of melodic phrasing with his trumpet and then with his singing voice was Louis Armstrong.

Eventually over a decade or so and thanks in big part to touring, making records and their radio play, artists on each of the instruments began to hear Mr. Armstrong's idea of a 'free time' melody and figured out how to do it on their own ax. So eventually full bands; drums, bass, piano, guitar, and horns and more formed where everybody in the group played with this new sense of of 'free time' simultaneously, all together all unified by the downbeat on one and the accents of two and four.

Similar to the older original style of dixieland? Yes, but now with a new orchestral focus; one clear, starring solo voice in the lead supported by the whole band playing entire sections of the song solo. Leaning homophonic in style, where one main melody is supported by chords, each soloist in turn getting their chance to lead the group during their own 'improv' take of a song's character.

"It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing." Coined and written in the early 30's of the Swing Era which historically follows, Duke Ellington's composition and its title captures all of the Americana spirit of his day, much of which still holds true today for our jazz fabrics of musics. As the swing magic is latent or hidden yet potentially so strong in any sort of 4/4 time, we'll can find it or create its magic, in really every one of our musical styles and endless between genres we create.

For somewhere in every nook and cranny throughout the whole tamale tangle of our evolving Americana musical extravaganza, this feeling of swing, and of course the blues and its rub, are just right there under our fingers waiting to be let loose on the dancers :)

From children's songs to folk, on through the blues into country, bluegrass, rock, pop and jazz, any hint of rhythmic swing brings smiles to all involved. It's just that joyous of a rhythm, the part of music that everyone always gets, to hear and not respond to. Maybe a person will say that they can't 'carry a tune in a bucket ...' but believe you me they'll feel the swing. We want to go there as it just feels good, joyous and natural. Pioneered by Louis Armstrong at the turn of 20th century, swing is probably the aural sense of the elasticity in musical time that Albert Einstein discovered in the elasticity and bending of light by gravity in mathematical time.

Cliche swing melodies / ideas. Here's a few Americana melodies and if we can get these lines to swing, we get ourselve a toehold into the magic, to be applied wherever we might need it. Example 6.

A TV theme. Find a melody to bring your swing to ? Cool. As a kid watching tv in the 60's, lots of shows had theme songs played by hollywood studio big bands. One that stands out is the theme for 'The Flintstones.' Maybe 'google' it up, find 2 and 4 with a clap or snap, and rote learn it through singing the melody; the swing is built right in. Great 'break tune' too for the jazzers :)

wiki ~ (Meet) The Flintstones

"There's two things in music ..." Louis Armstrong is quoted as saying one time; "there's only two things in music; good and bad. If it sounds good, you don't worry about what it is, just enjoy it. Anything you can pat your foot to is good music." Words of wisdom from the man who inventing swing ... pulled it right out of thin air. Thank you Mr. Armstrong.

The swing nut in the toe tappin' shell. Not sure I can teach how to swing but I know I can help an interested learner understand and internalize just what swing time is and as importantly, how its physical presence feels in musical time. Once we can feel swing, we just each have to figure out how to transfer our own interpretation of it to our chosen instrument. For swing is a physical feeling, and once we learn to conjure it right out of thin air and can really really feel it, we're essentially cool forever.

For like our other physical 'feelings', once known we'll always own it and be able to sense the swing thing wherever we come across it. So if needed, surely learn to conjure swing right here and now, easiest trick in this book. And for many experienced musicians reading here, chances are you've already got the trick to it, so it's just a matter of first to recognize and label, then to conjure and once set in motion ... to keep it all up and moving right along in the music you create..


So getting the music up off the ground so that it swings in time is the next quest. To understand what swing is all we really need is some sound source of a steady beat or pulse to lean it all up against. Hipsters in the know, please start your metronome.

Feel the pull against the clicks. Fire up your metronome or click on the following music to start the mp3 file of the notation. Snap your fingers or clap along and count yourself into the clicks as done in example 3 above. Same musical example here. Now example 6a.

So same exercise here as before, count a 'one' before each click, this makes the clicks 2 and 4. Got it? Swinging along? Cool. Now simply try to 'wait' till you snap or clap. Fell the pull towards the click? That's the swing. The longer we can wait, pull back against the clicks, the stronger the pull and as some cats say, the 'harder' the swing.


There's in jazz stylings a phrasing approach whereby an artist plays 'behind the beat.' For while the rhythm section chugs merrily along, this voice, often the one soloing, is purposefully lagging behind. That they are the melody instrument at that given moment, thus the focus of art being created, the aural sensation can create a sense of 'leaning a bit backwards' for the listener. In some cases so far back we'll topple over; fadouli over teakettle as some say ... :)


But not to worry, we'll surely get 'caught' and repositioned upright by the next beat that comes along. Is there a king of this style of phrasing? Of course, we have near everything here. Earlier pioneering artists of this 'laconic' phrasing style of swing tenor saxophonists include Coleman Hawkins and a generation later the 'laconic master' is of course Dexter Gordon. Cool?


~ stgc ~ '... for if we swing when we sing ...'

Sing the line. ... then it's just a matter of figuring out how to get our interpretation onto our instruments. Sing the line play the line? Yep, and that we each sound unique with our own voices, both speaking and singing, we'll all have our own unique way to swing the rhythms too, for no two artists will organically swing the same. While we copy and emulate what we hear too, learning different sounds and styles of music for work or get at a certain music's magic, those of us that keep playing end up finding our own ways, thus our own artistic signature wins in the long term.

Perhaps an easier way to get to feel this pull of the beats and swing is to simply sing a melody line against the clicks and wait wait wait on the phrasing. Here we default to our core philosophy; that the first melodies we learned as kids very often have the swing built right in. Go to 'songs' and pick one. Then start up a metronome and count into the clicks and sing along. Once groovin' start to hold back on your phrasing against the clicks. That feeling of 'pulling' against the clicks is the swing. Like tonal gravity?

The clicks want to 'pull your timing' of your phrase back into its time. To swing, we must simply resist the temptation :) That the tendency to rush is common among all of us at some point in our development is what working with a metronome corrects and strengthens. For the longer you wait to start a phrase, the stronger the pull, the harder the swing.

Rhythm guitar ~ felt not heard. Another common way to develop these strengths is in our rhythm guitar playing. In this approach, we simply play four quarter note strums on any given chord, or series of chords. Such as Two / Five / One? Exactly. For in this chord progression we get some forward motion in the pitches that helps get the thing 'up off the ground' a bit easier.

