General Dance Discussion > What is syncopation, anyway?

Discussion in 'General Dance Discussion' started by pygmalion, Nov 28, 2003.

  1. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    For the newbies and non music majors out there, could someone please explain the meaning of the term, syncopation, that we've been throwing around, from a dancer's perspective, please. No need to get too technical musically, unless you just want to. :D
  2. Sagitta

    Sagitta Well-Known Member

    This is definitely something that I want to understand better. Thanks Jenn!! :)

    I'm on holiday right now in NYC, but will definitely read up on the link, and hopefully the posts that follow on Sunday/Monday when I'm back home!!
  3. d nice

    d nice New Member

    That article breaks down musical syncopation well...
    but it is missing something that applies to all african diaspora (both black and afro-cuban dances fall in there)...

    there is no difference between music and dance. I can syncopate based solely off of my own rhythm... this is what hoofers do. If my normal steps use the additive rhythm of 2+3+2+3 and I change that to 1+2+1+2 I've syncopated my own rhythm...

    There is alos the concept of visual rhythms which was completely neglected by the article, because while it was written by someone who is a dancer, they are a musician first and foremost. Visual rhythms are bread and butter of African based dance.

    Overall though the article does a real good explanation of what syncopation is from a musical standpoint.
  4. ballroomboilergirl

    ballroomboilergirl New Member

    I have always been confused as to what exactly syncopation is, but that article definitely helped...I still don't really know HOW to syncopate, but at least I now know WHY to syncopate :D
  5. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    This is something that I am still working on, and that link no longer leads to an article.
    I've seen many definitions of this term, syncopation.
    Let's see how many we can collect here!

    "Syncopation is a class of rhythms that stress upbeats (the note that comes just before a downbeat) and offbeats (any note in the measure except the downbeat). In order to be labeled as syncopation, the rhythmical pattern must avoid most, but not all, downbeats. This makes the music feel jagged and even, in some cases, purposely unstable.
    Syncopation is largely associated with jazz music. However, it can be found often in twentieth century symphonic and chamber music and even in romantic era compositions. For example, Ludwig Van Beethoven's Piano Sonata in A Op. 110 features a passage (in movement three) that stresses sixteenth notes on the “e.” Remember, sixteenth notes are counted: 1, e, and, ah, 2, e, and, ah, 3, e, and, ah, etc."

  6. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    For me the term "syncopation" does not fall under dancing at all. It´s music speak.

    Our word for it is "traspie" = "stumble".

    (I know, some of us use traspie only for stepping in double time aka "quicks". But that is only one aspect of traspie.)

    For teachers:

    1) Stick about 30 sheets of paper in a circle on to the floor at stepping width (so that there was enough space between them for additional sheets).

    2) Label every sheets continuously as 1, 2, 3 or 4 (for 4/4 exercises resp.).

    3) Play standardized music, call or provide every beat by a metronome.

    4) Let the students step continuously in that said circle.

    5) Remove certain sheets. Students have to hold on the forgoing sheet.

    6) Restore 4) and add additional sheets in between. Students have to step in double time.

    7) Restore 4), add additional sheets but also remove some original sheets for strong beats.
  7. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    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.
    Music is divided into beats, and beats are grouped together in measures based on patterns of strong beats and weak beats. These patterns make up what is called the meter of a piece of music; they are "metrical patterns." In regular metrical patterns, or the regular flow of rhythm, the first beat of a measure — the downbeat — is the strongest beat, where the most rhythmic emphasis, or weight, is felt. Syncopation shifts this emphasis, or, to put it another way, it places the accent on the wrong syllable. A syncopated rhythm is one that places stress on a weak beat, or that creates a strong impulse on a subdivision of a beat, an in-between beat. Weak beats and in-between beats are also known collectively as "offbeats," and syncopated rhythm may be thought of as "offbeat rhythm."
    Syncopation is a general term: there is no limit to the number or variety of possible syncopated rhythms, nor are there limits to the ways they may be used. A syncopated rhythm may occur just once in a piece or passage, or various syncopations may recur, regularly or irregularly, or syncopations may form repetitive patterns, with extended successions of stressed offbeats. Syncopation is one of the most powerful and versatile tools that composers can employ to create rhythmic interest and variety. And although some composers have certainly been more rhythmically inventive than others, syncopation has been an important element of musical composition for centuries. From the masters of the Middle Ages to Bach to Mozart to Beethoven to Tchaikovsky to Copland to Lennon and McCartney, there is no such thing as a composer who has not made extensive use of syncopation. Sometimes syncopation can even be a means to musical mischief or humor: many composers have enjoyed playing "Where's the beat?" and delighted in fooling us.
    Some musical styles have built their character around syncopation. Syncopation is such an integral element of jazz and ragtime, for example, that for those styles the regular flow of rhythm is in fact a syncopated flow. "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing," goes the Duke Ellington song, and it's syncopation that provides the swing.
    The NPR® Classical Music Companion: Terms and Concepts from A to Z by Miles Hoffman, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 1997 by Miles Hoffman and National Public Radio. All rights reserved. 11.2012 Miles Hoffman is music commentator for National Public Radio(R) 's Morning Edition(R). A graduate of Yale University and the Juilliard School, he is the violist and artistic director of the American Chamber Players.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 23, 2017
  8. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member

    Syncop. in dance terms is.. a "time " allocation that provides a " bridge " if you will, between 2 normally accepted movements ( steps).

