Lessons in Order
Lessons by Topic
Lesson 42: SyncopationThis lesson explains syncopation, a rhythm technique that's used heavily in pop music. You'll need to understand syncopation to understand the examples in Lesson 44: Hook Melodies.
Before taking this lesson, you should know how to read rhythms, including:
A rhythm is syncopated when it emphasizes a note on an "off-beat" fraction of a beat, rather than on a neighboring beat. Here's an obvious (and extreme) example of a syncopated rhythm:
In the above example, there is a note on every "and" (the half-beats or "pluses"), but no note is struck on beats 2, 3, or 4.
Syncopations appear occasionally in "classical" music. However, syncopation is used heavily in all pop music styles (including rock, jazz, etc.), usually in particular "pop music" syncopation patterns. These particular syncopation techniques are one of the key elements which make pop music sound different from classical.
Below we'll explore two important, specific pop music syncopation techniques:
(Note, the word "anticipation" has other meanings in music also. This is about the syncopation technique.)
An anticipation is basically a note that is moved ahead of the beat. You can create an anticipation like this:
Let's demonstrate this with an example, from Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone (see end of lesson for link), Verse 1 (00:16 in the recording). First, here's a simplified, "straight" version of the melody, with the anticipations removed:
Next, we take two "on-beat" notes from the straight version above:
This second version, with the anticipations, is a lot closer to what Dylan actually sings (not exactly what he sings, because he "bends the rhythm"). Play both versions above. See if you agree that:
Anticipation is used all over in pop music. Often, half or more of the notes that could be anticipated, are anticipated.
(Note, "repeated threes" is my own name for this pattern. It's a common pattern, but I haven't seen a common, standard name for it. It's not the same thing as "three against two", or "polyrhythms", or triplets.)
Repeated threes describes any rhythm that emphasizes notes on every third half-beat or every third quarter-beat. Here's a simple example:
The above example emphasizes every third half-beat starting on beat 1, so the emphasized notes are on beats 1, 2½, and 4.
Next, here's a "real song" example of repeated threes. This is the same Like A Rolling Stone example we used above, because one of these notes is anticipated and also in a "repeated three" (this is very common), but now we add V's to show the repeated threes:
The above example emphasizes every third quarter-beat starting on beat 1, so the emphasized notes are on beats 1, 1¾, and 2½.
Some notes about repeated threes:
Repeated threes are common and are a kind of anticipation, but they're not as common as anticipation in general; you may not find repeated threes in every pop song.
Pop music rhythms are often more complicated, and take more practice or skill to count and play, than "traditional" or classical rhythms, because of the syncopation. You can add these activities to your writing exercises (from Lesson 2: Practicing Songwriting):
Go on to Lesson 43: Pentatonic Scales, another concept you'll need to understand the examples in Lesson 44: Hook Melodies.
For Like A Rolling Stone, I used the recording from The Essential Bob Dylan ($1.29 at Amazon as of this writing).