Cats might still call this style of rhythm guitar 'chomping chords', 'chopping wood', 'Freddie Green style', named for the guitarist that made it famous from the mid 30's onward in his big band playing. Takes huge discipline, concentration and thinking ahead in the music to consistently pull it off and drive the 'swing pull' forward. At least till its process and music is all rote learned, ingrained and memorized etc. Crazy but if ya do it long enough you'll be 'aching' to swing. I know I was.

So in the literature, what this rhythm guitar style provides is the 'chunk chunk chunk' that helps drive the rhythm section of the band. It becomes a sort of 'harmony metronome' that the rest of the melody instruments of the band can lean against. When we see pictures of guitar players with big bands from the olden days they are playing big acoustic guitars. Nowadays we call them a 'jazz guitar.'

Ideally built with the same woods as a violin; maple bodies and neck with a spruce top, their volume when chords are 'chunked' are said to be 'felt, not heard.' Felt by the band as the time generating metronome that enables and motors the band to swing.

A quartet of voices making jazz. So while we can bring to life all of this theory mumbo jumbo with a metronome, it really takes hold when we can put together a couple of artists each contributing to the generating of the swing. For this next bit, we're thinking along the lines of a quartet; drums, bass, guitar and horn playing in a traditional jazz style reminiscent of the 1950's or so.

So the drummer plays time. Modern cats often have 2 and 4 stomped on the high hat cymbals, a stick up on the ride cymbal playing quarter note patterns and the other hand is accenting or suggesting rhythms of or to the improvisor on the snare drum. The bass player 'walks' their bass line, outlining and connecting the root pitches of the chords of the song in a steady yet accented quarter note 'boom BOOM boom BOOM' pattern, with an accent on 2 and 4. So right there we've all the needed elements to swing.

2 and 4 for bass players. An easy way for bass players to begin to swing is by playing the essential, quarter note 'walking' bass line. While mostly a jazz thing, we hear it often in the blues and pop music. When properly handled, oftentimes with a slight push, swell or accent on 2 and 4, the walking quarter note bass lines synch up perfectly with the drums accenting of 2 and 4. And how these two voices negotiate this can become the magical 'pull' between the beats, generating the magic of swing. This combination is common in early styles of rock'n roll and surely in rock-a-billy grooves.

Guitar, when backing the soloist, either 'chomps' quarter notes or 'comps' chords, meaning to find rhythm accents that swing against the time that drums and bass are laying down. The horn solos over this musical motor, creating ideas generated from the rhythm section or giving ideas to the section to respond back to.

So ... with advancing players, they are all negotiating the 'pull of the swing' that each individually creates with, against or in co-operation with the 'pull of swing' the other cats are laying down, simultaneously. And in there lies the rub; for as long as there's a clear pulse of 2 and 4 in the mix and no one stops, the forward motion of the swing will groove right a long.

That each of the voices in this mix generates their own 'pull of the swing', which when all combined, becomes that core Americana sense of swing. It brings to musical life that joyous sensation that lives in the heart of all our Americana styles, that for a century or so now has energized dancers or just the spirits of oh so many music loving peoples all around our world.


No two cats swing the same. As we each develop our abilities to express the music within, we evolve in our own unique ways. How our hands work, what instruments we have, what we learned early on all will shape our development. And while we will emulate, transcribe or memorize music from the masters we dig most, keep in mind that we each have our own way of working the magic. That originality is cherished and creates the artistic signature we recognize when we hear the legendary cats we most admire.

The eighth note. Well, as the 'big 4' is our swing basis, most of the above is with the quarter notes in 4/4 time, so four notes per measure. Our next evolution is to take some of these quarter notes and divide them in half to become eighth notes and keep it all swinging right along. Hip to eighth notes? Two for one, like getting two nickels for one dime. Ex. 7.

This next eighth note figure gives us an easy way to create the 10 syllables of the old time rhythms of verse; iambic pentameter. This is the rhythm for Shakespeare's dialogues in many of his famous works. Example 7a.

wiki ~ iambic pentameter

Author's note. Just to know that my quest to understand the relationship between the rhythm of iambic pentameter of Shakespearian verse and our Americana swing is really just beginning, just the last year or so and no major relationship discoveries have been made, yet ...

Of course the eighth note is perhaps the central figure in Americana rhythms when we jazz up whatever lines in whatever styles, creating a bit more excitement etc. In this next idea we 'stream' some eighth notes into a musical phrase over one tonic chord. This could be a common lick for lots of styles depending; sequencing the pitches of the G major scale in the 'butter' shape. Example 7b.

This 'streaming' of eighth notes, is a goal for many. And really either approach to improv; soloing over or through the changes, the subdivision eighth note gets it going. In the second half of this discussion, which examines common ways to launch our ideas into Americana time and space, the eighth note plays some fundamental roles. For in our musical past, present and future, the eighth reigns for the jazz improvisor's voice in story.

So, feel the different 'interpretation' of the eighth notes in the last line? A sort of loping quality, almost a 'long / short' to each pair of notes? Cool. This is more of an old timey style thus more nowadays a cliche swing style eighth note. Still works fine today for many artists. Eventually, how we each feel, develop and evolve our own unique eighth note interpretations help shape each of our artistic signatures.

Time / the gallop. So by simply following along in our numerical core philosophy, our 'Americana gallop' evolves next. Since we split the one quarter note to get two eighth notes, can we split the eighth note in two too? Of course we can. Our numerical wizardry knows no bounds and it's a super easy do. Examine the split of an one eighth note into two sixteenth notes on the second beat of the following idea. Example 8.

What the gallop does. Reminiscent of the way that a horse will trot along then move into a faster gallop, the musical gallop is a sort of overdrive and rhythm energizer that helps take the musical energy up a notch. There's a rather famous rock song that does this described transition from grooving along and on into a romping gallop. Find and cue up the live performance of "Free Bird" by the Southern rock band Lynard Skynard. The gallop kicks in right around the 7:20 mark of the nine minute 'the best of' live version. Google it up if you can and care to for it's just a hoot of a jam.

