Syncopation is all about disturbing the natural flow of rhythm, something that our ears are very familiar with. When that flow is broken, that attracts a lot of attention of the listener because it’s unexpected. Using too much of syncopated rhythm can make a piece of music too obscure but the right amount can really spice up the music.
In all time signatures, there are strong and weak beats. in 4/4 the strong beats can be just 1, 1 and 3, or all the beats that is 1 2 3 4. Any one of these three combinations will sound very familiar to the ears. But altering these strong beats and putting the accent on weaker beats will result in a syncopated rhythm. Following are some examples commonly used in popular music.
This is perhaps the simplest form of syncopation and involves replacing a strong beat in a measure with a rest. Below, the third beats of the 4/4 measures are missing. The pattern would need to be repeated over several measures in order to maximize the effectiveness of the syncopation.
Offbeat syncopation occurs when notes change in the middle of the beat rather than on the beat. In the example below, if you count using the syllables “1-and-2-and-3-and-four-and,” you’ll notice that the “and” of the beats feel emphasized throughout most of the phrase, displacing the expected rhythmic pattern.
Syncopation can also be achieved simply by using accents. For example, the rhythm below, with unevenly accented eighth-notes, is common in Latin music.
In backbeat syncopation, beats two and four are emphasized, rather than beats one and two. This is the most familiar type of syncopation, found in the drum patterns of rock, pop, and more. If you turn on any song on the radio, chances are you’ll clap along with the backbeats. Backbeat rhythms were a novel concept heard in blues and early rock music—but these days, this type of syncopation is so common that it doesn’t sound unexpected to our ears anymore.