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Beat Placement

Doug McMullen (6014) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5


Before you listen to the riff below, examine the tab for a moment. Notice that the exact same riff is repeated, twice. The exact same notes played with the exact same rhythm -- so, the two riffs ought to sound exactly the same, right?

Nope. They will sound distinctly different -- so different you may find yourself going back to look at the tab to make sure there isn't some kind of trick going on.

But the difference in sound is created entirely by where on the beat the riff starts. The first time thru the riff starts on an upbeat. The second time the riff starts on a downbeat.

Phrases are created thru emphasis, thru accent and pulse and flow. The most fundamental aspect of that (but by no means the only aspect) is where notes fall in relation to downbeats and upbeats.

So the two riffs look the same on paper, but your ear hears a distinct difference because of the beat. Here's the riff notes bolded on the downbeats A D F G D C# D C D -- A D F G D C# D C D

Give a listen to the difference. (By the way, some sophisticated listeners will say, "ahhh but there is a trick here" -- Yes. It's true, I used a swing beat. This does emphasize the effect of the beat placement. But it does NOT entirely create it. I assure you that with no swing the two riffs still sound quite different. It's just that it sounds so much better with the swing feel I decided to leave out a straight eight example...)

On following pages we'll take this riff and look at it against a few different chords and talk about the implications of beat placement for the improvisor.
Beat Placement