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Section 4.6 Common Rhythmic Notation Errors

The standard practice when notating rhythms is to use beaming to show where the beginning of each beat occurs.

Consider the following example:

It is difficult to discern where the downbeats are.

Here is the same rhythm correctly notated. The downbeats provide a reference point, matching the conductor’s beat pattern or your tapping toe.

In compound meters like \(\begin{smallmatrix}6\\8\end{smallmatrix}\), the beat is the dotted quarter.

The exception to this practice of “showing the beats” involves syncopation, which is common in popular music.

Definition 4.6.1.

Syncopation occurs when notes on weak beats and on weak parts of beats are emphasized and nearby strong beats are deemphasized.

Strong beats are the first beat of each measure (in \(\begin{smallmatrix}2\\4\end{smallmatrix}\) and \(\begin{smallmatrix}3\\4\end{smallmatrix}\)) and beats 1 and 3 in \(\begin{smallmatrix}4\\4\end{smallmatrix}\). Syncopation at the beat level involves ties across those strong beats. Numbers in parentheses in the example below are beats that are obscured through syncopation.

Syncopation at the beat level

Syncopation can also occur at the division of the beat level. Below are two syncopation figures that don’t show the beat but are acceptable because they are common and to write them out correctly involves more symbols (beamed eighths and ties) for the performer to comprehend.

An example of syncopation at the eighth-note level (the division of the beat) can be found in the following example from “Eleanor Rigby.”

Notice how syncopating notes gives them emphasis and creates a “pull” against the rhythm of the accompaniment.