    Syncop. in Standard dances( W.. F/T for e.g. ) is something that frequently, is not written into the music, as it would be in Cha Cha for e.g., therefor, improvisation occurs .
  9. suburbaknght

    suburbaknght Well-Known Member

    Not to disagree with the above, educated points of view, from a dancer's perspective and making it as simple as possible syncopation means taking more steps than there are beats of music, such as taking two steps over one beat of music or three steps over two beats of music (the most common). Examples:

    Promenade chasse, chasse right or back lack in waltz - 1, 2 & 3
    Cha cha basic - 2, 3, 4 & 1
    Jive basic - 1, 2, 3 a4, 5 a6

    Samba basic - 1 a2, 3 a4
    Hustle wheel - & 1, 2, 3
    Terpsichorean Clod and Easy like this.
  10. Easy

    Easy Active Member

    Was thinking same thing as related to steps over beats.
    Using waltz as an example, the typical chasse' is 12&3(slow fast fast slow). Wherever you put the & takes away half the value of what precedes it. So you could also use these timings for a chasse'...1&23(fast fast slow slow) or 123&(slow slow fast fast). Generally when I do a double reverse turn in waltz, I prefer to use 123& keeping the syncopation or splitting of a beat until the end of the movement
  11. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    this explains it musically and visually, from Bach Ragtime and Jazz

    suburbaknght likes this.
  12. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    I believe you can take it one step further and say that any time you're changing the rhythm, it's a syncopation...I make this distinction because you can also leave beats out. In Waltz/V. Waltz, there's the canter rhythm: 1...3 where you're holding 2.
  13. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Not questioning whether canter rhythm is a syncopation (I use it myself sometimes with my better, more adaptable partners) , but have you ever seen it referrred to that way in a text?
  14. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    DO watch the video, the whole thing, if you are interested in this subject.
  15. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Since the YouTube vid left off just as he mentioned swing...

  16. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

  17. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Thanks, Steve for sharing!!
  18. DWise1

    DWise1 Well-Known Member

    I went through a similar problem with the term "rhythm", only to finally realize that dancers and musicians apply slightly different definitions to common terms even without realizing it. Same thing with engineers and technicians. For both, current is defined as the flow of electrons in the circuit, but technicians learn "electron current" which is from negative to positive while engineers learn "conventional current" which is from positive to negative. It turns out that Benjamin Franklin, in naming which had a surplus of charge (positive) and which had a deficit of charge (negative) got it wrong, but we didn't discover that until a century later after all the mathematics had been developed, so engineers continue to use conventional current because that makes all the math come out right.

    Similarly, in music "rhythm" talks about dividing up the beats within each measure, while in dance it talks about the basic count of the dance and how that relates to the phrasing of the music, when that phrasing actually applies. Two different concepts, albeit related, though confusing them can result in disaster.

    The same with syncopation. As I understand it in music, there is a natural system of strong and weak beats within a measure. In 3/4 time, it's strong weak weak, strong weak weak. In 4/4 time it's Strong weak less-strong weak. In musical syncopation, as I understand it, you divide up the beats so that the normally strong beat is weak, which shifts the stronger beat to where it would have otherwise been weak.

    However, in dance syncopation refers to dividing the normal dance rhythm up; eg, swing's 1-2-3&4-5&6 can become and-1-and-2-3&4-5&6, or 1-2&3-4-5&6.

    Same words, but with different meanings within different contexts.
  19. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    for syncopation to be understood, you need to understand the concept of accents; regardless of the number of beats in a grouping, some beats get emphasized more than others. that emphasis musically is most often done by volume, this is commonly referred to as an accent.

    in dance music, the most common grouping of beats (measure) is in multiples of four (but for waltz the grouping is in 3). the most common accent patterns are:

    ONE two three four
    ONE two THREE four (such as in a march)

    beats can be subdivided, most commonly verbalized (with accents) by musicians in one of the following ways:

    ONE and two and three and four and
    ONE and two and THREE and four and
    ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and (most common for something like hustle)

    musical syncopation occurs when the accent pattern differs from the common patterns.

    as mentioned previously, cha cha syncopation emphasizes an accented pattern on FOUR AND ONE

    ONE two three FOUR AND ONE two three FOUR AND ONE (this pattern is sometimes obvious, in some music, it's a little more inferred.)

    a common syncopation you hear in salsa music: (the beats in parenthesis are often silent)
    (one) TWO THREE (four) ONE (two) AND (three and) FOUR

    in the previous pattern, the first TWO drives the first step in MAMBO that breaks on TWO.

    or just the dotted quarter pattern which you often hear in rumba/bolero
    ONE (two) AND (three and) FOUR

    swing/bop is often syncopated by the hi-hat/ride cymbal:
    one AND two AND three AND four AND

    in these cases the syncopation does not drive the movement - but still helps you identify when the downbeat occurs (sometimes in combination with other things going on in the music).

    the only real dance syncopation i would categorize as such is actually in waltz:
    ONE two three

    where an emphasis is placed on TWO:

    one TWO three one TWO three

    to drive the sense of reaching on the second step. as a DJ i try to find music that sustains beat two to help emphasis the feel, but not all music often chosen for waltz does that.
    east coast swing features a basic figure that encompasses 6 beats (while music is usually grouped in four beats). because of this, there's an overlap such that the beginning of a figure does not always occur with the down (first) beat of a measure (grouping of beats). i would not categorize this as syncopation.

    and while two basic figures in WCS are taught initially as 6 count figures, most advanced/experienced dancers add styling beats, etc. so that the start and end of figures coincide with the start/finish of measures/phrases, though they may syncopate by doing things such as kick-ball-change footwork - one AND TWO, most syncopation i've seen tends to reflect syncopation in the music.

    i've probably left some things out, but i think covers enough and in such a way most people should be able to grasp it.
  20. Terpsichorean Clod

    Terpsichorean Clod Well-Known Member

    As someone with some musical experience, the ballroom definition drives me nuts. I've seen a show video of Pino/Bucciarelli where they're actually hitting the offbeats. That's a pretty rare example. I'd love to see more cases of musical syncopation in ballroom.

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