Jazz Music Structure For Swing Dancers

Screenshot of Music Structure playlist

This post is intended to familiarize you with some of the common structures jazz tunes tend to have. It’s written with the intent that dancers can use them to further connect with the music. Dancers can find many ways to leverage these structures to follow the mood of the song, predict things that will happen and to take a little weight off our lead and follow chops, but, that’s up to you. While this is only a small representation of what you’ll hear coming from a bandstand, it will at least get you listening. Many of you will undoubtedly think of exceptions and counterexamples, or might have a different way of relating these structures. Please feel free to share in the comments. Links to songs are a plus.

32 Bar AABA

– 4 Sections of 8 bars (aka 4 8’s)

– A: 8 bar “phrase” (4 8’s) setting the theme of the song (“The rhythm is jumpin’, jump session… etc”)

– A: 8 bar “phrase” (4 8’s) sounds similar but with perhaps a slightly different end to leading into the B (“The rhythm is jumpin’, jump session… etc”)

– B: 8 bar “phrase” (4 8’s) (aka the bridge) generally a notably different sounding section leading back to the A (“When your feet are flying high… etc”)

– A: 8 bar “phrase” (4 8’s) restating the A and resolving the melody (“The rhythm is jumping… Jump Session… etc”)

(See “Jump Session” through “Coquette” in the playlist)

12 Bar Blues

– 4 bars (2 8’s) setting the theme (“I’ve got a girl who lives up on the hill”)

– 4 bars (2 8’s) often restating a variant on the theme (“Yes. I’ve got a girl who lives up on the hill”)

– 4 bars (2 8’s) resolving the theme (“say’s she wants to quit me”) and leading into the next chorus (“but I love her still.”)

(See “Roll Em Pete” through “Canal Street Blues” in the playlist)

32 Bar AB (aka AA’)

– A: 16 bar (8 8’s) setting the theme of the song but tends to not completely resolve in order to lead into B (“It had to be you…”)

– B: 16 bars (8 8’s) generally will start by repeating the beginning of the A, but generally will have a altered or completely different 2nd half (or so) in order to resolve the theme of the song (“It had to be you…”)

(See “It Had To Be You” through “Indiana” in the playlist)

16 Bar

If you are a fan of gospel music or New Orleans traditional jazz, especially of the 50’s “revival” period, you know this one.

4 bars (2 8’s) setting the theme (“Love. Oh love. Oh Careless Love”)

4 bars (2 8’s) getting into the theme (“You fly through my head like wine”)

4 bars (2 8’s) getting deeper into theme and bringing you back to the resolution… (“You made a wreck of many a poor boy”)

4 bars (2 8’s) resolving the theme (“and you nearly broke this heart of mine”)

(See “Careless Love” through “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” in the playlist)

Some Terms You Might Use, Loosely Defined

The “Chorus”:

– A full run through the main form of the song.

The “Verse”:

– The part of the song that you say “What the heck song is this” until the chorus comes in and you say “Oh this song. That was cool.” Often played with a different speed. It’s often played at the beginning of the song to set a mood but also will get played at any point in the song to create a shift in dynamic. Some songs you will never recognise the verse. Others, like “I’m Crazy About My Baby” are together moreso than not. )”I’m walking on air, for I left all my blue days behind…”)

The “Head” or the “Top”:

– That’s the chorus of the song where the melody or theme is played. A band might play a full chorus of the “head” at the beginning of the song and maybe just play part of it to close off the song… “from the last A”, or “maybe from the bridge”.

Here’s a link to the Apple Music Playlist:


(Some of the songs will probably disappear from there and be eaten by Tim Cook. So I’ve also attached a screenshot of the playlist above.)

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