We also use one gallop lick as a way to emphasize and hit the downbeat a bit harder. As in rock and roll? Correct, rock hits on one. While easy to learn this lick can be very very tricky to pull off when the magic is going down. Mostly a common rhythm guitar lick, it is easier with a thin, light pick and done with a flash of the strumming hand. Gypsy jazz players will need this right hand flourish for up tempo comping of the changes. This next idea borrows a bit from Rossini's 'William Tell Overture." Penned in the1828, perhaps this is the gallop that started them all. Example 8a.

wiki ~ William Tell Overture

Cool? Feel the motion getting ready for lift off? Rhythm guitar players should have this lick ready when needed. For with some practice it can be a rhythm / energy game changer on the bandstand, taking the energy of the music being created a notch or two higher.

Evolution into the triplet. Following along our additive numerical path, our next theory evolution of Americana musical time is to bring forth the triplet figure. 'Bring out your triplets.' Hip to this critter? Cool. No? No worries for chances are you already know its magic and just need to put a theory label on it. Dig the following evolutions of the original big four. Example 9.

Sound familiar? There's a bit of a 'heralding' of a coming event that the triplet sets up. Here we flip it around a bit and start with the three note 'lift off' to herald a coming event, very common in the classical styles and in various marching band songs. Dig this idea at 120 beats per minute, a bit of a brighter tempo for high stepping the band on into town. Example 9a.

Jump start the swing. In this next idea we find the triplet as the 'portal' where we take our even eighths into a swing feel. Ex. 9b.

Feel how the eighth notes 'wobble' a bit when the triplet comes along? That's the portal that can open up the swing. Of course eighth notes swing fine on their own too but nice to have some variety yes?

Jump start the line. In this next idea we use the triplet to jump start a melodic idea. This is probably the most common of the 'launch' pads for jazz leaning lines, using the triplet to find and emphasize the swing in the phrase. In this sort of lick, the first couple of quarter notes are usually played by the drummer as a intro / pick up to set up the triplet, but because of me software limitations they become more of a mini dominant pedal :) Do note the double bar marking the beginning of the four bar phrase. Example 9c.

Boom Boom Boom ba bababa D D D D D D Dwee ... :) Classic triplet blast off and just a sort of happy go lucky swing thing with a bit of blues reminiscent of King Oliver and his one time protege, Louis Armstrong. We can hear this sort of lick in a 1000 clubs nationwide on any given Saturday night. Surely worth mastering for the work leaning players reading here. We'll see more of this eighth note and various other launchings in the phrasing section which soon follows.

A 12 / 8 shuffle (6 /8 ). A core dance groove of this triplet feel is what cats will oftentimes term a 12 / 8 shuffle. This basic swinging groove goes way back in our American music history and of course is still with us today. Identified by the fraction 12 / 8, this shuffle's numerical equation implies 12 beats per measure, 8th note gets the beat. So if the tune is in 4 / 4 time, 12 / 8 gives us the 8th note triplet over the accented quarter note pulse. Example 10.

While this is mostly a drummer's tasking in setting up the pocket, this was a rhythm staple for piano players such as legendary entertainer Fats Domino in the 50's and forward. We guitarists hip to these changes here have 12 'hits' per measure to choose from, when adding in our own accents and magic. This 12 / 8 shuffle should and usually does fill the dance floor with big smiles.

An early evolution. In this next idea we simply tie together the first two 8th notes of each group of three. This gives us the loping sense or gallop feel so essential to the early swing styles. Example 10a.

Feel the swing in the line? Sense the pull or stretching of the groove getting off the ground a bit and wanting to swing? Of course the sound is somewhat mechanical due to its computer perfection but the swing is surely in the DNA of these rhythms somewhere.

Pro drummers. The 12 / 8 shuffle is a common verbal description given to drummers in sessions and gigs where things are happening quickly. All pro leaning drummers are armed with such a groove, can count it off and conjure it right out of thin air.

Even 1/8th's. Even 1/8th notes are the coolest thing yet, in terms of our long historical advancement and evolutions of how Americana music swings. For through the last 100 years or so, as our core rhythms have evolved in each style, the way the music can swing within a style has also evolved. And while we retain our historical roots to recreate each era, we also may look to modernize our approach as our new art demands.

While mostly a jazz thing, as the 1/8th note cores the essential improv subdivision of the soloing, the even 1/8th's are thought here to have initially been mixed into jazz from the early Latin influences of Chano Pozo with Dizzy Gillespie. The 'Latin 1/8th's' can be played what is often termed 'straight', no accent or embellishment, thus 'even.' Example 10b.

wiki ~ Chano Pozo
Wiki ~ Dizzy Gillespie

Compare a midi rendition of the older, loping sort of dotted 1/8th sixteenth and the tied triplet with the even 1/8th's of today's moderne. Example 10c.

That's probably 100 years of eighth note evolutions and all are still valid somewhere in Americana. In the last measure just above we 'dotted' the 2nd of each pair of 1/8th notes. This is a 'next' evolution for some. In this next idea we accent the 2nd of each pair. Example 10d.

Well not a whole lot of music in the last idea but hopefully the idea is clear. And while simply in theory, the practice is a bear. For there's some serious right hand discipline for us guitarists to consistently capture this coolness of the 'even now accented 1/8th's.'

Sixteenth notes. In our next time evolution here we can add another subdivision of the beat. From one whole to two halves, into four quarters, into to eight eighths, then making eights into three's of the triplets. Next we'll go to halving eighths into sixteenths. All this looks and sounds like this from example 1 way above. Example 11.

Easy in the math, depending on tempos, this 16th note rhythm and its timing in performance takes an awful lot of chops. There's a couple of common places we find them in the literature.

Double timing eight notes. While so much of our Americana musics are traditionally based on the swing / eight note grooves, a super common use of these sixteenth notes is to simply 'double time' the rhythms over eighth note grooves. In this next idea, let's think Dorian mode from D and find some double time of the 1/8th's into 16th's. Example 11a.

Feel the acceleration in the line? Cool. For while the lick is simply a straight up Dorian scale, its rapid articulation is indeed part of the challenge. So we conquer our challenges and create new coolness :) Speaking of challenges and coolness, this next idea gets a bucket of both. What we're looking to do here is to use accents to group the four 16th's into three's ... groups of triplets? Yep over the duration of a stream of 16th's that tuck nicely into a four bar phrase. A four bar phrase ... imagine that :) Example 11b.

