Syncopation describes stressed or accented offbeats, which are typically heard in jazz and Latin music. In terms of how it’s notated, syncopation in duple time signatures is often produced when quarter notes, which normally fall on a downbeat, fall on the upbeat or offbeat 8th note. Let’s explore this further before studying an etude that will help you become familiar with reading syncopated rhythms.
Here’s an example of six basic syncopated rhythmic patterns with quarter notes and 8th notes in 2/4.
You may also encounter consecutive quarter notes on the upbeat in longer phrases, such as in a measure of 4/4.
When it comes to percussive notation, it could be argued that notating consecutive quarter notes on the upbeat is incorrect. In 4/4, each half of the bar should be clearly divided, and consecutive offbeat quarter notes obscure both halves of the measure, as demonstrated in the following example.
The rhythm sounds exactly the same in both of the previous measures, but in the second bar you can clearly see each half of the measure.
A contradicting argument could be made that consecutive offbeat quarter notes allow for fewer notes to be written in order to produce the same rhythm. Considering the previous example, you only have to read five notes in the first bar as opposed to eight tied 8th notes in the second. The less-crowded measure could enable drummers to read the pattern faster.
To become familiar with reading offbeat rhythms, practice the following etude, which demonstrates various syncopated patterns within a musical format.
Joel Rothman is the author of nearly one hundred drum and percussion books, which sell worldwide through his company, JR Publications. For more information, visit joelrothman.com.