Syncopation disturbs the regular flow of rhythm and it shifts the emphasis in music from strong beats to weak beats, or to in-between beats. I’d like to stress, though, that syncopation is a general term: there’s no limit to the number or variety of possible syncopated rhythms or syncopated patterns, and no limit to the ways they may be used.
Syncopation is in fact one of the most powerful and versatile rhythmic tools available to composers, and from the Middle Ages on, there’s no such thing as a composer who has not made extensive use of syncopation. And that’s just in classical music. In rock and roll, for example, and in jazz, the “regular flow of rhythm” is in fact a syncopated flow. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” wrote Duke Ellington, and in jazz it’s most certainly syncopation that provides the swing.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.