So perhaps needless to say this is a rather tricky business to keep track of and make sense with in the music. Note the just one pitch used in the example. Included here for the advanced reader, as well as to plant a seed for down the road. For as our skills develop and we expand our art reach into different styles, we'll look for new challenges to conquer. Just usually part of who we are. Here's a 'brighter tempo' version of the last idea. Example 11c.

This sort of accenting goes along in many styles where the 16th notes hang. So metal, jazz and Latin.

Metalists. In today's modern, now six decades worth collection of genres in rock musics, as the gear evolved creating more and more electronic sustains; overdriven dirty analog becoming the overdrive, crunch, shred and various other sound blaster pedals. While the guitar sounds evolved, the basic dance-able tempos i.e., not too fast, of rock have held. So for the heavy cats, the easiest way to 'up the energy ante' is to doubletime up the note values of their guitar lines.

So while the rock tempos still rock true and stay dance-able in a lot of rock / heavy metal music, lead players simply go to 16th note values? Yep, and even beyond in some cases. They play twice as many notes in the same measure often creating tremendous excitement in their musics. Those who dig the metal styles today surely know of the lineage of the players who generationally influenced the next artists coming up and can sense the ever faster and faster lines of many top players.

wiki ~ Jimmy Page

In my generation and own music circle it was mostly started by Londoner Jimmy Page, a heavy rocker yet blues based and loud, total analog roar and burning fast clean when needed. On our Americana side in those early days Jimi had the big roar, Duane Allman too, who added the modes to learn toward the extended improvs of jazz. And surely there are many many more great players to explore in these genres.

wiki ~ Jimmy Page
wiki ~ Jimi Hendrix
wiki ~ Duane Allman

With these artists, a common trait they share is that they can play 'single note lines' fast, so charter members of the 'loud and fast club' from there era onwards. To play fast just takes wanting to do it, so just takes doing it. And with that not being theory we're stuck with it. Luckily though for those reading here there's one true story that resonates one suggestion if you want to play faster. There's also one for learning to play slower :)

Quick review ~ the big four. While the above theory discussions focus on the big four, 4 / 4 time, needless to say there's other time numbers or time signatures to explore. For as the number of pulses per measure changes so can the musical style, ethnic sources and of course how folks will dance to it. So while we've been successively doubling up our note values in the last discussions let's now see what's on the other side and find some things with a two beats per measure; with a 'two feel' or 'two beat' if you'll allow :)

~ stgc ~ 2 / 4 time ... making salsa ... ?

Split the big four in two ~ the 'two beat.' Easiest math trick in the book yes? Half of four makes two. So our music looks a bit different when notated and our big four sounds of boom boom boom boom become boom boom.












2 ...

boom ...

Nowadays these rhythms are blessedly all over our American musical map. Based on dance rhythms and often with a '2 feel', these Latin rhythms build serious community by getting folks up dancing together. Dig this core Latin / samba bass line groove in a '2 feel.' Example 12.

Do get a bass out and find this root / fifth motion in a couple of progressions. Works fine on guitar too. Here's a super common variation with a bit more, adding octave closure. Example 12a.

Sound familiar? Cool, tis a very common motion nowadays energizing various genres and grooves. Into the wayback to the early 70's to find one of the first Americana chart toppers motored by this style of bass line, titled "From The Land Of Make Believe" by horn man Chuck Mangione, a gem of a song.

wiki ~ Chuck Mangione

While we're variating, here's a cliché disco octave chops builder that always gets a grin and was and is still a huge money maker for those so inclined. Two versions follow; ascending stepwise natural minor and a flipped over chromatic idea. Example 12b.

"Miss You" by the Rolling Stones gets at both of these 'samba octave lines' quite a bit to set the pace and fill the dance floor.



While Latin rhythms and melodies have been with us all along, when Chano Pozo joined Dizzy Gillespie in latter 1940's, the American music of the day dramatically evolved, in part by these new sounds went right over the airwaves to all of Americana, relighting yet again everyone's local universe with a old yet new Americana flavor all within broadcast distance.

wiki ~ Chano Pozo
wiki ~ Dizzy Gillespie

Various time signature. While various time signatures can be used to correctly notate our rhythms, these last ideas take on a strong pulse which we can feel and count as ... '1 ... 2 ... 1 ... 2 ...', a feel that centers the music nicely for the dancers.

A four bar phrase counts as ... '1 2, 2 2, 3 2, 4 2' etc. Oftentimes with an accent on 2 we create that gallop feel, similar to the 2 and 4 pulse of the big 4.

Lots of way to negotiate this time / feel. Many of the modern jazz cats love to hang here, for rhythmically, it's an easy way to make the bar lines go away.

Where in the music. This basic dance beat of the samba has really transformed popular American music. The writing, recording and release of 'Morning Dance' by the group Spyro Gyro in 1979 dramatically launched this groove globally via the airwaves, now to new audiences globally. To hear it is to dance, to hang within and play is heaven.

Smooth jazz. At the core of this modern offshoot of our traditional jazz is this samba beat and of course other Latin influences. Many contemporary guitar monsters we admire today have mastered this groove and created great music for us, perhaps none more so than modernist Pat Metheny.

wiki ~ Pat Metheny

Mr. Metheny's 'Phase Dance' was and is still remarkable in so many new ways when first presented and played by a remarkable quartet of musical artists. In combination, these two late 80's releases renewed the samba magic in the worldwide mainstream while the groups toured, bringing these dancing Latin based rhythms to folks in person. Now a few decades later, the samba dances continue unabated, has found spots to motor in various styles and is stronger and more magical than ever.

'Eight essential points to launch our lines ...'

The essential eight. The following discussion is inspired by a lesson I took a number of years back with multi-instrumentalist Nick Petumenos, an alumni of the Berklee School Of Music. The basic idea is to explore our rhythm options by starting our melodic ideas from each of the eight different eighth note beat possibilities. The ideas are in 4/4 common time and mostly in a four or eight bar phrase.

In shedding these ideas we can gain perspective into our own unique styles of phrasing. We strengthen our abilities to be patient and 'wait' on the music to unfold, gaining a better sense of how our phrase pulls, leans or sits in the 2 and 4 of the groove as we locate the swing in the groove.

Possible benefits. What we can gain in applying this timing technique are some very cool things. First is adding an instant variety to the existing rhythms we play. Second is a chance to think. That when we work with a rhythm section, if we wait a bit before starting our phrase, we get a chance to think and react to what they are doing. Combined, this opens a big opportunity window into the age old call and response qualities found somewhere within all of the American styles.

