Big Band Technique

To properly play the Big Band technique, a musician needs to keep the following in mind:

  • Latin tunes are played ‘straight’ – never swing the eighth notes.
  • Most waltzes are played in a legato style, where each note flows into the next.
  • Dynamics make the songs more interesting to the listener.  The musician needs to exagerate the dynamics for the audience to hear them.   A band that only plays loud gives the audience a ‘tin ear’ real fast!

Tempos are to be steady throughout the song and paced for the dancers …

  • Fox Trots are usually around 120 – 126 beats per minute
  • Waltz tunes come in two varieties, regular (108 bpm) and Viennese (120 bpm)
  • Polkas move along at 130 – 136 bpm cut time (unless there are no dancers … then watch out!)
  • Cha cha’s, Tangos, Rumbas should all be at 126 bpm
  • Triple swings should be at 136 bpm

Accents and note markings also make the music ‘pop’. 

  • The staccato mark (dot over the note) means the time duration of the note is cut in half.
  • The accent mark (  <  ) means that the start of the note should be stressed or more pronounced.
  • The martellato mark (  ^  ) is the combination of the staccato and the accent.  The note is half the usual value and is sharply attacked.   Martellato is from the Italian word for “hammered”.   Imitate the sound of a hammer-blow to correctly play the martellato.
  • The “sf” marking, sforzato, under or above a note means the note should be attacked strongly, then immediately softened, then rebuilt to forte over the second half of the note value.