Below are some two-part rhythmic frameworks I made up. I'm not notating pitches on staff, because I just want to focus on rhythm and meter, but I put some chord symbols in the 'bass' part to set a basic harmonic context.

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The first two are straight forward using even divisions and emphasizing strong beats 1 and 3.

The third uses an uneven division. Is there a name for this? Syncopation, because it emphasizes the weak fourth beat? It's kind of like a feminine ending, but it isn't necessarily a cadence.

The fourth one is where my main question lies. In measure 2 the chord change is at beat 2 and then the chord is repeated with a half note on beat 3. Should I consider the emphasis to be on beat 2 or 3? Is this syncopation? Is it just a poorly articulated phrase in 4/4 meter?

I guess I'm trying to develop some confidence about when I am syncopating deliberately or I have a bad sense of rhythm & meter.

4 Answers 4


I would not call any of your examples syncopation. Although the examples you point to is a note on the weak beat, it is still on a beat.

Syncopation is when the the start of the notes played is not on the ground beat. For example if it starts with an eight rest and then quarter notes where each hang over to the next beat, and finally resolves via an eight not into the next beat.

In this example, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th notes are syncopated:

R: Syncopated
L: 1/4
A/2 B c (B/2 | B/2) A/2 B c2 ]

You said you are afraid to fall into bad rythm. To that I would say that you should be confident with steady beat first. Then start to play around with more advanced beats. When you are confident with "standard" rythms, you can do more experimenting with shuffling around the beats, and introduce syncopation and other stuff. At the end, you should just listen to what you create, and if it sounds cool, it is good - no matter if it conforms to any rules. If everything you do are limited to standard rules, you end up with boring music. Just make sure you have some basic structure, so that your experimenting has some solid ground to stand on so that it does not fall apart completely. To get this working good, you will have to try and fail a lot, and eventually when you become more experienced, you will create good music.


Both 3 and 4 are basic versions of syncopation and there is nothing wrong with the placement of your chords. I say basic because the effect is stronger if the displacement is in quavers or semiquavers (eighth or sixteenth notes).


With stuff like this, it could be written out in two ways - as you have, keeping to the common time, and easy to read and count, but putting emphasis on certain parts of the bar, not always the tried and tested 1 and 3.

Or - for your last example, write the first bar in 5/4 and the next in 3/4. This will work because the first bar will then contain all I chords, and the second has the changes. However, it depends what comes next, so you could end up having a change in time sig every bar - not that easy to read, but naturally putting the emphases where you want them.

Probably stick with the former, and you could put marks which make the reader emphasise certain parts of a bar. Syncopation is more than merely shifting the emphasis by a crotchet beat; it's often a push note before the emphasis is expected, like a quaver at the end of a bar tied to the first note of the next.


Syncopation is when the accented notes dont come on a beat. That's different to (say) emphasising 2 & 4 rather than 1 & 3 in a 4/4 tune. But don't worry too much about labelling things!

  • Well golly, backbeat=a syncopation must be a pretty widely-held misapprehension: newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Syncopation Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 20:17
  • Yup. But a backbeat is so common in today's music (and has been for the last 100-odd years) that it barely counts as a syncopation. That article casts the net pretty wide. I'm surprised it doesn't also include the Viennese Waltz with its anticipated second beat in the bar.
    – Laurence
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 21:25
  • Ah. So you're saying Two is the new One? Hmm. It is true that 'An der schönen balun Donau' is unlikely to get Stevie Wonder's toes a-tappin' to any great extent. Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 0:11

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