On 1. This first four bar phrase finds us with mostly quarter notes right on the beat. This is probably the oldest of our original swing rhythms which probably came from a New Orleans parade during the early 20th century. Ex. 13.

Swing the hardest? Can quarter notes on the beat swing the hardest? Most of the music in the folk, blues, rock and pop hits on one. In the jazz world, spin any of the Count Basie records and judge for yourself. Quarter notes on the downbeat = big swing :)

On the 'and of 1.' In this next idea we wait till the 'and of one' to start the lick and then follow with the quarter note feel. Those who remember the 'Tonight Show' theme might already know the coolness and swing power of starting their lines just past the downbeat. Ex. 13a.

On 2. This next idea starts on beat two. It seems to bounce off the downbeat pitch of the bass. A simple sequenced line that really has a bit of a pop music feel. Example 13b.

Call and response. Fairly easy to create a bit of call and response in this last four bar phrase. The call or antecedent phrase of sequential eighth notes is responded to by the two quarter notes, starting the response or consequent phrase. Very common and a cool way to create musical dialogue.

On 2 as a pickup. This next idea also starts on beat two but it is now part of the pick up notes to a four bar phrase. Common enough in the literature, this line should be under your fingers already. Example 13c.

And of 2. This next idea gets us towards the blues, where the longer we can hold back starting the line, the greater impact it'll potentially have. Some cats call this waiting to 'choke off' the phrase, especially towards the end of the line, and players with chops will often blister the thing a bit. Volume, tone and band dynamics would of course play a part in all of this. Example 13d.

Waiting on the blues. Is there a better way to testify?

On 3. At this point in the measure we've got to decide whether we're waiting on the line or playing a pick into the next measure. This next idea is about waiting on the line. Example 13f.

A vamp line. Thus written, this last line is leaning more towards becoming a vamp line or what was termed in the day a 'head' arrangement. The vamp line is usually played by the rest of the band behind the soloist. A 'head' tune is simply a song that repeats the one phrase over common chord changes such as rhythm changes or a 12 bar blues. Cats play the line by ear often in unison, take turns blowing or soloing, oftentimes using the line as a vamp behind the soloist as well. Guitarist Charlie Christian was know to conjure up these sort of ditties.

As a pickup on 3. In this next idea we're starting a song on beat three, but in this case it's as a pickup lick comprised of two quarter notes starting on beat three. Example 13g.

Recognize the line? 'Billy Boy' is an Americana standard from wayback. Again the idea that quarter notes on the beat can swing as hard as any other. Just a matter of capturing their pull against 2 and 4. This melody and many others like it, were part of the public school music curriculum in America during the first 60 years or so of the last century.

Thus, so many of the jazz greats probably learned melodies such as these as kids and early on got a feel for the inherent and potential power of the quarter note to swing and get the house a rockin'. For if the house is rockin' ... don't bother knockin' ... just come on in :)

wiki ~ jazz musicians

The 'and of 3.' If we're waiting to this point in the measure to start our line then either we've probably dropped our pick or we're playing a ballad :) In a ballad format, waiting to this point to begin the phrase has opened a wonderful space to create in. Combining the eighth note on the 'and of 3' with the eighth note triplet on 4 is a core rhythm of American jazz. Example 13h.

All comes out in ballads. Cool with playing ballads? While brighter tempos are often more exciting all around, ballads really give an artist a chance to 'say what they really want to say.' In the jazz world it's been said that a players ability to plumb the depth of their art, ax and project heartfelt emotion all comes forth on ballads.

In on 4. In starting a phrase on four and not having it sound like a pickup note is a bit of a challenge. I don't know of any lines that do this so I've got to start from scratch. Pour moi melodic line is about balance and with the four bar phrase so dominant in our American sounds, starting on beat four and creating this sense of balance is difficult. So an imbalance within structured musical form? Yes. Pianist and composer Thelonius Monk might dig this shifting of the balance points within a phrase and form, many of whose compositions challenge tradition. Sorry in advance but this next idea is probably more academic than art. Example 13i.

Tough. Tough to hear this as a four bar phrase. Even with the repeat of the phrase the overall balance seems weird. Thank goodness for the blue notes and dominant pedal to give it some sort of something. Anticipation perhaps? Sound a bit theatre-ish? A melodrama perhaps? A new age blues :)? Is there such a thing?

The most common? The quarter note pick up just could be the most common of our jump in points in all Americana music for it helps to clearly establish the downbeat. This melody of course goes way back to earlier shores. Ex. 13j.

The 'and of 4.' Reaching the far edge of this four bar universe, this next idea finds us moving into the sounds of quartile harmony. Built in 4th's, we created a feeling of suspended time and wait wait wait on the line. Example 13k.

Pickup on the 'and of 4.' Using an eighth note 'tied' pickup on the 'and of four' is a sure way to give our lines a bit of an initial lift in syncing up with the groove supporting it. We might call it creating some 'forward motion in the line.' In this next idea we anticipate the downbeat by a wee bit and elide the barline, a key component in making the bar lines go away. This melody is the first four bars of my own song titled 'Tuxy.' Example 13l.

Quick review. Lot of black dots in this last idea, surely nine or ten different pitches ... must be jazz :) So, cool with the idea of different start points for phrasing? Lots and lots of choices of course. Find two and four in the groove, the sing the line you want to play and sound it out. A simple learning process that helps to insure we're speaking our music from the heart.

Advanced. For the advanced reader here there are three or four suggestions for new challenges regarding our Americana musical time. First is using an eight bar musical phrase to double or half time the original tempo. Second is what I call to 'make the bar lines go away.' Third, is what cats term to 'turn the beat around.' And fourth is grouping notes beyond two, three and four.

Time shifting over eight bars. From my early listening to the recording of Bill Evans with bassist Scott LaFaro and then later seeing the The Wynton Marsalis Quintet in action, the idea here is based on the various 'times' that can live not only within the arrangement of a song but in individual eight bar phrases. For from these recordings we hear phrases that convey straight time, i.e., the original counted off tempo, a half time and double time of the the time. In hearing the Marsalis Group live, it's was their ability to accelerate to double time or retard to the ballad, by sliding up or down the tempo over the course of eight bars. Quite breathtaking to behold in performance and a sure time challenge for those so inspired.

