In music, syncopation includes a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected in that they deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak beats in a meter (pulse). These include a stress on a normally unstressed beat or a rest 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." [Benward & Saker (2003). "Music: In Theory and Practice", Vol. I, p.12. Seventh Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.]

Syncopation is used in many musical styles, if not all, and is fundamental in such styles as funk, ska, reggae, ragtime, rap, jump blues, jazz and often in dubstep, heavy metal, and classical music. "All dance music makes use of [syncopation] and it's often a vital element that helps tie the whole track together"Snoman, Rick (2004). "Dance Music Manual: Toys, Tools, and Techniques", p.44. ISBN 0240519159.] . In the form of a back beat, syncopation is used in virtually all contemporary popular music.

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." [Reed, Ted (1997). "Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer", p.33. ISBN 0882847953.] "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."Day, Holly and Pilhofer, Michael (2007). "Music Theory For Dummies", p.58-60. ISBN 0764578383.]

Cognitively, Temperley [Temperley, David (1999). "Syncopation in Rock: A Perceptual Perspective". Source: "Popular Music", Vol. 18, No. 1, (Jan., 1999), pp. 19-40. Published by: Cambridge University Press. Stable URL: Accessed: 26/05/2008 17:33] argues that most accurately syncopation 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 [Harvard reference
Surname=van der Merwe
Title=Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music
Publisher=Clarendon Press
] . This can occur on any beat in a measure. "The natural stress of the meter has been disrupted -- ONE-two-(three)-FOUR, which is weird, because we want to keep hearing that nonexistent quarter note that would carry the downbeat in the middle of the measure."


This may be thought of as a suspension, as in the following example with two points of syncopation, the third beats which are sustained rather than missed:

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 "carefully placed rest or an accented note...any point of a piece of music that moves your perspective of where the downbeat is 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. However, the former implies duple meter (1212) while the latter implies quadruple(1234).

Off-beat syncopation

The stress can shift by less than a whole beat so it falls on an "off-beat", as in the following example where the stress in the first bar is shifted back by an eighth note (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 Fact|date=May 2008 is a bass tone that comes syncopated shortly before the downbeat, which is used in Son montuno Cuban dance music. Timing can vary, but it usually comes less than an eighth note before the first and third beats in 4/4 time.


Richard Middleton Middleton (1990/2002). "Studying Popular Music", p.212-13. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.] suggests adding the concept of transformation to Narmour's [Narmour (1980). p.147-53. Cited in Middleton (1990/2002), p.212-13.] 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 unexpected 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, which gives the phraseology of "Satisfaction", recommended for its syncopation:

yncopation in dance music

In trance music the bass falls between the beat (one &), while the kick drum falls on the beat.

In the University of Wyoming Fight Song, "Ragtime Cowboy Joe", "On a horse - a pretty good horse! - That is syncopated gaited", so Joe's horse must forget to take a step every now and again.

ee also

* Syncopation (dance)
* Anacrusis
* Counting (music)


*Seyer, Philip, Allan B. Novick and Paul Harmon (1997). "What Makes Music Work". Forest Hill Music. ISBN 0-9651344-0-7.


External links

* [ Syncopation in Dance and Music]
* [ On syncopation (in Dutch)]

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  • Syncopation — Syn co*pa tion, n. 1. (Gram.) The act of syncopating; the contraction of a word by taking one or more letters or syllables from the middle; syncope. [1913 Webster] 2. (Mus.) The act of syncopating; a peculiar figure of rhythm, or rhythmical… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • syncopation — 1530s, contraction of a word by omission of middle sounds, from M.L. syncopationem (nom. syncopatio) a shortening or contraction, from syncopare to shorten, also to faint away, to swoon, from L.L. syncope (see SYNCOPE (Cf. syncope)). Musical… …   Etymology dictionary

  • syncopation — [siŋ΄kə pā′shən, sin΄kə pā′shən] n. 1. a syncopating or being syncopated 2. syncopated music, a syncopated rhythm, etc. 3. Gram. SYNCOPE …   English World dictionary

  • syncopation — /sing keuh pay sheuhn, sin /, n. 1. Music. a shifting of the normal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats. 2. something, as a rhythm or a passage of music, that is syncopated. 3. Also called counterpoint, counterpoint rhythm …   Universalium

  • syncopation — [[t]sɪ̱ŋkəpe͟ɪʃ(ə)n[/t]] syncopations N VAR Syncopation is the quality that music has when the weak beats in a bar are stressed instead of the strong ones. There was some nice syncopation and it had a good swing to it... It was jazz music he… …   English dictionary

  • syncopation — UK [ˌsɪŋkəˈpeɪʃ(ə)n] / US noun [countable/uncountable] Word forms syncopation : singular syncopation plural syncopations music a type of musical rhythm in which the weak beats are emphasized instead of the strong beats …   English dictionary

  • syncopation — syncopate ► VERB (usu. as adj. syncopated) ▪ (of music or a rhythm) having the beats or accents displaced so that strong beats become weak and vice versa. DERIVATIVES syncopation noun. ORIGIN from SYNCOPE(Cf. ↑syncope) …   English terms dictionary

  • Syncopation (disambiguation) — Syncopation may have the following meanings. *Syncopation, in music, the stressing of a normally unstressed beat in a bar or the failure to sound a tone on an accented beat. *Syncopation (dance), a specific usage of the term in dance. *… …   Wikipedia

  • Syncopation (dance) — The terms syncopation and syncopated step in dancing are used in two senses: #The first one matches the musical one: stepping on (or otherwise emphasizing) an unstressed beat. For example, ballroom Cha cha is a syncopated dance in this sense,… …   Wikipedia

  • syncopation — noun Date: 1597 1. a temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent in music caused typically by stressing the weak beat 2. a syncopated rhythm, passage, or dance step • syncopative adjective …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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