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In music, syncopation includes a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected in that they deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak but also powerful beats in a meter (pulse). These include a stress on a normally unstressed beat or a rest where one would normally be stressed. "If a part of the measure that is usually unstressed is accented, the rhythm is considered to be syncopated."[1]

More simply, syncopation is a general term for a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm; a placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur.[2]

Syncopation is used in many musical styles, and is fundamental in African derived styles such as funk, ska, reggae, ragtime, rap, jump blues, progressive electronic dance music, progressive rock, extreme metal, jazz, breakbeat, drum'n'bass and dubstep. "All dance music makes use of [syncopation] and it's often a vital element that helps tie the whole track together".[3] In the form of a back beat, syncopation is used in virtually all contemporary popular music.

Syncopation has been an important element of musical composition since at least the Middle Ages. For some musical styles, such as jazz and ragtime, syncopation is an essential part of their character.[2]

Syncopation can also occur when a strong harmony is placed on a weak beat, for instance when a 7th-chord is placed on the second beat of 3/4 measure or a dominant is placed at the fourth beat of a 4/4 measure. The latter frequently occurs in tonal cadences in 18th and early 19th century music and is the usual conclusion of any section. A hemiola can also be seen as one straight measure in 3 with one long chord and one short chord and a syncope in the measure thereafter, with one short chord and one long chord: 3 ≥ . | . ≥ | Usually, the last chord in a hemiola is a (bi-)dominant, and as such a strong harmony on a weak beat, hence a syncope.


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