Jazz musicians usually learn to play with “swing” phrasing by playing by ear. Classical musicians—who play more from musical scores than by ear—are reported to struggle with producing swing. We explored whether classical musicians play with more swing when performing from more detailed swing notation. Thereby we investigated whether a culturally specific improvisational social procedure can be scripted in detailed music notation for musicians from a different performance background. Twenty classical musicians sight-read jazz tunes from three styles of notation, each with a different level of notational complexity. Experienced jazz listeners evaluated the performances. Results showed that more score-independent classical musicians with strong aural abilities played with equally strong swing regardless of notation; more score-dependent musicians swung most with the medium-complexity classical notation. The data suggest that some higher-level swing features, such as appropriate articulation, event durations, and deviations from a beat sequence can be communicated to a limited extent using written instructions. However, their successful implementation in performance depends on matching instructional complexity to a musician’s skill at decoding and interpreting unfamiliar information. This link between decoding skills and cross-cultural performance makes our findings relevant to ethnological and musicological studies of musical communication processes and perception-action coupling.

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