My Second Favorite “S” Word – Syncopation

The Key To Enjoying Life is SYNCOPATION!


Probably the question on everyone’s mind right now unless you are an avid musician is “What is Syncopation”?

Syncopation is a musical term that refers to the beat of a song doing something unexpected. For example if you hear, da dum, da dum, da dum, your brain assumes the next phrase will be da dum. What makes music exciting is when it does something like da dum, da dum, da dum, da dum, dum, dum, dum. Of course it is not syncopation for the song to go out of beat. It must still be in rhythm with the song, but it just does something unexpected.

More info than you probably need, but interesting (from wikipedia):


In music, syncopation involves a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected which make part or all of a tune or piece of music off-beat. More simply, syncopation is a general term for “a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm”: a “placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur.”

Syncopation is used in many musical styles, and is fundamental in styles such as ragtime, jazz, jump blues, funk, gospel, reggae, dub, hip hop, breakbeat, UK garage, dubstep, drum’n’bass, progressive electronic dance music, progressive rock / metal, groove metal, nu metal, samba, baião, and ska. “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.

Syncopation has been an important element of European musical composition since at least the Middle Ages. J.S. Bach and Handel used syncopated rhythms as an inherent part of their compositions; Haydn used it to create variety. Syncopation was used by Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, especially in their symphonies, for both purposes. This can be heard in Mozart’s 38th and Beethoven’s 7th. Syncopation is an essential part of the character of some musical styles, such as jazz and ragtime. Hungarian Csárdás song-dances are always syncopated. The “Scotch snap” of Scotland also feature syncopation.[3] [1]

Vertical hemiola. Play (help·info)

Syncopation can also occur when a strong harmony is placed on a weak beat, for instance when a 7th-chord is placed on the second beat of 3/4 measure or a dominant is placed at the fourth beat of a 4/4 measure. The latter frequently occurs in tonal cadences in 18th and early 19th century music and is the usual conclusion of any section.

A hemiola can also be seen as one straight measure in 3 with one long chord and one short chord and a syncope in the measure thereafter, with one short chord and one long chord. Usually, the last chord in a hemiola is a (bi-)dominant, and as such a strong harmony on a weak beat, hence a syncope.

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.”[4] “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.”[5]

Cognitively, Temperley[6] argues that most accurately syncopation can be described as involving “displacement; in a syncopation, an accent that belongs on a particular strong beat is shifted or displaced to a weak one.”

Missed-beat syncopation[edit]

Syncopation itself may look as simple as follows, involving the addition of a rest:[5]

This is an example of the missed beat type of syncopation, in which a rest (silence) is substituted for an expected note.[7] This can occur on any beat in a measure. “The natural stress of the meter has been disrupted – ONE-two-(three)-FOUR, which is strange, because we want to keep hearing that nonexistent quarter note that would carry the downbeat in the middle of the measure.”[5] This type of syncopation creates tension in a musical piece.

Physical Effects[edit]

Missed beat syncopation causes a physical effect in the body of the listener as their body moves to supply the missing beat. Also, complex syncopation has been used to overload the brain to induce abreaction and as a prelude to brain washing.[8][9][10]


This may be thought of as a suspension, as in the following example, with two points of Pratosyncopation where the third beats are carried over (sustained) from the second beats rather than missed. In the same way, the first beat of the second bar is carried over from the fourth beat of the first bar. Play (help·info)

Though syncopation may be highly complex, dense or complex looking rhythms often contain no syncopation. The following rhythm, though dense, stresses the regular downbeats, 1 & 4 (in 6/8):[5] Play (help·info)

However, whether it’s a placed rest or an accented note, any point in a piece of music that moves your perspective of the downbeat is a point of syncopation because it’s shifting where the strong and weak accents are built.”[5]

“Even-note” syncopation[edit]

For example, in meters with even numbers of beats (2/4, 4/4, etc.), the stress normally falls on the odd-numbered beats. If the even-numbered beats are stressed instead, the rhythm is syncopated. Accordingly, the former implies duple meter (1212) while the latter implies quadruple meter (1234).

Off-beat syncopation[edit]

The stress can shift by less than a whole beat so it falls on an off-beat, as in the following example where the stress in the first bar is shifted back by an eighth note (or quaver) Play (help·info):

Whereas the notes are expected to fall on the beat Play (help·info):

Playing a note ever so slightly before, or after, a beat is another form of syncopation because this produces an unexpected accent Play (help·info):

It can be helpful to think of a 4/4 rhythm in eighth notes and count it as “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and”. In general emphasizing the “and” would be considered the off-beat.

Anticipated bass[edit]

Anticipated bass[11] is a bass tone that comes syncopated shortly before the downbeat, which is used in Son montuno Cuban dance music. Timing can vary, but it usually falls on the 2+ as well as the 4 of the 4/4 time, thus anticipating the third and first beats. This pattern is commonly known as the Afro-Cuban bass tumbao.

Phew that was a mental workout. I’ve been a musician for over 20 years now. I play over 10 instruments so I really understand all of this stuff. For me it was simple. The songs that you hear on the radio that everyone loves utilize syncopation to make them unique.

Our brains are easily bored with the same thing over and over again. We do like to have some semblance of order in our music and consequently our life but it’s those unexpected moments that activate our brain and souls.

So what? What does that have to do with my life and my enjoyment of life?

I’ll give you some simple ones first, then we’ll get into some more complex understanding.

The simple is if I told you that you won the lottery you would be thrilled. Why? Partially because you would probably quit your job the next day (or minute). But the real reason is because it was unexpected. I’ll prove it real quick. Let’s say you’re driving through your favorite coffee store and you get to the front after ordering and they hand you your drink. You go to pay them and they say, oh, no charge the person in front of you paid your bill for you. Yay!!! The same feeling of elation and enjoyment would flood over you.

Is there a difference? Not really in body chemistry and overall life enjoyment. But the lottery thing would last a bit longer. However, if you fast forward your life past buying yourself something new and expensive and you still have 30 million buckaroos in your bank. You could end up watching TV for a few days in a row and get bored. How could you be bored with your life. You were instantly a millionaire. It’s simple, the lack of syncopation.


Let’s start with Beauty! The most beautiful wood in the world is one that has a complex grain and doesn’t follow any specific pattern. It is not crazy out of sync, just an amazing set of complex designs. Figured Maple is one I can think of, or zebra wood, or even simple white pine, any wood grain is beautiful. Most carpenters hate to paint over wood because they feel so connected to its “grain”.

Think about the most expensive furniture. The majority of the time if it is made from wood it is not painted, but simply stained to reveal the beauty of the wood grain. Even the texture of the grain is important.

Diamonds are considered the standard in precious gems. The highest clarity and lack of flaws make it precious, but more than that it is the multiple facets that make it brilliant. In fact if you ever see a “Perfect” diamond it is more than likely fake because nature doesn’t make anything “Perfect”

We can go on and on with nature and beauty. A snowflake is perfect, but no 2 snowflakes are identical. Expensive granite or marble countertops are beautiful because of their unique flaws.

Water, fire, clouds, fields, mountains, ocean, lakes, forest, etc….. all are intriguing to us because of their syncopation. Can you think of anything that is the highest standard of beauty that doesn’t have some form of syncopation to it? I really can’t.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Interestingly enough I find the eye to be an amazing work of art and yet there are no two exactly alike and most of them are spectacular to stare deep into.

Art would not exist without syncopation.



The power of a strong routine is evident if you have children. Most successful people have a solid routine, and I’ve found that if I have too much craziness that it’s hard to concentrate.

This seems counter intuitive to my syncopation argument. I will straighten that out right now. The key to syncopation is that it’s unexpected. In order to have something be unexpected there has to be a lot of good repetition to lull your brain into thinking the next thing they will see is going to be more of the same.

This is very true in music. Personally I don’t care for jazz, I’m a blues guy. If I were to backtrack on that, then it’s more that I don’t care for modern jazz. Although it is full of syncopation, I’ve found that it’s too much for me. I know lots of people that “love” jazz, so I choose not to have an opinion about it for others. But for me I prefer the blues. A simple 4/4 and a turn around with some freestyling in between does me just right. Throw in the occasional syncopated drum rift and I’m in musical bliss.

You see without the routine it is simply chaoss. I mentioned children as making this evident. If you don’t have kids you’ll have to just bare with me on this one. If you do have kids then you’ve probably been nodding your head while you’re reading this. Kids NEED routine and boundaries. When they don’t have a solid routine they get crabby and fight with each other and do strange things like filling the plug holes up with playdough. Once you start to settle into a routine with them then they can act right. You see, for kids almost everything they do is new. They are constantly learning and changing and growing, etc… They simply can’t handle one more area of their life being out of rhythm.


7 Strange things that I do that make life fun.

  1. Shave differently everytime I shave. Sometimes I start at my lip, sometimes at my sideburn, other times below my chin. This is something I have done for over 15 years. It’s simple and silly and lovely.
  1. Drive a slightly different way to work every day. This one is awesome! I have a couple of stop signs and lights that I decide which way to go based on which light will be green first, or last depending on my mood. It’s a simple way to enjoy something unexpected that life throws at you.
  1. Gifts. Gifts are an amazing way to throw off someone else’s routine. Simply buying a cup of coffee for the person in front of you at the local coffee shop. That’s safe because you heard their order and know how much they are gonna cost you. You want to really throw things off pay for the person behind you. Shockem’! 

    I actually really like getting simple gifts for my wife when there is no occasion. Could be chocolate bar for $1 or a bouquet of flowers. Or my recent one…that I’m kind of proud of… I sent her to Hawaii for 2 weeks to say thanks for putting so much into our family and the kids, now go take a break. The kids are in school and have sports so it wouldn’t have worked for all of us to go this time.The amount and the reason are relatively unimportant. It’s all about the surprise!

  1. Message someone something encouraging. I do this with text message, or on facebook or even email. If someone pops into your mind send them a quick note. Even something simple like “You’re Awesome!” is sufficient. My wife and I do this to each other a lot randomly. Nothing better than getting a text from my wife that says “I Love You!!”.
  1. Speak a different language when ordering out somewhere. I’m from Hawaii so it’s common for me to say “mahalo” (thank you). But it really throws people off, in a good way, because they are expecting english.
  1. Change your name. I like doing this when making a dinner reservation. I will usually try to come up with something unique or a bit goofy. I’m a white guy, so can you imagine their faces when I say my name is “Chen” or “Little Bear”. LOL in fact even when i’m writing it right now it makes me laugh. No one has ever challenged me on it. Meaning they never asked me if that was my real name.
  1. Getting dressed is a good place to try something crazy. I like to get dressed differently as well. If normally I put my pants on first, I will put my shirt on first. Or if I normally wear black socks, I might try a blue or red pair. If you want to be sneaky then you could wear something wild underneath. I’ve found it’s better if others can see it, but do what you can.


No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.