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What is the difference between dotted rhythms and syncopated rhythms?

Is there any difference?

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    "Dotted" is very literal: some of the notes have dots. "Syncopated" is broader, a concept. You can have a syncopated rhythm without using any dots. Aug 30, 2023 at 2:49
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    @AndyBonner not all notes with dots are part of a dotted rhythm, however (think compound meter, where the long-short alternation that characterizes "dotted rhythms" is achieved with dotless notes).
    – phoog
    Sep 1, 2023 at 9:27

2 Answers 2

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They are very much different concepts, although they can be linked. A dotted note is a note whose duration is extended by half the original value. A dotted half is by a quarter longer than a regular half, a dotted quarter by an eighth longer, &c.

Now, a sycopation is a stressed note that occurs on an unstressed beat like this

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or starting with early romantic music also between two beats like this:

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Now, there is a link between these as can be seen in the first example: A dotted note is usually expected to be emphasized, so a dotted note on an unstressed beat will usually indicate a syncopation.

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    A dotted note is not expected to be emphasized. There is no implicit accent in the first example. If there were an explicit accent and the tempo was fast enough then it could be regarded as syncopation, but the effect would be the same if it was a half-note. It has nothing to do with the note being dotted.
    – PiedPiper
    Aug 30, 2023 at 19:22
  • @PiedPiper In traditional phrasing concepts that is wrong. Consider for example the dotted note in the famous passage from Beethoven 9: Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus E*lysi*um and replace it by regular 8ths. You will find that with the dotted notes you'd naturally put some emphasis on the ly. And guess what - the first example is a typical syncopation in ternary division used since the 16th century, and is very seldomly notated with an accent.
    – Lazy
    Aug 30, 2023 at 19:46
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    "Elysium" is a bad example, "ly" is emphasized because that's where the emphasis falls in the spoken word, plus Beethoven puts it on the first beat.
    – PiedPiper
    Aug 30, 2023 at 20:12
  • @PiedPiper That is not the point. Compare it to the undotted version.
    – Lazy
    Aug 30, 2023 at 20:53
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    @Dekkadeci What I am saying is that emphasis of the dotted variant is naturally stronger than in the undotted one (Else Freu, Göt, Toch would all have a similar level of emphasis as ly). You can do it yourself: Take dotted passages and compare them with if they were equal length. E.g. take Chopin op. 28/15.
    – Lazy
    Aug 31, 2023 at 8:19
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A dotted rhythm is syncopated, but a syncopation need not be dotted. For example, in 4/4 time, the rhythm 1/8 - 1/4 - 1/4 - 1/4 - 1/8 (notated below) is syncopated — emphasized unexpected parts of the meter — but uses no dotted notes.

Syncopated rhythm without dotted notes

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    Dotted rhythms are not necessarily syncopated. For example. dotted quarter-eighth twice in a 4/4 bar is not syncopated Aug 30, 2023 at 5:11
  • @JohnBelzaguy I believe, in the strict definition, it is, because the emphasis during beat two, for example, is at the "&" rather than on the beat.
    – Aaron
    Aug 30, 2023 at 5:16
  • If the eighth on 2+ is followed by another dotted quarter on 3 like I mentioned (or another note of a different duration for that matter) it is not syncopated. If it were followed by some type of rest then it would be. Aug 30, 2023 at 5:38
  • @JohnBelzaguy Is the same true, then, for a dotted eighth — sixteenth? As long as a note falls on the following beat, it's not considered syncopated?
    – Aaron
    Aug 30, 2023 at 5:52
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    I view a syncopation as a stressing or accentuation of an off beat. The off beats of repeated dotted eighths-sixteenths, like dotted quarters-eighths are not stressed since they are followed by a note that falls on the beat. They seem more ornamental to me. Aug 30, 2023 at 6:49

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