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The same principle can be applied to audio, either by playing with different timing or using flextime to adjust the timing of an existing recording. To consider the subject from the opposite perspective – starting with swing and then removing it – let’s take the classic breakbeat from ‘Hihache’ by the Lafayette Afro Rock Band as an example:
Firstly, we’ve got the break at its original tempo and with its original swing, unquantised:
Secondly, we’ve quantised it to straight 16ths:
Listening to the original beat slowed down to 95bpm reveals a little more of its swing:
If we then quantise this slowed version of the beat it even easier to hear the difference between the naturally swung version and the new rigid version:
So far, we’ve only considered applying a swing setting to an entire drum track or sampled loop, but as we briefly discussed in our examination of polyrhythms, sometimes a straight kick and snare pattern can provide an interesting contrast to a swung hi-hat rhythm. However, this contrast doesn’t have to be confined to drum parts. Listen to how the swing in this bassline changes the feel of the straight drum beat when it’s added in the second bar:
Further examples of swing in action
To further explain the effect swing can have on a track, let’s compare a selection of tracks in various genres which utilise swing in prominent ways (and on different instrument parts).
For a broad cross section of swing examples, check out Aphex Twin’s ‘Curtains’, the Noisia remix of Boemklatsch’s ‘Think Big’, Disclosure’s ‘Control’, Theo Parrish’s ‘Lost Angel’ and, for an extreme example, Pendulum’s ‘Another Planet’ (note the swing at 2:37 – a common technique employed in drum and bass):
Is that all? Not quite…
Even after all this explanation, there are still numerous other factors which help make up the perceived swing and groove of a track: the psychoacoustic effects of the velocity of individual drum hits; groove templates; unquantised, off-grid beats; negative swing; variations in the sample start time, attack envelope or decay of hits…
All of those factors will be discussed here in due course, but for now a solid understanding of the basics of swing should help you to add a little extra groove to your beats and other melodic elements of your tracks.
Update: once you’ve read this article be sure to check out our interview with Roger Linn, the inventor of swing.
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Spitfire Audio is a British company founded by two film composers looking to revolutionise sampling.
They set about recording the world’s finest players in the best locations in order to capture samples of unrivalled quality. Used across the music, gaming and film industry, Spitfire has become the go-to for producers and composers looking to add truly authentic sounds to their works.
With offices in Central London and a growing workforce of experienced music, film and recording professionals, their revolution continues.