The Zen of Playing Silence

Jack E

Well-Known Member
I'm currently working up to playing an arrangement of 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', which includes these two bars:


So, I do as I've been taught, and count in quavers, yet getting the start and finish of those two quaver rests right is more awkward than I would have believed possible. And what usually happens is that, if I get the first bar right, the second bar goes wrong - yet when I listen to the piece being played, it sounds so straightforward.

In complete contrast, the first time I heard the arrangement of the theme from 'Game of Thrones' being played, I thought the part where it has that lilting rhythm (as here)

was going to be really tricky to get right - yet, after a minute or so, I was getting it right consistently (well below written tempo, but I was making solid progress on that), and even the fingering turned out to be very simple indeed.

A weird business, this music lark, innit?



Well-Known Member
However much one counts rigidly to meter a passage (and the more rigidly the better, most of the time), there's always an element of feeling the beat intuitively. Your top example is syncopated i.e. featuring a pattern that cuts across some beats - it's difficult to feel because the second bar 'resets' the pattern after only one repetition; if it continued in the pattern of the first bar I wager you'd find it much easier. Try as an experiment playing it with that crotchet rest at the start of the second bar moved to the end of the bar rather than the start - then, although the pattern still cuts across the crotchet beat, you have a continuous sequence of four crotchet+quaver patterns, which feels much more natural than with a little hiatus in the middle as written.

In quite a real sense, advancing as a musician comes down to getting a bigger and bigger library of patterns compiled in your head as familiar - pitch and time being the two obvious variables, but also such attributes as dynamic and timbre too. The GoT motif is easy to intuit because it's a basic triple time one in a bar, a rhythmic set-up we all already know, while you have to put a bit of a 'jazz head' on to properly feel the ALotBSoL bars. Jazzers have a lot to teach regarding the intuiting of difficult rhythms in general - funking around with syncopation is a basic part of their skillset.

Jack E

Well-Known Member
Thank you for your suggestion, Dave - I will give it a try and let you know how it goes.

Oddly enough, one of my favourite pieces, which I play purely for myself, is 'When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful', the old Fats Waller number - and the first time one of my tutors heard me play that whilst warming up, he said, "You're making that swing really nicely - even though you aren't playing at all how it's written!"

He said players who started in either orchestral or brass found it quite tricky to play a piece like that as it's supposed to be played, as their training tends to make them lock solidly onto the beat, so it goes against the grain for them to shift their timing to make it swing.

Having spent 50 years and more getting into rock and blues, making it swing comes very natural to me, and I would find it really awkward to try and play a piece like 'WSTYWonderful', or 'My Very Good Friend the Milkman', and play it without swing! It would feel like trying to walk whilst swinging my arms at a slightly different tempo to my legs . . . :oops:

With best regards,



Active Member
Try clapping/tapping the rhythm to get it into your head before playing it, if you have an electronic metronome, you can set that and clap along to it. Clapping/tapping is a very useful tool in sorting unusual rhythms out


Well-Known Member
Swing playing is all about a solid beat. It just relates to that beat in different ways to the way that a classical music training teaches you to - there's loads of little subtleties that define the differences between genres - or even between bands.


A very well respected brass band conductor once told me that brass bands swing like a row of terraced houses, I think he has a point!

Personally I love a bit of prog rock, and it's definitely helped me swing on the odd occasion I'm asked to, especially when helping out the local Blues Band (Big Train Blues Band).