Making the bar lines go away. The idea of no barlines in the flow of the music is to create a seamless stream of aural colors. Propelled through time by each instrument in the mix, the music has a sense of never endingness in its travels through time and space. While not the most academic sounding of titles here, the magic to create this aural phenomena is one we can easily track in theory. Creating the sound with our bands or in whatever setting, there in lies the work and shedding to be done. For to work the magic, all the voices involved have to find this 'nick' in time together. So there's a couple of ways to do this and it is easiest (?) done in a Latin samba styling and when there's a chord change.

Once the song is up and running, the trick to this is simply to start the various events in musical phrases a whisker before or after the barline when there's a chord change. So a whisker in any sort of medium to brighter tempo usually translates to a sixteenth note. The theory term is to 'elide.' To pull it off, we simply start the new chord before the sense of the time value of the last chord is completely done. Eliding before the bar line. (the writing looks weird measure wise to make the playback file sound correct). Example 14.

Coolness yes? Easy to hear with just the root / Five motion then up half step to flat Two. This is probably the more common of the two ways we use this device. Next is the same idea but now through the barline and into the next measure before the chord change. Example 14a.

Feel the pause in the line? Not the best example really. It sounds better with time (a drummer) underneath hitting one and setting up the new chord on the off beat. But then again, everything usually sounds better with drums :)

Soften the bar lines. This next technique I heard in New Zealand while listening to a folk rock styling. And although the bar lines didn't quite go away, the aural and physical sense of the repetitious four bar phrasing and cadencing is dramatically softened. The technique is to simply have the instruments go 'tacit' or silent on the first beat of a four bar phrase, once the song is up and running. Vocals carried over if necessary. Too much to try and notate more than this next idea. Spin the audio file for a better sense of this please. Example 14b.

Turn the beat around / over. While so much emphasis in this discussion is on finding 2 and 4 in any groove and using that pulse to get things to swing, experienced, robust players who lock right into the groove then want to flip the beats around in their improvs. Termed to 'turn the beat around', it is a fairly common way to get things to swing a wee bit harder for creating more coolness, climaxes and such. Too much to try and notate, click the audio file to hear these ideas with pianist Tom Bargelski.

Famous examples ... ? Hmm ... Well there's Vickie Sue Robinson's knock it out of the park super dance floor filler song titled "Turn The Beat Around." In "Benny And The Jets", which features pianist Sir Elton John, there's some solid 'flipping of beats around' on the out chorus.

wiki ~ "Turn The Beat Around"
wiki ~ Elton John
wiki ~ "Benny And The Jets"

Groupings beyond four. Well, when one tires and exhausts all there is with 1,2,3, and 4 notes per beat depending, moving on to 5, 6 and 7 would seem only natural yes? Artists would call these next ideas poly rhythms; whereby we layer one set of numbers of beats and rhythms over a different set, thus the idea of 'poly' or many. Work at these with a metronome and through repetition, they'll strengthen up and expand one's rhythmic palette.

Groupings by five. Not really all that 'odd' metered. Of course there's the song "Take Five" but that's in 5/4, not groups of five in the melody notes. Regardless, find your own coolness to evolve your swing. Example 14d.

wiki ~ "Take Five"

Groupings by six. Moving into the minor tonality. Six is more like a double triplet for each beat than anything odd. Example 14e.

Groupings by seven. Man, not all to sure how all this goes but in computer notation and theory it's easy :) Again the idea of polyrhythms and finding a deeper swing perhaps. Example 14f.

Let's compare all three. There's just a better distinction between the groupings. Not sure how much music is in this sort of approach. Maybe something in more of a rhythm 'raga' sequence from the Far Easteners. Example 14g.

wiki ~ ragas

Cool? In the minor it sounds as if there's a hint of the plainchant / plainsong as the melody has different metrical groupings over the pedal tone. Now there's a master thesis; understanding the older mensural notation; rhythms and notation of plainchant. Surely will need the wayback and off to Fontgombault Abbey!

wiki ~ plainsong

Regardless, again the idea that as time goes by we just look for greater challenges in the music. Relieve our own boredom? Evolve? Probably. This can necessitate an exploration of the resources available into new combinations and the creating of new ones if necessary. Surely the theory knowledge helps us to sift through the pitches and gives us an entry way, or more depending, into musics we hear that may become a source of a next 'new' idea or pathway to explore expanding our intellectual and artistic potentials.

'Finding 2 and 4 in our popular musical styles'

Folk players. The idea of finding 2 and 4 grooves in folk music rhythms is probably not all that important. For we mostly hear an even four beat pulse. But if there's any kind of folk / rock / alt. in your art, maybe push 2 and 4 a wee bit to strengthen your motor. Same for bluegrass and most country styles. Bluegrass loves things on the 'and' of the beat, often called the upbeat. Country loves it all, from a gentle four beat pulse to any of the galloping magic we find in the train rhythms used to motor a story, as Johnny Cash was known to do.

wiki ~ Johnny Cash

While there is quite a variety of approaches to musical time in the various genres of bluegrass and country, with some players accenting 2 and 4 and others not so much, when listening to your faves, snap your fingers along with the music on the 2 and 4 beats and see if the groove doesn't come more alive. Also in bluegrass, listen to the 'chunking' of the chords behind the lead lines and note where they live in the groove. On the 'and of 1 and of 2 upbeats' or 2 and 4 ... ? Don't be surprised as pretty much either approach will get things up off the ground :)

Blues players. The 2 and 4 accented pulse in the blues groove is simply a staple of the genre. While some early recordings of the original cats who played a single might not be overly representative of this, the 2 and 4 backbeat is generally there somewhere. Add drums into any blues mix and 2 and 4 comes right to life to motor the groove.

Rock. In rock music of really any genre, chances are the phrasing hits hard on 1, the downbeat, followed by an accented 2 and 4 being in present in the beat and groove. When rock heads towards metal, things evolve a bit as so much of the well crafted metal catalogue features unison playing among all the players. When the jamming starts and cats are playing time behind the soloist, the hit on 1 and an accented 2 and 4 beat often returns. When rock adds more blues, while it still hits on 1, it's all about 2 and 4 in the groove. Is there any popular American groove not centered around an accented 2 and 4 ?


