I'm trying to figure out the terminology of upbeats and downbeats in regards to a step sequencer. In this image of a 16 step sequencer, each box represents 1/16 of a measure:

enter image description here

Is it correct to say that the kick drums are on the downbeats and the snare drums are on the upbeats?

The reason I ask is because in the definition of boombap rap on wikipedia they say:

The style is usually recognized by a main drum loop that uses a hard-hitting, acoustic bass drum sample on the downbeats, a snappy acoustic snare drum sample on the upbeats.

Now from many tutorials I've seen on boombap/lofi hip-hop the pattern looks the image. And it corresponds to songs that sound like this and like this. Where the "boom" is the kick, and the "bap" is the snare. But I'm not sure if the wiki article is correct in regards to upbeats/downbeats.


I would say the Wiki definition is incorrect in that it describes the snare position as an "upbeat." It's a downbeat, which means it's on one of the four beats to the bar (in 4/4 time). An upbeat can be anything not on one of the four, but it's subjective: In a 16-division bar, one could say divisions 1, 5, 9 and 13 are "down" and everything else is "up." Or one could say that only 3, 7, 11 and 15 are "up" and the the remainder are neither up nor down but just in-between.

The downbeat is usually reserved for the first beat of the bar only. This can be a confusing point -- a vs the downbeat. Keep in mind this is all vernacular -- to be precise you say the "1," the "2", the "3" etc.

I disagree with the other answer stating that an upbeat is only for the pickup to a phrase.

  • Yes. We disagree. The concepts of upbeat and downbeat come from conducting. An upward movement prepares for the downbeat. You could refer to the 4th beat of the first bar as an upbeat, but only as the "upbeat into bar two". Yes - in real life we normally talk about 'beat 2' or 'the second beat'. [In the US I think you do say 'the 1', 'the 2' etc.] In a 16-division bar beats 1, 5, 9 and 13 are ON (not down) and everything else is OFF (not up). Yes, some of it is subjective. What do step sequencers know about 2/2? And if the tempo is really slow. . . . . – Old Brixtonian Dec 3 '19 at 7:37
  • @OldBrixtonian I don't disagree with your comment, but I think the question was asked in the context of vernacular since the OP mentioned boombap rap and a step sequencer, so I tried to be helpful in that respect. If that wasn't the intent then I'm of course mistaken. – mistercoffee66 Dec 4 '19 at 3:17
  • I think you were helpful. – Old Brixtonian Dec 5 '19 at 0:31

SORT OF, yes. But the terminology isn't quite right.

The kick's first note is on beat 1, the downbeat of the bar. Bars only have one downbeat. Its next note is on beat 3 which, like the downbeat, is an on-beat. But it's not a downbeat. The snare plays the two off-beats (on beats 2 and 4).

There are no upbeats in your example. An upbeat is always an upbeat INTO something. It is a pick-up: it happens before the bar. In the song 'Tonight', from West Side Story, "To-" is sung on an upbeat: "-night" on a downbeat. In "O say can you see", "O" is sung on an upbeat: "say" on a downbeat.

You could also say the kick is playing ON the beat and the snare is playing the off-beats.

But as I said, you are SORT OF correct! You have at least got them the right way round :-)

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