Disclaimer: It's difficult mixing terminology between Western and non-Western musics, but I'll try to make my question as clear as possible.

Western Classical music most often has an accent at the start of a given metrical unit; we call it the downbeat. Although there may be an anacrusis, the metrical accent nevertheless typically aligns with the beginning of a barline. In contrast, the metric structure of Gamelan uses metrical accents to mark the ends of these metrical units.

As an oversimplified example, imagine a string of 16 sixteenth notes. In Western Classical music, a typical metric hierarchy would look something like

x                       x
x           x           x           x     
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12 13 14 15 16

where the number of "x"s indicate the strength of metrical accent.

In Gamelan music, however, a typical metric hierarchy looks more like

                     x                       x
         x           x           x           x
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12 13 14 15 16

(Note that throughout I'm talking about metrical accents that define the meter. I'm not talking about rhythmic or phenomenal accents like syncopations, etc.)

The Question

What other cultures metrically accent the ends of units?

And a bonus question, if this even exists: are there cultures that metrically emphasize something other than the beginning or end?

  • I'm a bit confused as to the usage of 'phrase' and 'unit' here, and the way they seem to be used interchangeably. by 'unit' do you mean something similar to what would normally be called a 'bar'? Aug 12, 2016 at 17:23
  • As an illustration of my confusion : Imagine a string of 16 sixteenth notes. In Western music, the metrical accent will be on the first sixteenth note to mark the beginning of the unit - even with really 'straight' accentation (say, in 4/4), that would only be the case if the first note fell on (say) the first beat of the bar. Aug 12, 2016 at 17:24
  • By "unit" I just mean some upper level of hierarchy equal or greater than what we would normally call a "bar." The reason I switch terms around is just because I don't know enough about gamelan music to know what to call it!
    – Richard
    Aug 12, 2016 at 17:25
  • I'm just thinking if modelled in Western terms, and assuming (say) straight 4/4 accenting, you'd normally assume that if you had 15 weak notes followed by a strong note, that you'd think of the strong note as the bar boundary. So I'm wondering why it can't be seen as the beginning of a 'unit' in Gamelan music, even if it's the end of a phrase. I realise this may be showing my own ignorance of Gamelan. Aug 12, 2016 at 17:29
  • I'm not sure this is really a strict dichotomy, Richard. We have a notational convention of placing strong beats immediately after the bar line, but strong beats at the beginning of a phrase are only one of the rhythmic possibilities available. Phrases that start with an anacrusis, even 15/16 worth of anacrusis, are not uncommon, and phrases that end on a strong beat are as common as dirt, especially at section and movement ends.
    – user16935
    Aug 16, 2016 at 19:56

1 Answer 1


Rock, pop, and rhythm and blues often emphasize the second and last beat. This emphasis also serves as a backdrop to funk (more below). Reggae has an even heavier emphasis on the same beats often accompanied with an offbeat emphasis.

Regarding the bonus question, jazz emphasizes the offbeat and in the jazz "subculture" the band leader typically counts in by snapping the fingers of one hand on the offbeat. In contrast, funk emphasizes the first beat together with "in the pocket" usually expressed as a few select notes from a shuffle pattern while leaving out (some) dotted notes. It might be a stretch to say that these examples belong to a specific culture, but all these genres are ultimately of African-American origin.

What these examples have in common is often multiple layers of emphases from different instruments. In this regard, these modern genres are rather polyrhytmic than homorhythmic. In postclassical contemporary art music, polyrhytms take this concept to the extreme. They are most common in minimalistic (or more specifically "postminimalistic") works, which originated mainly in New York during the 1960s.

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