All Blues – how to play sixteen notes in 6/8 time

Question by Per

All Blues

1) How do you play the sixteen notes in the tune All Blues 6/8 time?

2) Can the sixteen notes in 6/8 have a swing and a straigt feel?

Per Nielsen -Denmark

M-A’s Answer:

Hello Per, this is a good question.

When counting the pulse to the bar of 6/8 (one – two – three – four – five – six – etc.) all we have to do to get eight-notes is play one note in between each counted numbers (one and – two and – three and – etc.) This can, of course, be swung. It is very swinging on the original recording! (Miles Davis, Kind of Blue)

Now for sixteenths: just divide this in two equal parts again … count one ta ka ta – two ta ka ta – three etc. always making sure that the counted numbers fall at the same place as they did when we spoke out the original pulse numbers (one – two – tree – etc.)

So, depending on the 6/8 tempo, this might get pretty fast. Dividing a pulse into four equal parts gets tricky (for me) past the 100 bpm mark. If I were to practice playing those sixteenths on the tune All Blues, as you said, I would start at a very slow 6/8 and attempt to be rhythmically accurate in the lines I’d play.

However, even if I don’t recall sitting down to practice precisely this idea, it may happen that I play 16th-notes in 6/8 or 3/4 while performing: it could sort of “flow out” in improvisation (provided I’m comfortable in the context, with a solid rhythm section).

To answer you second question: well, it depends on how you describe “swing”. As you understand, there’s an upper limit to which we can subtly have that “triplet feel”, say a delayed upbeat 8th-note (a shuffle), and still have it “sound like this”. Past a certain tempo, all the notes we play become evenly placed, in a way.

For example, if you played on a Jazz ballad around 50 bpm, you could certainly phrase 16th-notes in a swinging (triplet-feel, shuffle, …) fashion. It winds up being swung 8th-notes at 100 bpm. However, if you played on a medium up tunes, say around 180 bmp, and start playing 16th-notes … probably no one can tell if you are trying to “shuffle” or not. The notes are too close to one another for the human ear to tell the difference.

So, you see, there’s a certain tempo in between 50 and 360 bpm (I don’t know which one) where we lose track of wether notes are “swing” or “not swing”. In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter. (-:

So, the same applies to sixteenth-notes in 6/8. The faster it gets, the more blurry.

I hope this helps,

Marc-Andre Seguin

The wording we use in english (sixteenth-notes) just does not fit a ternary time signature! In 4/4, we see that we have sixteen sixteenth-notes to a bar, which make sense … but not in 3/4. That’s why I prefer the French words “croche” and “double-croche”.

Anyways: that was my “music terminology” commentary. (-:

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