How to Play in Swing Rhythm

Swing rhythm has to do with eighth notes 🎵: it is the long-short “lazy” feel you hear in jazz tunes, as well as country, rock, folk and other music styles. Think about the songs Heart and Soul and Happy Birthday; both have eighth notes that “swing” because they are uneven, with a long-short feel. Swing is not notated in your sheet music; the eighth notes 🎵 in a piece meant to be played with swing rhythm look the same as usual 🎵. The word “Swing” is sometimes written as a tempo marking at the beginning of a swing rhythm piece, but sometimes it isn’t 🤪. You need to train your ear👂to tell whether a song is to be played in swing rhythm. You can do this by practicing my swing rhythm exercise below, and by listening to your song on Youtube.com and discerning whether the song uses even eighth notes🎵or eighth notes that swing🎵. Try playing all 12 scales with me, using Swing Rhythm in this video:

How to Play in Swing Rhythm using scales.

Once you get comfortable playing your scales in Swing, you can move on to playing Erie Canal, which is from BOOK 1 of my instructional series called Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul available on Amazon. Watch the video below then Download and Print the Erie Canal free sheet music below the video.


Erie Canal

How to play Swing Rhythm on Erie Canal, from Upper Hands Piano, Book 1 p.71

I hope you find these videos on Swing Rhythm helpful! Swing is one of those mysterious unwritten rules of music theory that isn’t always taught. Someone must explain it to you, or you will never quite understand why Happy Birthday sounds kind of jaunty and uneven.

You might also want to visit this Simple Rhythm Exercise to help you keep a steady beat when alternating between eighth notes and quarter notes, and these Exercises to Help You Play Triplets.

Leave a comment below and tell us about your experiences with Swing Rhythm! I really appreciate comments!! You help others in the community of adult piano students when you ask a question or share an anecdote, so please don’t be shy!

With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano (and Songs of the Seasons), Piano Powered, and The Music Remedy books!

P.S. Amazon has put my Piano Powered, BOOK 2 on a crazy sale ($3.93 instead of $19.95!) I don’t know how long it will last, so click to order now. It is almost the same as my Upper Hands Piano BOOK 2, but altered slightly for younger Adults and Teens:

P.P.S. More free sheet music is on its way August 1st, so be sure to subscribe to this blog in the top right of this page. Thanks!

Exercises to Help You Play Triplets

Rhythm is one of the most difficult music skills to teach and to learn. Last month I posted an exercise to help you keep your eighth notes to exactly twice as fast as your quarter notes. Today I would like to help you play triplets correctly.


Triplets Exercise #1

If you are beginner, Triplets Exercise #1 might be challenging for you. Eighth note triplets subdivide each beat into three equal parts. Click to print the Exercise #1 sheet below, then follow these steps:

  • 1) Play your LH quarter notes along with my video, staying with my beat and listening to the RH triplets.
  • 2) Play your LH quarter notes along with mine, singing “tri-pl-et” or “mu-si-cal”evenly for the triplets.
  • 3) Play your RH triplets along with my video, and see if you can stay with my beat.
  • 4) When you are ready, try playing Ex# 1 with hands together along with my video. FYI, my metronome is set at 50 BPM (beats per minute) if you want to try this exercise on your own.
CLICK on Exercise #1 above to PRINT

Triplets Exercise #2

If you are an intermediate piano player, Triplets Exercise #2 might be challenging for you. Six quarter note triplets spread out evenly and equally over four beats. Click to print the Triplet Exercise #2 sheet below, then follow these steps:

  • 1) Play your LH quarter notes with my video, listening to the sound of the RH quarter note triplets.
  • 2) Sing “tri-pl-et” or “mu-si-cal” for the triplets while your LH plays the quarter notes along with mine.
  • 3) Play just the RH quarter note triplets with mine.
  • 4) After much practice with RH alone, try playing Ex #2 with hands together with the video. (FYI, my metronome is set at 90 BPM). (Note: Beginners might not be ready to play Exercise #2 for quite a while.)
CLICK on Exercise #2 above to PRINT

Triplets appear in music often, so it’s helpful to practice this skill over time, before you encounter it in your music. Be patient with yourself; it can take days, weeks, months or more, to master playing 6 quarter note triplets against 4 quarter notes. It can feel like patting your head while rubbing your stomach! Keep playing with these videos until you can stay with my right and left hands. Often students think they are playing triplets correctly when they are not, so be sure to record yourself playing your triplets with mine to hear if they are aligning properly. Practice this skill at least a few days a week until you can play both exercises on your own, without the video. Once again, record yourself to be sure the triplets are even.

Let us know how you do with this exercise! Please subscribe in the upper right corner ↗️ of this page to get your July free sheet music next weekend!

With love and triplets 🎶, Gaili


P.S. If you are new to this blog, welcome! I am a veteran piano teacher of almost 35 years! I post free sheet music every month, arranged for beginning to intermediate piano students, plus posts like this one to motivate and inform. I have written piano instruction books for older adults (UpperHandsPiano.com), younger adults and teens (PianoPowered.com), Songs of the Seasons piano sheet music books for seasonal classical and popular favorites, and my latest piano/guitar/vocals books called The Music Remedy – sheet music collections to restore and revitalize the spirit. Check out my books on the websites above, or click below to view them on Amazon.com.

Exercises in Thirds

One of the greatest challenges to us piano players is playing our 3, 4 and 5 fingers consecutively. Because of the way tendons are connected in our hands, it’s difficult to play fingers 3 and 4 or fingers 4 and 5 one after another. It can be so frustrating, sometimes we find ourselves avoiding playing with our 4-fingers altogether 😆. These Exercises in Thirds can help you gain more finger agility, if you practice them like this:

Using the PENTASCALES chart, practice Exercise #1 Parallel Motion (Parallel Motion means that your hands are playing the same notes and moving in the same direction) in the C pentascale (a pentascale is the first 5 notes of a major scale), then G, playing through all the rest of the 12 pentascales. Once you can play the Exercise #1 Parallel Motion in all 12 pentascales fairly well, move on to Exercise #1 in Contrary Motion in all 12 pentascales. Contrary Motion means that your hands are playing different notes, moving in opposite directions, but using the same fingering (i.e. both hands are playing fingers 1 – 3, 2 – 4, and 3 – 5 at the same time, but your hands are playing different notes.)

Next, move on to Exercise #2 Parallel Motion in all 12 pentascales. After playing all 12 in parallel motion fairly well, play Exercise #2 in Contrary Motion in all 12. You will have better and deeper brain retention and small motor skill development if you do each part of each exercise in all 12 pentascales (i.e. Exercise #3 in Parallel Motion) before moving on to the next part (i.e. Exercise #3 in Contrary Motion.) Students sometimes like to play all of the exercises in each key at once, but trust me 🙋🏻‍♀️, you will gain greater flexibility if you play each exercise part in all 12 keys before moving on to the next part. Here is Exercise #1 Parallel Motion in C and Db:

Click to Print Exercises in Thirds and the Pentascales chart:

I hope you find these exercises helpful. I like to have my students go back and review these exercises yearly or at least every other year; each time you review them you increase dexterity and finger independence.

How is your spring going so far? Here in Los Angeles it has been an uncharacteristically spring. We haven’t gotten much rain, but I am nevertheless enjoying watching my few vegetables grow in my garden (artichokes, corn, tomatoes and collards). What are you growing in your garden? Or are you planting seeds for new ideas or new summer projects? Please leave a comment and tell us what you are playing on the piano, what you are composing, or what seeds you are planting for new growth in your life. I do hope that you have been vaccinated and are enjoying increased in-person connections with loved ones.

With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul