Syncopated rhythms in piano and other instruments can be one of the more
difficult techniques to master. Syncopated rhythms are formed when you accent beats or parts of the beat that
are not normally accented.
It may sound simple, but the normal accent patterns are so ingrained in many musicians that it can be difficult
to change where the accents go when playing.
Many musicians get very little practice with this technique because it is very inconsistently used in most
genres. Syncopation does come in several different forms, as well, which opens up some options for how it is
One method of creating syncopated rhythms in piano is a matter of
accenting different beats than normal. For example, in most styles of modern music, the accents fall on the
downbeat of the first and third beats.
You can syncopate a song just by shifting the accent to the downbeat of the second and fourth beat.
Alternatively, you could accent the upbeats instead of the downbeats. Both forms of syncopation bring emphasis to
parts of the beat that are not normally accented.
Missed beat syncopation approaches it from the opposite area. Instead of emphasizing another part of the beat,
you deemphasize the beats that are normally accented. In missed beat syncopation, this is accomplished by placing a
rest on the first or third beat of each bar.
The other sections of the beat all sound louder and more emphasized
because the expected accented beat is missing completely. This method of syncopation is usually used to create
a sense of suspense because the listeners can tell something is missing from the beat when it is used.
Suspension is a way of creating syncopated rhythms in piano that follows the same basic idea as missed beat
syncopation. Instead of emphasizing the off beats, you deemphasize the normal beats. However, you do not place
rests into the beats when using suspension. Instead, you allow a note to continue ringing for the entire duration
of the note.
For example, you can create a suspension for the first beat by playing a note in the fourth beat of the previous
bar. You allow the note to continue ringing for the entire duration of the fourth beat and the first beat. You
still have a note playing during the first beat, but since you did not strike the note during the beat, it draws
far less attention.
Syncopation can sometimes be a tricky technique to use properly when you learn to play piano. This technique mostly revolves around subverting the
expectations of the listener by changing what parts of the beat are emphasized or deemphasized.
However, if you put too much syncopation in the song, it is not going to sound syncopated. Instead, the beat is
going to sound like it follows the typical non-syncopated rhythm. For example, if every single second and fourth
beat is accented, the audience is going to think the second and fourth beat are the first and third beat.
The drum work is often the best way to avoid this issue. If the drummer is using little to no syncopation, the
proper downbeat should be obvious to the listener. As a result, the pianist could syncopate every bar of music and
still sound like they are syncopation.
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