Friday 23 September 2022

Musescore Swings!

"If you gotta ask, you'll never know" - an old response to "What is swing?"

My hands found swing a long time ago - my brain had no idea what they were doing, but it sure felt groovy.

So when I started tackling arrangements with swing, I just couldn't get down what I was playing. I generally left the swing out with an instruction "just listen and play it like that". Occasionally the swing was so prominent and important I had to put it in the sheet. For example in 2019 I attempted to write out "Gold" by John Stewart as swung and got this:

Which I quickly abandoned because "something just isn't right, and wow, that's hard to type in."

But it's actually a good insight into how swing is notated - that above is text book "shuffle" - so I discovered. Secret let out - swing is delayed offbeats. Forcing the notation into triplets like I did above is a hard shuffle where the normal offbeat (the "and" note between main beats) is pushed out from 1/2 of the way to 2/3 of the way to the next note.

So when I recently took on "Horse With No Name" I once again came up against how to get that swing feel into Musescore. Because when I played the song I realised that my hands were playing swing. (How do they do that? How do they know when something swings, and when something doesn't? See opening sentence.)

So in my frustration I googled "Musescore swing". And what do you know, it's been there all this time! Musescore for the win!

In Musescore version 3, you actually just add text to a note, and that brings up a properties option, and in this case you can set the swing options. In version 4 it's right there in Format->Style->Score. And the people who write the Musescore software are clearly music geniuses - there is a percentage setting for the swing delay, so 50% means the offbeat note is "where it should be" out to 100% meaning the offbeat note is actually on the next beat (ha ha - let's call that "ultimate swing").

But let's not just talk about it, let's see it in action! Here are the first 4 bars "straight" to begin with and then "swing" at 60%, which feels about right.

Look, this is big improvement, but it is a strict rigid swing. I can hear that my hands actually vary the swing per offbeat as they go - for instance, "the" in "all the life" doesn't quite sound right in the above. I experimented with the swing setting after I did this, and discovered my hands actually swing "the" around 65% rather than 60%.

At least half of my arrangements need swing turned on I reckon - the text "Swing" at the top, and then when it plays back you hear the delayed offbeats.

"If you gotta ask, you'll never know" - but now we know, and luckily you never asked 🙂


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