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Get Schooled on Swing Music - Playground Fun

Swing is often associated with jazz music, and it's true that swing was an important element that helped bring jazz music to the mainstream, but swing music is also a genre in its own right, and a lot of today's music can trace its roots to swing music. Learn all about swing, and you might even discover that the energetic sounds and rhythms of this fun music resonate with you.

Swing Music

What is Swing Music?

Swing music has a distinctive rhythm and beat that can be hard to describe. In fact, some musicians felt that if you couldn't feel swing, you never really understood it. When you hear swing music, it's hard not to get up and start moving, which is what happened when bands started playing swing music back in the 1930s. It was usually the big orchestral bands that played swing music. The big bands often used horns to play the melody, they had lots of riffs to create a rhythmic pattern, and the chorus was always the most energetic part of the song. Melodies were simple and clear, the rhythm was solid and easy to dance to, and harmonies were easy to hear.

The main distinction of swing is that the eighth notes are played as triplets with a rest between the first and third beats, which makes an almost galloping rhythm. Swing music also has a strong emphasis on the backbeat, so beats two and four are emphasized to create the swing feel. Those that understand music theory might argue that swing can't be properly written on a sheet of music. This is likely how swing musicians believed that you had to innately feel swing and that you couldn't technically learn to play it.

The History of Swing

Swing originated during the late 1920s, and it gained a lot of popularity throughout the 1930s and into the mid-1940s. As the jazz age unfolded during the 1920s, bigger bands began playing with lead vocalists. Swing remained popular until around the time World War II was ending. In some ways, swing was a way for people to deal with all of the misery the Great Depression and the war caused. It distracted people away from their daily troubles. A new dance style was invented to go along with the swing style of music, and people loved to dance the Lindy Hop all over America.

Famous Swing Musicians

The big bands of the swing era had bandleaders and musicians for the horns, strings, and percussion instruments. The public was looking for lively entertainment, and big bands were the ticket. Many musicians made their names during the swing era, and their music continues to be popular today. Benny Goodman earned the title "King of Swing," but he was not the only musician who was enjoying success during the swing era.

  • Benny Goodman - Not only was Benny Goodman an iconic bandleader, he was also an accomplished clarinetist. Goodman's band was the first jazz band to play Carnegie Hall. Benny Goodman earned the title of "King of Swing" because he was very active in the jazz and swing music industry at the start of the swing era.

  • Duke Ellington - Duke Ellington had a 50-year music career that included composing more than 3,000 songs. His song "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing" became an iconic symbol of the swing era. Ellington was awarded Grammys, the Pulitzer Prize, the French Legion of Honor, and the President's Gold Medal.

  • Cab Calloway - Cab Calloway was affectionately known as the "Hi-De-Ho Man," thanks to his memorable swing lyrics that went back and forth between the band and the audience. Calloway rose to fame in the early 1930s as the leader of the Cab Calloway Orchestra. Calloway was known for his shows with energetic dancing and his crazy scat singing.

  • Count Basie - William Basie learned to play piano as a boy despite humble beginnings. Eventually, Basie moved to New York City where he worked as a pianist on vaudeville circuits. After being stranded in Kansas City, Missouri, Basie started playing with local bands. He eventually got his own big band, and he renamed himself "Count Basie." Basie's band relocated to New York City and became a world-renowned big band.

  • Billie Holiday - Billie Holiday was the lead vocalist in both small ensembles and big bands. She had a knack for phrasing rhythmic lines, and she was also very good at putting tidbits of conversation into her songs. These unusual features helped Holiday gain popularity in the jazz and swing world.

  • Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Fitzgerald won a talent contest in 1934, which started her climb to fame. After singing in the Savoy Ballroom in 1938 with Chick Webb's band, Fitzgerald went on to lead the band after Webb died. Fitzgerald had a special way of scatting that became a part of her style.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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