I've heard a lot on the origin of the backbeat. Some say it came from African voodoo and others say from the Middle East. Where did it actually come from? Also, people say it was expressly made for moving your hips and dancing? But what about folksy Irish songs? Those definitely make you want to dance.

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    Even if the backbeat comes from a motivation for dance, that isn't neccesarily exclusive. There can be more than one type of music that is made the way it's made because of dancing. Apr 8, 2016 at 21:27
  • Look at 'Why is the backbeat called the rockbeat?'
    – Tim
    Apr 9, 2016 at 9:18
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    @ToddWilcox indeed, one can argue that all metrical music owes its existence to dance.
    – phoog
    Aug 27, 2022 at 16:20
  • @phoog Agreed, although marches suggest some rhythms might have martial origins. Aug 27, 2022 at 18:13

1 Answer 1


I don't remember where I read this, but some scholarly music history article traced the back beat to the early 1920s or so and claimed it originated with the country music (then called "hillbilly" to distinguish it from "race" music) guitar strumming patterns. It does seem to be common in US developed music, jazz, country, rock, etc.

Edit: I found a nice reference: http://tagg.org/xpdfs/TamlynPhD2.pdf

This is the appendix to a thesis (now a book) on the origins of the backbeat. I didn't find the book online.

Another article: http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.14.20.2/mto.14.20.2.biamonte.html

  • The first link that you posted (the Tamlyn PhD) is also one that I just came across, except that yours is Part II - Appendices, whereas I found Part I - Chapters (which is the 395 page thesis). Just change the 2 to a 1 in your link, and it should work. Apr 9, 2016 at 18:32
  • Thanks. I noticed the backbeat during the early 1950s. Americans would clap hands on the 2 & 4 counts and Europeans would clap on the 1 & 3 counts. I'd like to find out a bit more about the history. Of course, now people add a backbeat to other patterns.
    – ttw
    Apr 9, 2016 at 20:03

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