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Musical Elements





III. Syncopation

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Jim Hall

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Clark Terry

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Eldridge & Stewart

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Horace Silver

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Jimmy Heath

A. Basic Definition of Syncopation


Jazz musicians like to emphasize the notes that they play on the “upbeats;” that is, if you’re tapping your foot along with the beat of the music, jazz musicians tend to emphasize the notes that occur when your foot is in the air. This is syncopation: accenting upbeats. 

B. A Simple Example of Syncopation


Try tapping your foot to a steady beat and say: 



“oom” every time your foot hits the floor and “pah” every time your foot is in the air (oom-pah oom-pah oom-pah oom-pah...) 



now, keeping your foot tapping steady, just say the “pahs” when your foot is in the air ( pah -pah -pah -pah...) -- this is syncopation 

C. Syncopation is Natural for the Jazz Musician


Syncopation might seem tricky at first, but to the jazz musician it’s as natural as a speaker raising his/her voice to make a point. 

D. No Syncopation = Boring


Without syncopation (all accents on the downbeats), jazz would be boring and, well, wouldn’t be jazz. 

E. When to Syncopate


Jazz musicians don’t syncopate ALL the time (if they did it would be monotonous). Instead, jazz music involves both syncopated and non-syncopated notes -- just which ones to syncopate is up to the player and, once they get good enough, they do this intuitively (that is, without having to think about it; just like fluctuating your voice when talking so you don’t talk in a monotone). 

the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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