What is “Swing”?
Do you ski? Alpine ski? Imagine you swing on a well groomed slope from left to right – left turn - right turn - stick plant – swinging – gliding – stick plant – swinging – gliding – stick – swing –glide – stick – two – three – Wa – ltz – time – stick – swing – glide – wa – ltz – time. This is pure waltz rhythm. There are flowing transitions, sliding movements, marked only with the rhythm of the stick push. There is everything, but nothing like a „Prussian goose-step“.
Now imagine the ski slope a bit less steep and your speed adapts to this. Stick – swing – stick – swing. Now this sliding is like the rhythm of a “Boarisch”. And this 2 count rhythm is not a “Prussian goose-step“.
The same could be said about a fast polka “schnell polka”, but my skiing is nothing like a fast polka so I can’t test this.
You chuckle about this heading? You think „swing“, musical „swing“, is not compatible with holding back, with hesitating?
What does a musician really mean by “swing”? Off the cuff, I think of: oscillating – You surely know about a swing, a children’s swing. Or one that was mounted with long ropes on a tree branch. How many times I set my children on such a swing, pushed them first slightly and carefully, then with a bit more power. Observe such a pendulum motion. First it moves downward, getting faster, then it moves upward slowing down and even stops at the highest point for a moment, beginning again to swing back, hesitantly at first then faster, from the lowest point again more slowly, stops again at the top for a heart beat, begins again, to swing forward, hesitating, slowly - and now is the correct point in time to give another push, to swing the thrilled and laughing child.
Did you ever look into the eyes of a swinging child? In those bright spirited eyes? Then you too, know what happiness is. For such a child this rocking, this “swing”, this addition of power at the right moment, is happiness.
Naturally, we are not little children any more. We have risen beyond such simple feelings of happiness. Nevertheless it would be beautiful if you could, through your swinging music, allow just a tiny pinch of this happiness trickle back in.
Perfection or leaving „Swing“
We all would like to make good music; it should sound as nice as possible. Especially for Radio, TV, CD, but also for performances on stage every note or tone, every nuance is intentional and tested. Nothing is left to chance, everything is arranged perfectly – and with this perfection the life of the music is often left behind; the music becomes sterile, loses its “swing”.
Perhaps this is necessary in the media. But folk music was never burdened by such an exact process. Improvisation, spontaneous variations, reactions to audience and dancers all simply belong to it.
Notes are and were in these circumstances only guideposts. It is more important that the music fits the “instrumentation”, the contributing musicians, and the feeling in the room at the moment, that the music lives. And this life doesn’t come from notes, this comes from temperament and cheerfulness, from improvisation and wit.
Everywhere in life there are rules taught in schools – and free ways of life. A good musician will not let himself be confined by rules, he will not repeat the length of notes slavishly and he will not move along with the exact beat of the metronome. He sings or plays - perhaps without being conscious of it – a piece bit different every time but in spite of that always absolutely correctly. On the other hand a beginner should keep to the rules, since he has not yet got the feeling for what is possible. But even the beginner can and should play with “swing”.
As far as I know „swing“ has not been defined anywhere. I want to try it. Swinging play means controlled tension, stirring powerful playing style, lively music making. “Swing” comes from barely noticeable irregularities in rhythm, volume, pitch, (vibrato, “trills”, “grace notes”). “Swing” then, is the sum of all the individual peculiarities of a musician or a group.
But remember the swing? Did you ever really watch one? The forward swing always takes the same amount of time as the backswing, unless one pushes the person, and adds extra power (“swing”). In between you experience every variety of speed, from very fast at the lowest point up to the total stop on the top. Everything is contained in it, except a chanting metronome.
Playing with „swing“ has to do with power, with confidence, with pushing ahead and at the same time braking, holding back, having trust. “Swing” is also related to experience and skill, but this is in most cases rather overrated. If my skills aren’t good enough to keep up with the tempo, then I just play the fast polka a bit slower, it can be and should be full of swing, nevertheless.
One thing that swing is certainly not: speed and rushing. If I play so fast that the pauses in the music are no longer noticeable, then all the “swing” is lost.
The reason for this may be that my skill is too limited. Since „swing“ consists of individual peculiarities, there are no rules equally valid for everyone. Probably however, there are some hints, which, taken all together, do lead to playing full of swing. On the pages below, you will find some web pages in which I would like to try to describe or explain some of them. Ready at the moment are: