It is usually said that rock and jazz musics have the strong beats on the even numbered beats (2 and 4 on a typical 4/4) instead of the odd ones (1 and 3).

However, chord changes and bass (whether bass drums or bass notes) typically still occurs on the odd numbered beats.

So what does it mean when people say that the strong beats is on the even?

3 Answers 3


I think they're usually referring to the style of drumming - listen to the first minute of Police - Every breath you take, for instance. The snare drum comes on beats 2 and 4, and you'll find this in lots of pop/rock etc. Reggae is also a clear example of putting rhythm on beats 2 and 4.

You're also right in that most simple chord changes occur at the start of a bar, or exactly half way through, hence the 1 and 3.

So in short, most harmonic changes occur on beats 1 or 3 (or various syncopations around that), but a lot of rock and jazz drumming uses beats 2 and 4. Why? maybe the snare gives a nice call-and-response bouncing off the rhythm of the harmonic instruments...


It means that the strong beats are on 2 and 4. If you can't hear that, then I honestly don't understand why you can't. Perhaps you should compare some recordings of modern rock and R&B to Western classical music, Mexican banda, the waltz, the polka, the foxtrot, and, while you're at it, four-on-the-floor techno dance music, so you can feel the contrast. You should probably also get a teacher to teach you the fundamentals of music.

The rhythm of 4/4 time and strong beats on 2 and 4 comes from ancient traditions in West Africa, and spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel and rock are all evolved from the music of African-Americans, meaning residents of the United States of America. It is also prevalent throughout the New World wherever African immigrants settled.

It has nothing to do with drums, per se, because this strong rhythm is found in a capella singing traditions of African immigrants to the New World and persists to this day.

The musicological term for this is syncopation, which literally means "staggering", because Western musicologists consider this an interruption of the straight Western European rhythm.

Western classical and folk music, meaning that from Western Europe, places the strong beat on the first beat of each measure, and all subsequent beats are less strong. Many kinds of modern music, such as Mexican music, which I'm somewhat familiar with, still uses this Western-European beat. But the African-American syncopation appears in any genre of music that is ultimately influenced by that style.

In rock and pop music based on the style of the USA, it's the snare drum on the 2 and 4 that make what we call the "backbeats" which are the strong beats. The bass drum and the bass guitar don't play the strong beats.

Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music

Any old way you use it

It's got a backbeat, you can't lose it

Any old time you choose it

It's gotta be rock and roll music

If you want to dance with me

--Chuck Berry

  • This has become a really great answer now! – As for syncopation, I don't think this word can be appied to rock backbeats. In classical music, syncopation really has a staggering character, but backbeat is anything but staggering. Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 23:45
  • I have always referred to the rock rhythm as syncopated. I don't think I'm the only one.
    – user1044
    Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 3:14
  • 2
    Technically, 2 and 4 is a type of syncopation, but the word is far more often used to refer to emphasized eighth note offbeats, especially in the jazz context.
    – NReilingh
    Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 4:17

Yes and no. You have to seperate two things here, I'd call them drive and pulse (I just made these names up, I hope they are self-explanatory). In classical music, both are much the same thing, on the odd numbered beats. In rock and jazz, the pulse largely stays on these beats, but the drive is shifted to the even-numbered ones.

I can't really explain in words what I mean by drive. It's what I would automatically clap to when not thinking about it. In rock music, that's almost always 2 and 4. This doesn't seem to be universal, because quite a lot of people tend to clap on 1 on 3 (something that feels just wrong to me). Most rock musicians would rather clap on 2 and 4, certainly anyone who plays drums as claps largely represent the snare drum which is almost invariably on 2 and 4 in rock.

  • Pulse I get. I am not quite sure what you mean by drive. Can you explain a little bit more? Thanks! Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 21:53
  • Hear, hear! I think 'pulse' is a deep sound, 'drive' is high, hence handclapping (which has lots of high) fits there. Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 23:14

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