In music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

, syncopation includes a variety of rhythm
Rhythm may be generally defined as a "movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions." This general meaning of regular recurrence or pattern in time may be applied to a wide variety of cyclical natural phenomena having a periodicity or...

s which are in some way unexpected in that they deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak but also powerful beats
Beat (music)
The beat is the basic unit of time in music, the pulse of the mensural level . In popular use, the beat can refer to a variety of related concepts including: tempo, meter, rhythm and groove...

 in a meter
Meter (music)
Meter or metre is a term that music has inherited from the rhythmic element of poetry where it means the number of lines in a verse, the number of syllables in each line and the arrangement of those syllables as long or short, accented or unaccented...

Pulse (music)
In music and music theory, the pulse or tactus consists of beats in a series of identical yet distinct periodic short-duration stimuli perceived as points in time occurring at the mensural level...

). These include a stress
Accent (music)
In music, an accent is an emphasis placed on a particular note,either as a result of its context or specifically indicated by an accent mark.Accents contribute to the articulation and prosody of a performance of a musical phrase....

 on a normally unstressed beat or a rest
Rest (music)
A rest is an interval of silence in a piece of music, marked by a sign indicating the length of the pause. Each rest symbol corresponds with a particular note value:The quarter rest may also be found as a form in older music....

 where one would normally be stressed. "If a part of the measure that is usually unstressed is accented, the rhythm is considered to be syncopated."

More simply, syncopation is a general term for a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm; a placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur.

Syncopation is used in many music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

al styles, and is fundamental in African
Music of Africa
Africa is a vast continent and its regions and nations have distinct musical traditions. The music of North Africa for the most part has a different history from sub-Saharan African music traditions....

-derived styles such as ragtime
Ragtime is an original musical genre which enjoyed its peak popularity between 1897 and 1918. Its main characteristic trait is its syncopated, or "ragged," rhythm. It began as dance music in the red-light districts of American cities such as St. Louis and New Orleans years before being published...

, jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

, jump blues
Jump blues
Jump blues is an up-tempo blues usually played by small groups and featuring horns. It was very popular in the 1940s, and the movement was a precursor to the arrival of rhythm and blues and rock and roll...

, funk
Funk is a music genre that originated in the mid-late 1960s when African American musicians blended soul music, jazz and R&B into a rhythmic, danceable new form of music. Funk de-emphasizes melody and harmony and brings a strong rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums to the foreground...

, reggae
Reggae is a music genre first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s. While sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to most types of Jamaican music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that originated following on the development of ska and rocksteady.Reggae is based...

, rap
Hip hop music
Hip hop music, also called hip-hop, rap music or hip-hop music, is a musical genre consisting of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted...

, progressive electronic dance music, progressive rock
Progressive rock
Progressive rock is a subgenre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of a "mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility." John Covach, in Contemporary Music Review, says that many thought it would not just "succeed the pop of...

, progressive metal
Progressive metal
Progressive metal is a subgenre of heavy metal originating in the United Kingdom and North America in the late 1980s...

, breakbeat
In 1992, a new style called "jungalistic hardcore" emerged, and for many ravers it was too funky to dance to. Josh Lawford of Ravescene prophesied that the breakbeat was "the death-knell of rave" because the ever changing drumbeat patterns of breakbeat music didn't allow for the same zoned out,...

, drum'n'bass, samba
Samba is a Brazilian dance and musical genre originating in Bahia and with its roots in Brazil and Africa via the West African slave trade and African religious traditions. It is recognized around the world as a symbol of Brazil and the Brazilian Carnival...

, baião
The baião is a Northeast Brazilian rhythmic formula that became the basis of a wide range of music. Forró, côco, and embolada are clear examples...

, ska
Ska |Jamaican]] ) is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues...

, and dubstep
Dubstep is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in south London, England. Its overall sound has been described as "tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals"....

. "All dance music makes use of syncopation and it's often a vital element that helps tie the whole track together". In the form of a back beat
Beat (music)
The beat is the basic unit of time in music, the pulse of the mensural level . In popular use, the beat can refer to a variety of related concepts including: tempo, meter, rhythm and groove...

