The following fugue subject is from Muffat's 12 Toccatas and 72 Versets...

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My understanding of the broad meaning of syncopation is any rhythm that displaces the sense of regular strong beats.

Additionally, an agogic accent is an accented created through relatively longer notes vales.

So, in 3/4 time, an unsyncopated, regular metrical rhythm might be something like one half note and one quarter note per measure. I suppose dotted half notes in 3/4 would be the most unsyncopated and metrical rhythm.

Anyway, in the first two measures of the example fugue subject relatively short values are used on beats one and longer values on weak beats two or three. The accents of those notes being agogic.

That seems, to me, to mean that the subject's beginning features syncopation. Does that make sense to you?

I figure there are varying levels of syncopation. So something like syncopation on up strokes is very strong, tying or a duration over beats 2 and 3 in 4/4 is more moderate. This fugue subject is fairly moderate syncopation. Beyond a purely academic question, I ask because understanding such subtleties of rhythm in this way helps me understand the character of a piece. This particular fugue subject seems to have certain assertiveness. A tempo a bit on the faster side seems to fit that character.

  • 1
    Hm, seems to revolve around the definition of the word syncopation, and that's hard because it's not a clear-cut technical term, just a general notion. Also, does this count as hemiola? And does hemiola "count as syncopation"? Yes and yes, to me, but I'm not sure how far we get with that... Commented Mar 22 at 19:32
  • @AndyBonner Since this depends on the definition of syncopation there's no clear answer.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Mar 22 at 19:44
  • How syncopated is syncopated? I wouldn't give this as an example of what syncopation means. :) Commented Mar 22 at 20:38
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica I woudn't either except for what I wrote about in my question regarding the meaning and effect of syncopation. Commented Mar 23 at 15:46
  • @Andy Bonner Syncopation is an emphasis on the downbeat any longer notes on the weak part of the beat/pulse is syncopation. I don't know what part of it is not well-defined.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Mar 23 at 15:55

1 Answer 1


Should this fugue subject be regarded as syncopated?

No. It COULD be, marginally. SHOULD is far too strong.

  • What about a rhythm like, in 4/4, quarter note, half, quarter? Is that not syncopation? Commented Mar 26 at 13:50
  • @MichaelCurtis If it was 2/2, barely. In 4/4 everything's dead on the beat.
    – Laurence
    Commented Mar 26 at 15:39

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