Pop / hip hop. Pop (popular) music is most often about dancing and really always has been. When we as musicians play music that gets folks up and dancing, we know we're probably winning the gig. Again at the core of the groove is always an accented pulse on 2 and 4. Modern poppers, where 2 and 4 just isn't getting it over the top, resort to the big 4 beat pulse, which becomes kinda like our heartbeats. Often described in this work as the 'Hammonator' groove, the big 4 is a SuperHoot to jam on and on and on. With the addition of 'spoken word lyrics over a loop, vamp or sequencing, the word is to make it all dance, so folks can dance; "shake off some of the dust of everyday life." Art Blakey

wiki ~ Art Blakey

Pop / Beatles. Of course we'll each have our favorite players, groups, styles and writers. I was very blessed in that early on in my career I and so many others, had the music of the Beatles growing up. From this early music I surely developed a love of melody, learned what a hook was and developed an ability to sing along with lines.

While their bio's read that they all were self taught and played by rote, it would be hard to categorize the variety of different grooves and beats they used in their numerous songs. Creative beyond measure, they surely captured the joyous sense of Americana swing rhythms in nearly everything they did in brighter danceable tempos.

Drummer Ringo Starr had a huge hand in all of this magic as the 2 and 4 pulse is ever present in his playing. A good place to start in discovering their version of Americana rocking swing is in the tune "Eight Days A Week." With its solid snare pop on 2 and 4 and a walking bass line, this rollicking number gets right to heart of a hard swinging, dance pop classic rooted on the early jazz and swing evolved by Louis Armstrong himself back in the early 30's.

wiki ~ Ringo Starr
wiki ~ Eight Days A Week

Jazz. American jazz, which for the better part of 50 years, say from 1900-1950 was America's 'popular / pop' music, is all about 2 and 4. Even when the core time is in 3 or 5 or whatever, 2 and 4 is too deeply dyed in the wool of the players to ever really go too far away. Historians of today credit Louis Armstrong with coming up with our unique American swing rhythm, back in the late 1920's. We can hear it in his recordings from his singing voice which included musical syllables as well as his trumpet instrumental solos. And from this point forward the joyous sense of American swing has been with us and has continued to be refined and evolve over the succeeding decades.

wiki ~ Louis Armstrong

Latin in 2. When Latin arrives on the bandstand, a lot of cats like to think in terms of 2. Two beats per measure. We hear this pulse clearly in the bass lines as they thump on various combinations of tonic and dominant as the cycle through changes. So in most any samba or bossa nova grooves, often the accent is on the 2nd beat. And if we put two of these measures back to back then we're right back where we started with the dance pulse on 2 and 4 :) Lovely when the math is all this simple eh?

'Ideas about swing in word and deed.'

Americana swing / metal, pop and rock too? Well, traditionally we don't really say that these styles swing. But for sure there's a BIG pulse or accent on the 2 and 4 beats in vast swaths of the literature. Thus the potential exists for the swing magic to happen. And for many of our guitar favorites, from Charlie Christian on through Stevie Ray Vaughn and beyond, there is an unmistakable sense of swing or gallop in their rhythms. This sense is often what we each are after to capture in our own rhythms.

So swing is accenting 2 and 4? In so many ways it is. For by accenting the two and four beats of 4/4 time, we create a sort of 'vacuum or pulling' of the time between our unaccented and accented beats. As this little beat / big beat gets repeated over and over in a song, we'll start to play with when we actually sound the beats. Trial and error takes over till we each find our own sweet spot.

Over this 2 and 4 groove we negotiate our melody rhythms and interpret the melody of our songs. Traditionally, these lines are either quarter notes or eighth notes, to which oftentimes will add a triplet feel to them. Combining an accented 2 and 4 groove and triplet eighth note feel are our initial raw materials for creating the magic of swing rhythms.

Different kinds of swing. Perhaps needless to say, there are many different types of swing. Each of us, and of course the players we most admire, hear the groove each in our own unique way and thus swing in our own unique fashion. Musical styles play a role in this too. Of course there is no right or wrong in this. Just simply, does the music swing or not.


Cats talk about such things as the 'pocket', 'keeping it loose', the 'groove', 'on top' or 'out front of the groove', 'behind the beat' etc. In essence, all of these terms are describing where the musical time of our melody or improvised melodic lines sits in relation to the accented 2 and 4 beats that motors things along.

How we each get there. The easiest way to get our lines to swing, regardless of the styles we play, is simply to get our vocalizations of our guitar lines to swing first. Then we simply figure out how to transfer this feel to our guitar lines. Easier said than done for sure, one trick for emerging cats is to make easy, super familiar melodies swing. Another is to work with a metronome, having a pulse to lean into as we negotiate where the swing time lives for us.

Radio time / 2 and 4 /a scientific experiment. In introducing this topic to emerging players, I always encourage them to find an AM / FM radio and study the music that is randomly being aired. The science part goes like this.



Turn the radio on and find a station with music being played. Listen to the song and find the downbeat and begin counting along with the music. '1 2 3 4 etc. Then locate 2 and 4 in the groove. Snap your fingers or clap your hands along with 2 and 4.



Once you're cool with feeling the groove and can locate its 2 and 4 pulse, advance the radio to the next station playing music. Find 2 and 4 in this groove. Snap or clap along for a bit feeling the magic of the song's time. Once cool with the groove, advance to the next station with music and find its 2 and 4 pulse and groove along.



The art in the science. Built right into this experiment is that as we advance from station to station, our style of music usually changes. And while most of the music is probably some genre of Rock, usually there is also a country, cool jazz, a couple of pop choices, top 40 or contemporary stations, a PBS location and a European Classical music station. At least that's what is mostly available here in Alaska these days.

The common thread. What we can readily hear from this survey of radio stations is that in the various styles of American music, the accenting of the 2nd and 4th beats of a measure of 4 / 4 time is a common thread throughout the music. It crosses over all of our stylistic boundary lines to be included pert near everywhere on our radio dial.

When we do come across the European classical music station, the steady dance of the 2 and 4 pulse in the music goes away. Poof ... vanished, it's simply gone. And to a certain extent will not return until we advance to the next station of American music and presto ... 2 and 4 returns to yet again to motor the magic.

wiki ~ Euro-Classical

Why? Well with accenting the two and four beats of common 4 / 4 time, little beat then big beat, we create a sense of stretch or pulling, an elasticity of the time between our unaccented and accented beats. Over this stretch-able time groove we negotiate our rhythms.

