What is Syncopation?

What is Syncopation?

As a jazz fan, you obviously love listening to the notes flowing out from the bell of a saxophone, but can you actually visualize those notes, on a staff? Are you able to see the music as well as hear it?

Trust us, learning a bit about musical composition won’t ruin the magic of jazz—far from it, it’ll only enhance it. Because when you gain a deeper understanding of all the intricacies, you’ll develop an even stronger appreciation for the enchanting nature of jazz music!

So, in that spirit, we’re continuing our blog series on the basics of musical theory and composition. If you’re curious to learn more, check out our posts about melody, harmony, and polyphony.

Today, we’re going to be learning about syncopation. But first, before we talk about that, let’s quickly run through the concepts of rhythm and beat. As you might already know, every piece of music has an internal natural flow, like a pulse or the ticking of a clock, that repeats until the end. This pulse is called the rhythm, which is organized into beats per measure.

Syncopation is a rhythmic structure that avoids the natural flow, or beats, of a piece. And how does syncopation avoid the beats, you may be wondering. Well, it’s actually quite simple—the notes are displaced so that they don’t fall precisely on the beats of the time signature. Instead, the notes can be played in anticipation—earlier than you’d expect—right before the marked beats, or they can be delayed and played after each beat of the pulse.

Believe it or not, in some melodies, every single note is syncopated—meaning that every note falls before or after the beat! And in jazz, this is a very popular technique. Most jazz musicians prefer to accentuate the upbeats. So, if you’re tapping your foot along to the music, the notes that are played when your foot is in the air are the ones that are emphasized.

Now this all may sound very complicated, but to the jazz musician, it actually comes quite naturally—eventually, master musicians do it intuitively, just like how you fluctuate your voice while speaking.

Syncopating notes gives the musician freedom to express their own interpretations of the beat. And to be honest, if there was no syncopation, jazz simply wouldn’t be jazz—it wouldn’t sound right—because most jazz compositions incorporate a mixture of syncopated and non-syncopated notes.

Many well-known songs from “Hey Diddle Diddle” to “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)” include syncopated notes.

Can you spot any syncopation in this 2022 jazz rendition of “Can’t Buy Me Love” from the WJ3 All-Stars?

“Can’t Buy Me Love” comes from the album My Ship, which is available in our store and on all major music platforms today.

This post was written by Digital Marketing Manager, Jacqueline Knirnschild.


Photo by weston m on Unsplash

What’s the difference between melody and harmony?

What’s the difference between melody and harmony?

Face it, there are just some pop songs out there that get stuck in your head no matter how much you may dislike them. You’ll hear the song just a few times on the radio and before you know it, it’ll be playing on repeat in your mind! Songs like Ariana Grande’s “seven rings,” Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”

But what is it about these tunes that make them so persistent and fixed in the mind?

Why it’s the melody of course, which, in pop music can usually be identified as the chorus that repeats throughout the song. For example, with “Call Me Maybe,” the first thing you probably think of is the chorus, Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy / But here’s my number, so call me maybe. This is the melody, which is usually, but not always, played at a higher pitch than the other verses in the songs, and is thus the most recognizable part.

If you’re not a musician or music aficionado, chances are that you are familiar with the term ‘melody,’ but do you really know what it means and how a melody is created? Also, how exactly does a melody differ from a harmony?

Well, it’s actually not all that complicated. A melody is simply a sequence of musical notes that sound satisfying to the ear. For example, some simple melodies that you are probably familiar with are the Happy Birthday song, and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Or maybe you remember playing “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder or piano when you were in elementary school? These are all examples of melodies—aka, a series of notes arranged into a sequence that sounds very pleasing!

Usually, though, a successful musical composition consists of more than just one simple melody. Several melodies are often woven together to complexify and enrich a song. Melodies are also often also supported by other musical elements, such as chords, harmonies, and rhythms. The melody is like the backbone—it guides and supports the body of the song.

A harmony differs from a melody in the way that it stacks multiple notes on top of one another to create a sound. So, instead of being a sequence of sounds, the harmony is a blend of sounds. Harmonies involve two or more different sounds being played simultaneously. That’s why, in a choir, the vocalists must harmonize their voices—meaning they must blend the baritones (low pitched) and altos (high pitched) to create one beautiful sound.

Now, time to enjoy a jazz classic—Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train.” Can you hear the melody in this 1939 hit?

And what about this jazz-up version of the country tune, “Are You Alright.” Can you find the melody?

Remember the chorus is usually where the melody is located, so, in this case, the melody is repeated when Janis Siegel sings “Are You Alright.” You also may be able to identify a harmony that is playing simultaneously with the melody.

If you’re looking for more jazzy country classics, check out our album, Cryin’ in My Whiskey, which is available in our store and on all major music platforms today.

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.