AskDefine | Define syncopation

Dictionary Definition



1 (phonology) the loss of sounds in the interior of a word (as in `fo'c'sle' for `forecastle') [syn: syncope]
2 a musical rhythm accenting a normally weak beat
3 music (especially dance music) that has a syncopated rhythm

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Use of rhythmic units or patterns which do not confirm the pulses on a metric level. (DeLone et. al. (Eds.), 1975, chap. 3)



  • DeLone et. al. (Eds.) (1975). Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0130493465, Ch. 3.

Extensive Definition

In music, syncopation includes a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected in that they deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak beats in a meter (pulse). These include a stress on a normally unstressed beat, or a missing (unplayed) beat (a rest), where one would normally be stressed.
Syncopation is used in many musical styles, if not all, and is fundamental in such styles as funk, reggae, ragtime, rap, jump blues, jazz and often in dubstep, progressive metal, and classical music. "All dance music makes use of [syncopation] and it's often a vital element that helps tie the whole track together". In the form of a back beat, syncopation is used in virtually all contemporary popular music.

Types of syncopation

Technically, "syncopation occurs when a temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent occurs, causing the emphasis to shift from a strong accent to a weak accent." "Syncopation is," however, "very simply, a deliberate disruption of the two- or three-beat stress pattern, most often by stressing an off-beat, or a note that is not on the beat."

Missed-beat syncopation

Syncopation itself may look as simple as follows, involving the addition of a rest. This can occur on any beat in a measure. "The natural stress of the meter has been disrupted -- ONE-two-(three)-FOUR, which is weird, because we want to keep hearing that nonexistent quarter note that would carry the downbeat in the middle of the measure." suggests adding the concept of transformation to Narmour's (1980, p.147-53) prosodic rules which create rhythmic successions in order to explain or generate syncopations. "The syncopated pattern is heard 'with reference to', 'in light of', as a remapping of, its partner." He gives examples of various types of syncopation: latin, backbeat, and before-the-beat. First however, one may listen to the audio example of stress on the "strong" beats, where expected:

Latin equivalent of simple 4/4

This unsyncopated rhythm is shown in the first measure directly below:
The third measure depicts the syncopated rhythm in the following audio example in which the first and fourth beat are provided as expected, but the accent unexpected lands in between the second and third beats, creating a familiar "latin rhythm":

Backbeat transformation of simple 4/4

The accent may be shifted from the first to the second beat in duple meter (and the third to fourth in quadruple), creating the backbeat rhythm familiar in rock drumming beatbox stereotypes:
Different crowds will "clap along" at concerts on either 1 & 3 or 2 & 4, as above.

"Satisfaction" example

Before-the-beat phrasing, combined with backbeat transformation of a simple repeated trochee, which gives the phraseology of "Satisfaction", recommended for its syncopation:

Syncopation in dance music

In trance music the bass falls between the beat (one &), while the kick drum falls on the beat.

See also


  • Seyer, Philip, Allan B. Novick and Paul Harmon (1997). What Makes Music Work. Forest Hill Music. ISBN 0-9651344-0-7.
syncopation in Belarusian: Сінкапа, музыка
syncopation in Catalan: Síncope (música)
syncopation in Czech: Synkopa
syncopation in German: Synkope (Musik)
syncopation in Spanish: Síncopa (música)
syncopation in French: Syncope (musique)
syncopation in Croatian: Sinkopa
syncopation in Italian: Sincope (musica)
syncopation in Hebrew: סינקופה
syncopation in Dutch: Syncope (muziek)
syncopation in Japanese: シンコペーション
syncopation in Norwegian: Synkope
syncopation in Polish: Synkopa (muzyka)
syncopation in Portuguese: Síncope (música)
syncopation in Russian: Синкопа (музыка)
syncopation in Finnish: Synkooppi
syncopation in Swedish: Synkop
syncopation in Ukrainian: Синкопа
syncopation in Contenese: 切分音
syncopation in Chinese: 切分音

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

acid rock, andante tempo, avant-garde jazz, ballroom music, beat, bebop, boogie-woogie, bop, compound time, country rock, dance music, dances, duple time, folk rock, hard rock, hot jazz, jazz, jive, largo, mainstream jazz, march tempo, mixed times, musical suite, presto, rag, ragtime, rhythm-and-blues, rock, rock-and-roll, rubato, sextuple time, simple time, suite, suite of dances, swing, syncopated music, syncope, tempo, tempo rubato, the new music, three-quarter time, time, time pattern, timing, triple time, triplet, two-four time, waltz time
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