The basic rock beat is 4/4, so you count 1-2-3-4. And to create the rock rhythm, you have to place the emphasis on the off-beats, which 2 and 4. So it goes like this: one, TWO, three, FOUR. At least that I was taught.

But I personally think this rhythm exist in basically kinds of music. I listen to hip-hop, R&B and pop music and this beat, which is considered a defining characteristic of rock'n'roll, is there. Why is it called ''the rock beat'' then?

  • This might help: youtube.com/watch?v=_jntqBIjVNc
    – NReilingh
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 2:58
  • It's not quite right anyway. In the rock beat, the snare accents are on 2 and 4, and the snare drum happens to be the (at least perceptively) loudest instrument in the band. The other instruments usually don't emphasise 2 and 4 particularly. Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 9:26
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    All the genres you mention are descendants of rock... Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 21:54

9 Answers 9


I think the progression of 2&4 accents in Western (American) popular music probably starts with Swing, Jazz, Big Band where the drummers emphasized these beats and played 2 & 4 with the High Hat.

Next I think this moved over to the snare drum in very early Rock n' Roll and Blues. Once it was on the snare drum, virtually all styles of American popular music using drums feature snare on 2 & 4.

I think calling this a "Rock" beat is probably just a historical nod to the early rock n' roll.

If you ask a drummer for a "Rock" beat you will probably get straight eighths, but if you ask a drummer for a Hip Hop beat you might get swung eighths or swung sixteenths.


The word also has a descriptive character and is not merely a historically appellation. The beat has a rocking feel because the even accents make it syncopated.

From the Macmillan Dictionary: "syncopated sounds or movements emphasize the weak beats instead of the strong beats." The popular notion that TWO and FOUR are the strong, or accented beats is due to the overwhelming success of the rock-n-roll style.

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    The "classical version" of rocking is in 3/4, exemplified by Schubert's Gretchen am Spinrade. Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 3:30

Rock'n'Roll is not least of all a dance with its roots in the somewhat faster Jive. The Jive already has somewhat stronger movement accents on the off-beats (the 1 is a step backward that is immediately reversed so you cannot put weight down at this speed. The off-beats are often sideways direction changes which are much easier to accent than forward/backward reversals).

The Rock'n'Roll doubles down on the Jive by putting an actual kick on the off-beat (cf this video from the 2013 World Dance Sport games Rock'n'Roll finals).

Early Rock'n'Roll performances were largely dancing events, with the kicks being a seminal part of its youth-perverting appeal (it did show off the petticoats).

The percussion went along with the action.

Rhythms are rooted in dancing: even the highly artificial Bach solo partitas for violin (and his orchestra suites) are mostly composed of dances and thus rhythms familiar to the audience.

So the first question to ask yourself with regard to a specific rhythm's history is: was dance a part of its origin? If so, the rhythm section is shaped around it even (or sometimes particularly so) if the dance has become dissociated with the style (take a look at Piazzolla's Tango Nuevo works in concert settings for a newer example).


Why is the ''backbeat'' called the ''rock beat''? ...Why is it called ''the rock beat'' then?

I have not heard that specific phrasing.

Backbeat is just a general description of putting the accent on beats 2 & 4 in 4/4 time rather than the usual accent on beats 1 & 3.

Rock music uses a backbeat. Other styles can use a backbeat too.

Certainly you can refer to a "rock beat" and it would be understood to mean "backbeat." But, I've not heard or read anyone calling "backbeat" instead "the rock beat." It's not a matter of backbeat coming from rock. Historically, it would pre-date rock and roll coming from earlier styles like jump blues.


From my detailed study of Robert Johnson I believe back beat is at the heart of all music made with a drum kit. Rock, blues, reggae, jazz and so on. The Muso who swings is phrasing their performance around the regular snare beats on 2 & 4. This puts the instrument's melodic rythym in cross rythym with the harmony and generates the rhythmic feel of the genre. It also helps the listener know where they ar, hence Chuck Berry's line "you can't loose it". Head bangers phrase their music around the first beat of the bar. Just listen to how B B King sits on the snare beat.


Original rock'n'roll performances were drummerless. That backbeating rhythm emanated from a guitarist, pianist or (occasionally) the brass instrument(s) or organ or even the vocalist(s). The subsequent reliance on a drummer may have rendered subtleness into obviousness – namely, the rhythm into a beat. But there may be more – it seems that, especially in those early performances, each couple of bars consisted (of the first) of an unwinding, and, (the second) of a rewinding. And this pattern may have come to be interrupted from time to time by breaking down into a whelming stagger or waddle


The 2 4 backbeat originated in the middle east. Playing tambourine to this made folks want to dance. Eventually, it was noticed and then included to create Blues, jazz, B&B and rock and roll. Research the history if you wish.

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    perhaps you could point to a source for this?
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 9:31

Paul McCartney has said that it was easy to write music for The Beatles cuz everything was written for a backbeat. Earlier music didn't use a the developing rock rythmn that Ringo was already drumming: 2/4


I think correctly spoken is "the downbeat" makes for rock and roll (for example monkey man by the Rolling Stones.)

This is not in any way Marching Band music nor even worse "carnaval music" with a dainty keyboard riff of legendarily bad Dire Straits infamy ("Walk of Life.")

In other words there need not be indeed ideally there no "set beat" per se but an "off-putting" meaning "downbeat."

The master of this was Syd Barrett of early Pink Floyd fame who kinda went bonkers as is all too often the norm in not even knowing you've invented an entirely new and beyond belief popular musical form but if you listen to "Interstellar Overdrive" or even "I've got a Bike!" you can really here a guy who's really "playing with the music"(I don't think he was much interested in guitar in the first place) meaning something meant to be literally "off" ... and amazingly for early Pink Floyd "with everyone else being off together!" which just, well...really rocks...meaning you as the observer just kind of stand their and stare at the music which using music as some normative form is supposed to be literally "off putting" but if one goes to an Opera what in fact is the Audience doing? And that would be "well, pretty much sitting there and staring" meaning "right boring, mate!" or "the punch of an Italian Army in World War 2" meaning basically "joke music" that is way into itself.

Anyhow to point out this was no accident look at what came out of Great Britain from the 1960s starting with Syd and it truly was an explosion in ... absolutely Rock'n Roll. (Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Cream, AC/DC, Genesis, Deep Purple, the Who...just on and on and on it went...to include further iterations of Pink Floyd post Syd.)

But again I use as my Rock Standard "Monkey Man" by the Rolling Stones and in the opposite "Day Tripper as NOT ROCK" by the Beatles (with a great start only to turn into a single chord changed 4 bar blues snores-ville append.)

Another Rock Standard is "Travelling Riverside Blues" by Led Zeppelin which again starts with an oddly melodic guitar riff that gets "slammed" by the drummer in all the wrong places...same too with The Who's "Baba O'Riley" so no if you're simply counting "1234" that is not Rock'n Roll meaning not only is there ZERO backing beat but all rhythm is in fact front and center and kind of "battling it out on stage" like the inside of Syd Barrett's mind.

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    It's not clear how this answers the question.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 29, 2021 at 4:40
  • 2
    If you're wondering why the downvotes are here, I think it's mainly because this answer isn't very coherent. There's a lot of references to specific rock songs, and not only this, a lot of these references serve only as negative judgements on certain songs or styles (this is frowned upon by most). Overall it is very hard to decipher the answer to the question above. The good side in all of this is that if you edit this, it has potential to become a much better answer! Welcome to M:P&T, and we hope to see you around!
    – user45266
    Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 5:00

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