There’s an old joke about the husband who’s been out late drinking, and when his wife asks him where he’s been, he latches onto a word he saw on the cover of a book in the window of a music store, and he says that unfortunately he had come down with a case of… syncopation.
His wife is suspicious, and after consulting the dictionary, she says, “Hmph. Just as I thought. Syncopation: an irregular staggering from bar to bar.” Well, it turns out her dictionary wasn’t far off, although a more sober definition might be that syncopation is a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm. It’s the placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur. In traditional Western music the first beat of a bar, the downbeat, is the strongest, but syncopation shifts the emphasis to weaker beats, or to subdivisions of beats—to in-between beats. But more on syncopation tomorrow.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.