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Related: off-beat - black music - rhythm - jazz - ragtime

The one element that makes Jamaican music instantly recognisable is its "off-beat". It is the lazy strum of the guitar on the off-beat that gives reggae its loping, hypnotic feel. Ska is virtually defined by the staccato after-beat riffing of the horn-section.

Guitarist Ernest Ranglin, said that "the offbeat" guitar scratching that he and other musicians played was referred to as 'skat! skat! skat!'"


In music, syncopation is the stressing of a normally unstressed beat in a bar or the failure to sound a tone on an accented beat. For example, in 4/4 time, the first and third beats are normally stressed. If, instead, the second and fourth beats are stressed and the first and third unstressed, the rhythm is syncopated. Also, if the musician suddenly does not play anything on beat 1, that would also be syncopation.

The stress can also shift by less than a whole beat so it falls on an off-beat, as in the following example where the stress in the first bar is shifted by a eighth note (or quaver):

Playing a note ever-so-slightly before or after a beat is another form of syncopation because this produces an unexpected accent.

Syncopation is used on occasion in many music styles, including classical music, but it is a fundamental constant presence in such styles as ragtime and jazz. In the form of a back beat, syncopation is used in virtually all contemporary popular music. Another type of syncopation is the missed beat, in which a rest is substituted for an expected note's beginning (van der Merwe 1989, p.321). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syncopation

Back beat or off-beat

Back beat (or "the off-beat") refers to any of the even beats in music, as opposed to the odd downbeats. The name refers to the common practice of striking the drum on the odd beats and backing the hand or drumstick away from the drum on the even beats. In common time (4/4), the back beats are the second and fourth beats. The release on beats 2 and 4 sets the mood for the 'groove', and gives the song a danceable feel.

In popular music, back beat also refers to a percussion style or technique where a strong rhythmic accent is sounded on the second and fourth beats of the bar, most often from striking a snare drum. This is a form of syncopation, and the tension between the normally much stronger first and third beats (downbeats) and the backbeats creates interest.

The style emerged in the late 1940s in rhythm and blues recordings, and is one of the defining characteristics of rock and roll and is used in virtually all contemporary popular music, bossa nova being a notable exception. Drummer Earl Palmer states the first record with nothing but back beat was "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino in 1949, which he played on. Palmer says he adopted it from the shout (last) chorus in Dixieland. Another song that employs the back beat is Ike Turner's Rocket 88, which is one of the seminal works in early rock history. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_beat [Mar 2006]

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