Traditionally, these melodic lines are either quarter notes or eighth notes, to which oftentimes we'll add a triplet feel to them. Combining an accented 2 and 4 below with an triplet eighth note feel above are historically our initial raw materials for drummers of our American rhythmic swing.

Marking time. In the musical examples here nearly every idea is four bar phrase. Is everything in American music a four bar phrase? Well probably not everything, lest we forget the art part, but the importance of this idea should not be overlooked. For as we strengthen our sense of musical time, we'll bite off bigger and bigger chunks of it. Simply by keeping track of the passage of four bars enables us to keep track of where we are in the song we are playing and becomes our entry point for understanding our various musical forms.

Sensing the length of a four bar phrase also helps us to begin to think ahead a bit as we make music, giving us some wiggle room to create ideas and think about our improvisations in real time. This wiggle room enables us to build exciting solos. In thinking further and further ahead in the music we become time travelers in musical time, taking our listeners along with us. Eventually it all becomes a fluid process of linking one musical idea to the next as we journey along with the band following our collective muses :)

The four bar phrase is really the core phrase length entry point into all of our musical styles. Of course the 12 bar blues is comprised of three / four bar phrases. Any 16 bar section is usually two pairs of eight bars, each of which are two, four bar phrases. Our 32 bar song forms are likewise a series of connected and repeated four bar phrases. Four bars doubles to eight bars, doubles to 16, doubles to thirty two bars etc. And while all manner of phrase length is possible of course, the four bar phrase really lives at the core of our musical forms. Master its time and 2 and 4 feel and good things will follow :)

Apply this idea to the music you dig. Cue up your own favorite music and count along to their grooves. Begin to count and keep track of measures as you go. Don't be too surprised as your ear begins to hear these four bar phrases. Once cool with the counting, you'll begin to hear all sorts of musical things that happen at the close of one phrase and the beginning of the next. Change tracks, start counting; four bar phrase. Cue up the radio and go through the stations as we did with finding the 2 and 4 pockets in various styles. Surely you'll be counting four bar phrases.


Something for drummers. Having the drummer in your group 'mark' the passage of musical time by hitting something on the downbeat of each new, successive four bar phrase, can go light years towards gluing your unit tighter together. Perhaps suggest this or create another way to consistently mark your phrases.

An evolutionary advancement / the Hammonator groove. Years ago a true friend was gifted a rather ancient Hammond electric organ with an octave or so of bass pedals. As their home was the site of weekly jam sessions, the Hammonator was a welcome addition. Its lowest of the low notes bass pedal became known as the 'Hammonator groove.' We'd quarter note stomp this beast in 4 / 4 time and groove till the Ravens called :) The jam band and music of 'SuperHoot' came out of these sessions.

Alaskan Raven

Electric dance / club music. In making the above case for the importance of 2 and 4 in the American groove, it must be noted that many modern leaning cats of the last couple of decades have decided that accenting all four beats of 4 / 4 time must simply double the fun. And when we get our Super Nova Pop stars leading the dancing in big rooms with colossal P.A.'s, lights and all the fixings ... if you're not having fun with four big beats per measure, it's probably not because of the music. So no real surprise then when our radio dial lands on these thumping four beat dance grooves and the toes and fingers begin a tappin' :)

Once you're cool with feeling the groove and can locate its 2 and 4 pulse, advance the radio to the next station playing music. Find 2 and 4 in this groove. Snap or clap along for a bit feeling the magic of the song's time. Once cool with the groove, advance to the next station with music and find its 2 and 4 pulse and groove along.



Review. Here at Essentials, at the core of our American rhythms lives an accented pulse on the 2nd and 4th beats of a measure of 4 / 4 time. We can find this pulse somewhere in every conceivable musical style and their myriad of sub genres. By accenting the 2 and 4, we create a sense of 'pull' away from and towards the downbeat pulse of each measure. It is believed here that in this pulling or stretching of musical time is where the magic of the American swing thing happens.

We can learn to rhythmically swing by singing our melody lines and getting them to capture the essence of our own unique sense of time. We then only have to transfer these ideas to our guitars. Quarter and eighth notes are the swing note values. Even 8th's are perhaps Latin derived and also swing just fine in other styles, although in a bit more of a modern sense perhaps than the traditional 8th note / triplet feel so common of the early Jazzer's of the first half of the last century. And perhaps it's best to simply remember that ...

Listening. Cue up Stevie Ray Vaughn's 'Pride And Joy', close your eyes and count right along to get a real feel for what four beats to the measure, the 'big four' is capable of in a power trio format; great dance groove and just a hoot to play.

"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing ..."

wiki ~ Duke Ellington

References. References for this page's information comes from school, books and the bandstand and made way easier by the folks along the way.

Find a mentor / e-book / academia Alaska. Always good to have a mentor when learning about things new to us. And with music and its magics, nice to have a friend or two ask questions and collaborate with. Seek and ye shall find. Local high schools, libraries, friends and family, musicians in your home town ... just ask around, someone will know someone who knows someone about music and can help you with your studies in the musical arts.

go to a public library and ask the librarian

Always keep in mind that all along life's journey there will be folks to help us and also folks we can help ... for we are not in this endeavor alone :) The now ancient natural truth is that we each are responsible for our own education. Positive answer this always 'to live by' question; 'who is responsible for your education ... ?

Intensive tutoring. Luckily for musical artists like us, the learning dip of the 'covid years' can vanish quickly with intensive tutoring. For all disciplines; including all the sciences and the 'hands on' trade schools, that with tutoring, learning blossoms to 'catch us up.' In music ? The 'theory' of making musical art is built with just the 12 unique pitches, so easy to master with mentorship. And in 'practice ?' Luckily old school, the foundation that 'all responsibility for self betterment is ours alone.' Which in music, and same for all the arts, means to do what we really love to do ... to make music :)


"These books, and your capacity to understand them, are just the same in all places. Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing."

wiki ~ Abraham Lincoln

Academia references of Alaska. And when you need university level answers to your questions and musings, and especially if you are considering a career in music and looking to continue your formal studies, begin to e-reach out to the Alaska University Music Campus communities and begin a dialogue with some of Alaska's finest resident maestros !


~ comments or questions ... ? ~

~ jacmuse@ak.net ~