Swing vs Bebop

Question by Ed
(Kansas City)

Hi Marc,

First off, I like your amiable approach to teaching jazz guitar. I think you welcome a wide range of players interested in the style. It’s not easy–I’m still in the hobbyist/intermediate level–but I enjoy trying to figure out this music.

Is there a distinct melodic difference (single or chordal lines) between swing era styles of guitar (Charlie Christian, Django, Oscar Moore, etc) versus players who began thriving in the bebop era (Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, etc) and beyond? If I hear a jazzer playing octaves with his thumb, then I definitely think of Wes and bebop and his era of playing, but how about other examples.

Are the melodic differences based on the chord and rhythm ideas popular in these eras…1930s-40s classic swing comping (four-to-the-bar) vs Latin and more exotic/odd time signitures that may have been explored after the dawn of bebop?

Look forward to your perspectives. Thanks for sharing the material in your videos and on this site!

-Ed Schlittenhardt
Kansas City

M-A’s Answer:

Hello Ed,

Thanks for your question. It’s a nice one! Please watch this video to have “my perspective” on these things:

Please, let me know if you have any questions and post them below in the comments.


Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a Real Teacher”


Old Comments for Swing vs Bebop

Aug 29, 2012
swing vs bebop
by: andy

Thanks Marc (and Ed for starting the thread). That’s a great explanation of the harmonic and stylistic differences between swing and bop. The difference I seem to notice most in bop style playing is due to the faster tempos. At a certain speed the swing feel (rhythmic, upbeat flavored feel) disappears. So, there can be long periods where the improvised lines ‘drive’ the tune. Devices like playing ahead of the beat create additional tension.

I see the devices we’ve discussed as being an evolution from swing, which was an evolution from the straighter styles that existed prior.

And, yes, I think it is difficult if players approach a tune with different feels. It is hard to play together and generally requires someone to give up ground and play more one way or the other — a skill in itself.

Thanks for posting these comments and if you’re in or around New Jersey, check out our website that supports live jazz, NJJazzList.com. -Andy McDonough

May 15, 2012
Ha ha
by: Jenny

You are so right! I think Jonathon Swift was some author guy! Not a swing guitarist as far as I know. 🙂

May 15, 2012
Jonathan Stout
by: Ed

Actually, Jenny meant Jonathan Stout Campus 5. It’s a Los Angeles based swing combo dedicated to Lindy Hop (swing dance) specific music. They’re modeled after those small group jazz bands they would feature soloist like Charlie Christian in Benny Goodman’s Sextet, Artie Shaw’s Gramercy 5 (Barnery Kessel was a member), even Count’s Basie smaller groups and that awesome rhythm section which included Freddie Green…I know this very well since I’ve done years of lindy hopping. Jonathan and company are all about the “authentic” sound of the era.

Anyway, his blog is nice for those seeking the swing guitar comping style and some solo advice, though, I think Marc has done an excellent job of taking lessons further and sharing them on YouTube. I haven’t seen you comp videos, yet, Marc but I bet they expand on what I’m talking about here. Stout has some helpful pdfs with comp exercises. Also, go to http://www.freddiegreen.org/technique.html for some really cool jazz blues rhythm comps and exploration of rhythm comp methods.

I’m fond of swing styles especially when there’s small combo bands that allow for fun soloing and good toe-tapping tempos. I dig bebop, too, and how it expanded on the ideas of swing and blues and allowed musicians to express their ideas. It can feel like it “swings,” plus, it can be very thoughtful and introspective…a lot more arty than it’s predecessors.

May 14, 2012
by: Marc-Andre Seguin (admin)

Thank you Jenny for adding that nice bit. (-:

You’re right on: (I wanted to say, but forgot), that bebop was in fact the start of jazz becoming “an art form”, more intellectual… and sadly less popular and NOT made for dancing. It might seriously be the only genuinely American art form thus far. Jazz. Such a big word. (It’s four-letter too!)

(of course, I also tend to think that Count Basie and the gang really invented the rock and roll sound in a way…not the rebellion and all, but the MUSIC! I saw a VHS tape a while ago, kind of “Count Basic Reunion” of the 1970’s I think. The old mans were all singing “Shake, Rattle and Roll”.)

And yes: Christian, even if he worked mostly with Goodman was amongst the instigator of bebop. I wonder what he’d think of what the music has become in the 50’s! (-:

Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a Real Teacher”

May 14, 2012
Good question!
by: Jenny

Its cool that someone has made this comment. I haven’t looked at Marc-Andre’s answer yet, but I am glad there is some discussion at least. I must be the only poerson I know in New Zealand who wants to learn more in the swing idion than the bebop and post-bop idioms.

Not that I don’t love that music, I do. Kenny Burrell might actually be my favourite guitarist of them all, but I just get a real kick out of dance music, which I think is what is the dividing line. The swing era was about entertainment. Artistic concerns were tempered by commercial concerns, although obviously the great players and bandleaders managed to work them together.

But it changed after the war, yeah? The music changed, and there started being signs saying “no dancing”. It got very serious. And the dance music became R&B, and then rock ‘n’ roll. If you listen to Count Basie, and bands like that, you can hear who invented rock ‘n’ roll.

It seems almost impossible to find teachers or even fans who are dedicated to the pre-bop guitar styles, such as Django and Charlie Christian, and definitely Oscar Moore, and actually I think Eddie Durham and Alan Reuss played some cool stuff too. It’s just a different kind of music. And completely awesome. To me the use of major 6th seems to be a big part of the sound difference, and the 4 in the bar comping thing too.

A good site if anyone is interested in Swing guitar is Jonathon Swift’s Campus Five website, he has a good blog there with some great info, plus a cool link to a brilliant Charlie Christian site.

I realise both Django and, especially, Charlie Christian were also involved in the bebop sound.


May 14, 2012
Swing vs Bebop etc
by: Ed

Thanks for you video reply, Marc!

When you framed it in some technical terms (tempos, arpeggio, linear playing, etc) and historical context (really dug how you equated it to Classical music) it helped me “define” these styles more.

I still think a bebop combo can feel like it “swings” if a (traditional 4/4) rhythm guides it that way. Invite a bebop oriented musician to jam with Swing musicians who revere the style of the 30s and 40s, would it sound off? Maybe. I digress.

I appreciate the insight!

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