, syncopation is used in virtually all contemporary popular music
Popular music
Popular music belongs to any of a number of musical genres "having wide appeal" and is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional music, which are typically disseminated academically or orally to smaller, local...


Syncopation has been an important element of musical composition since at least the Middle Ages. Bach
Bạch is a Vietnamese surname. The name is transliterated as Bai in Chinese and Baek, in Korean.Bach is the anglicized variation of the surname Bạch.-Notable people with the surname Bạch:* Bạch Liêu...

 and Handel
George Frideric Handel
George Frideric Handel was a German-British Baroque composer, famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. Handel was born in 1685, in a family indifferent to music...

 used syncopated rhythms as an inherent part of their compositions; Haydn for the sake of variety. Syncopation was used by Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert
Franz Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer.Although he died at an early age, Schubert was tremendously prolific. He wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies , liturgical music, operas, some incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music...

, especially in their symphonies, for both purposes. For some musical styles, such as jazz and ragtime, syncopation is an essential part of their character. Hungarian Csárdás song-dances are always syncopated. The "Scotch snap" of Scotland also feature syncopation.

Syncopation can also occur when a strong harmony
In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches , or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic...

 is placed on a weak beat, for instance when a 7th-chord is placed on the second beat of 3/4 measure or a dominant is placed at the fourth beat of a 4/4 measure. The latter frequently occurs in tonal cadences in 18th and early 19th century music and is the usual conclusion of any section. A hemiola
In modern musical parlance, a hemiola is a metrical pattern in which two bars in simple triple time are articulated as if they were three bars in simple duple time...

 can also be seen as one straight measure in 3 with one long chord and one short chord and a syncope in the measure thereafter, with one short chord and one long chord: 3 ≥ . | . ≥ | Usually, the last chord in a hemiola is a (bi-)dominant, and as such a strong harmony on a weak beat, hence a syncope.

Types of syncopation

Technically, "syncopation occurs when a temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent occurs, causing the emphasis to shift from a strong accent to a weak accent." "Syncopation is," however, "very simply, a deliberate disruption of the two- or three-beat stress pattern, most often by stressing an off-beat, or a note that is not on the beat."

Cognitively, Temperley argues that most accurately syncopation can be described as involving "displacement; in a syncopation, an accent that belongs on a particular strong beat is shifted or displaced to a weak one."

Missed-beat syncopation

Syncopation itself may look as simple as follows, involving the addition of a rest:

This is an example of the missed beat type of syncopation, in which a rest (silence) is substituted for an expected note. This can occur on any beat in a measure. "The natural stress of the meter has been disrupted – ONE-two-(three)-FOUR, which is strange, because we want to keep hearing that nonexistent quarter note that would carry the downbeat in the middle of the measure." This type of syncopation creates tension in a musical piece.


This may be thought of as a suspension, as in the following example, with two points of syncopation where the third beats are carried over (sustained) from the second beats rather than missed. In the same way, the first beat of the second bar is carried over from the fourth beat of the first bar.

Though syncopation may be highly complex, dense or complex looking rhythms often contain no syncopation. The rhythm, though dense, stresses the regular downbeats, 1 & 4 (in 6/8):

However, whether it's a placed rest or an accented note, any point in a piece of music that moves your perspective of the downbeat is a point of syncopation because it's shifting where the strong and weak accents are built."

"Even-note" syncopation

For example, in meters with even numbers of beats (2/4, 4/4, etc.), the stress normally falls on the odd-numbered beats. If the even-numbered beats are stressed instead, the rhythm is syncopated. Accordingly, the former implies duple meter (1212) while the latter implies quadruple meter (1234).

Off-beat syncopation

The stress can shift by less than a whole beat so it falls on an off-beat
Beat (music)
The beat is the basic unit of time in music, the pulse of the mensural level . In popular use, the beat can refer to a variety of related concepts including: tempo, meter, rhythm and groove...

, as in the following example where the stress in the first bar is shifted back by an eighth note
Eighth note
thumb|180px|right|Figure 1. An eighth note with stem facing up, an eighth note with stem facing down, and an eighth rest.thumb|right|180px|Figure 2. Four eighth notes beamed together....

