Let's take the Amazing Grace song as example (3/4 rhythm):

A   - maz  -       z    i  n g     Grace       How     Sweet     the
3     1      2     3      3.5      1     2     3       1   2     3   ...
                 Equal durations

If I split each quarter in triplets (3 equal notes per one quarter) it would be transformed in something like this:

A   - maz  -       z      ing     Grace         How     Sweet     the
3     1      2     3      3.6     1      2      3       1   2     3   ...
1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3  1,2    3       1,2,3  1,2,3  1,2,3   ....
                 0.66 + 0.33 durations

Now, taking it one step further, with my left hand on the piano I would do a chop like this:

3/4 Rhythm 1     2     3
  Triplets 1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3
     Piano *-- * *-- * *-- *
    Accent ^     ^     ^

To me this doesn't seem syncopated, because I still keep the accent on the first beats. However, is this syncopation?

How is this technique called?

If the original song is written in 4/4, then using the triplets it's converted int 12/8 (and 3/4 would be 9/8).

I know songs having the same feel, which are originally written in 12/8 or 9/8.

  • Sometimes it's easier to write and read when a song with triplet feel, as in 12/8, is shown in 4/4. There's usually a note (literally!) at the top showing how each 'beat' is divided.
    – Tim
    Feb 7, 2018 at 9:48
  • @Tim I'm not really sure what you mean. I do like this triplet feel, but what I'm unsure is if this rhythm is considered syncopated or not. Feb 7, 2018 at 10:06
  • 1
    Correct answer: "no." Useful answer- see Richard's . Feb 7, 2018 at 12:54

1 Answer 1


Meter is the regular, hierarchical pattern of beats. Syncopation occurs when something in the music creates a competing pattern of beats, typically when these beats are displaced from the overall meter. For instance, instead of 1 & 2 & 3 &, which is the overall meter in 3/4, an example of syncopation would be the displaced 1 & 2 & 3 &; note that the bolded pattern has shifted one eighth note.

In your example, the music still follows a clear 1 2 3 metrical pattern (as you said, you "still keep the accent on the first beats"), so this wouldn't be syncopation. What you've done is change the subdivision of the beats themselves.

3/4 is what we often call "simple meter," meaning each beat divides into two subdivisions. 9/8, however, is what we call "compound meter" since each beat divides into three subdivisions.

You've just converted the song from simple meter to compound meter. I'm not sure there's an official term for this, but "metric conversion" makes sense to me.

Such metric conversion isn't limited to switching between simple and compound meters. Whitney Houston's US National Anthem at Super Bowl XXV was in 4/4 instead of the traditional 3/4.

  • Thanks for this answer! Is what I'm doing related in any way to swing or could easily be considered syncopated if I'd do some other things (which would be them?)? Feb 8, 2018 at 1:59
  • It's loosely related to swing, since the "easy" (but inaccurate!) way to swing is to play eighth notes as triplet figures. As for creating syncopation, it's tough with such a well-known melody. You could move some melodic moments off the beat to create a syncopated feel, or you could syncopate the piano accompaniment. Think of something like Elton John's "Honky Cat," as just one example.
    – Richard
    Feb 8, 2018 at 2:08

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