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 Oct 10 '13 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. – leftaroundabout Oct 10 '13 at 9:26
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    All the genres you mention are descendants of rock... – Ulf Åkerstedt Oct 10 '13 at 21:54

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.

  • The "classical version" of rocking is in 3/4, exemplified by Schubert's Gretchen am Spinrade. – luser droog Aug 11 '14 at 3:30

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


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).


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.


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 Feb 23 '17 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

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