 (or quaver):

Whereas the notes are expected to fall on the beat:

Playing a note ever so slightly before, or after, a beat is another form of syncopation because this produces an unexpected accent:

Anticipated bass

Anticipated bass is a bass
Bass note
In music theory, the bass note of a chord or sonority is the lowest note played or notated. If there are multiple voices it is the note played or notated in the lowest voice. While the bass note is often the root or fundamental of the chord, it does not have to be, and sometimes one of the other...

 tone that comes syncopated shortly before the downbeat, which is used in Son montuno
Son montuno
The son montuno is a style of the Cuban son, but exactly what it means is not an easy question to answer. The son itself is the most important genre of Cuban popular music. In addition, it is perhaps the most flexible of all forms of Latin-American music...

 Cuban dance music. Timing can vary, but it usually falls on the 2+ as well as the 4 of the 4/4 time, thus anticipating the third and first beats. This pattern is commonly known as the Afro-Cuban bass tumbao
In music of afro-Cuban origin, tumbao refers to the basic rhythm played on the tumbadoras and the bass.- Drum Pattern :The basic tumbao pattern is played on the conga the drum is struck on every 8th-beat in the measure in the following sequence:...



Richard Middleton
Richard Middleton (musicologist)
Richard Middleton FBA is Emeritus Professor of Music at Newcastle University in Newcastle upon Tyne. He is also the founder and co-ordinating editor of the journal Popular Music.-Education:...

 suggests adding the concept of transformation
Transformation (music)
In music, a transformation consists of any operation or process that may apply to a musical variable in composition, performance, or analysis. Transformations include multiplication, rotation, permutation In music, a transformation consists of any operation or process that may apply to a musical...

 to Narmour's prosodic rules which create rhythmic successions in order to explain or generate syncopations. "The syncopated pattern is heard 'with reference to', 'in light of', as a remapping of, its partner."
He gives examples of various types of syncopation: Latin, backbeat, and before-the-beat. First however, one may listen to the audio example of stress on the "strong" beats, where expected:

Latin equivalent of simple 4/4

This unsyncopated rhythm is shown in the first measure directly below:

The third measure depicts the syncopated rhythm in the following audio example in which the first and fourth beat are provided as expected, but the accent unexpectedly lands in between the second and third beats, creating a familiar "latin rhythm":

Backbeat transformation of simple 4/4

The accent may be shifted from the first to the second beat in duple meter (and the third to fourth in quadruple), creating the backbeat rhythm familiar in rock drumming beatbox stereotypes:

Different crowds will "clap along" at concerts on either 1 & 3 or 2 & 4, as above.

"Satisfaction" example

Before-the-beat phrasing, combined with backbeat transformation of a simple repeated trochee
A trochee or choree, choreus, is a metrical foot used in formal poetry consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one...

, which gives the phrasing of "Satisfaction
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
" Satisfaction" is a song by the English rock band The Rolling Stones, released in 1965. It was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and produced by Andrew Loog Oldham. Richards's throwaway three-note guitar riff — intended to be replaced by horns — opens and drives the song...

", recommended for its syncopation:

See also

  • Syncopation (dance)
    Syncopation (dance)
    The terms syncopation and syncopated step in dancing are used in two senses:#The first one matches the musical one: stepping on an unstressed beat...

  • Anacrusis
    In poetry, an anacrusis is the lead-in syllables, collectively, that precede the first full measure.In music, it is the note or sequence of notes which precedes the first downbeat in a bar. In the latter sense an anacrusis is often called a pickup, pickup note, or pickup measure, referring to the...

  • Counting (music)
    Counting (music)
    In music, counting is a system of regularly occurring sounds that serve to assist with the performance or audition of music by allowing the easy identification of the beat. Commonly, this involves verbally counting the beats in each measure as they occur...

  • Tonsilabo
    A tonsilabo is a syllable describing a tone of a certain relative frequency. Tonsilabos are used for writing or typing music in the form of text, as an alternative to music notation by design .-History:...


External links

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