The example that brought this to mind is Lindsey Stirling's "Darkside". At the beginning of the song, plucked notes are played on what we later find out is on the third triplets, but we have no "context" to let us know that and it sounds like it's actually just on the beat. Only a little later in the song does the actual beat one of the song get revealed, and we realize that the intro was actually not on one.

I'm aware of the term "syncopation" for notes that are not on the beat, I know that applies here. My question is more specifically to the phenomenon of a "fake beat" or basically "pulling out the rug" from someone on where beat one is. Or is that the best general term there is?

I also stumbled on the term "metric modulation" from this answer but it doesn't feel quite right, since the time signature itself isn't changing, just how we hear it.


2 Answers 2


There is an idea called "turning the beat around", which involves establishing a sense of meter but then "revealing (or changing) the real meter" later on. This is not uncommon in jazz, where a soloist will intentionally play against the predominant meter, giving the sense that the downbeat has shifted.

One example, from the world of classical music, is Franz Liszt's "Consolation No. 1", which seems to begin with chords on beats 1 and 3 for a few measures, but these are soon revealed to be beats 2 and 4.

Here is a recording without the score:

And here is one with the score:

Wikipedia has an entry for "Turning the beat around" relating specifically to electronic music.

[Songs] begin with a melodic line that leads the listener to perceive the downbeat as being on the first beat of said melodic line, however, when ensuing lines commence, the pulse reveals itself to be elsewhere. The seminal melodies are only then clearly syncopated, relative to the true pulse.

There is a somewhat related concept called "metrical dissonance", which, simply put, means meters that conflict with one another. One of the core papers on the subject is:

Krebs, Harald. “Some Extensions of the Concepts of Metrical Consonance and Dissonance.” Journal of Music Theory 31, no. 1 (1987): 99–120. https://doi.org/10.2307/843547.

  • 1
    And Krebs explained it more fully in his book Fantasy Pieces, focusing mainly on the music of Robert Schumann.
    – Richard
    Sep 14, 2022 at 11:42
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    According to Vickie Sue Robinson, you do this when you love to hear percussion. :)
    – Barmar
    Sep 14, 2022 at 14:23
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    The opening of the second movement of Dvorak's F minor piano trio youtube.com/watch?v=sXllDeM91SA is an example I’ve always liked, where the fact that the strings are playing triplets isn’t obvious until the piano enters. Version with score: youtube.com/watch?v=nNHncf3SfyU
    – Aant
    Sep 14, 2022 at 15:32

The Gestalt concept comes to mind - although that generally deals with visual ideas, such as the well-known 'Rubin's vase'. That's as close as we can get with the brain being fooled into thinking something is one thing, but it's really another.

However, there's not a term that's been coined with regard to that concept as far as music, and its 'shifting of beats' is concerned.

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