Syncopation Basics - An Eighth Note Example

In music, syncopation refers to rhythms that are not what you'd expect for the time signature you are in. For example, in 4/4 you would expect to see eighth notes grouped in twos or fours. If we had a bar of 4/4 where the eighth notes were grouped in two blocks of three and a block of two, we could say that rhythm is syncopated. Syncopation opens up a whole new world of fill ideas as it allows you to come away from the natural restrictions but on a bar by its time signature. The odd placement of accents creates some very interesting parts and there are an infinite number of ideas and variations on these ideas.

In this first lesson on the basics of syncopation I will show a couple of simple ideas for syncopated rhythms and how these rhythms can be turned in to parts you can use practically. It is not important that you can play these parts, just that you understand what syncopation is.

Rhythm 1

For the first example I will use the rhythm discussed above, this is show below. Notice that to show the syncopation I have beamed the eighth notes according to there syncopated group. The counting for this bar will still be '1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +' but there will be natural emphasis on the start of each group.

A syncopated rhythm

It's worth noting that a syncopated pattern isn't always beamed like this. If the part is played on one voice there may be accents used to show the syncopation. If it is a syncopated part played around multiple voices the part may be beamed normally without accents, the syncopation will be clear from the way the notes fall. Below is the same example given above but using accents to show the syncopation rather than beaming.

A syncopated rhythm

Practical Applications

Listed below are various groove and fill patterns using syncopation.

Example 1

Here the rhythm has been turned into a groove where the first of each group is played on the snare followed by kicks. Notice that the part is beamed normally without accents, but you can see the groove is syncopated because of the snare placement.

A syncopated groove

Example 2

This is example 1 reversed, so kicks on the first of each group followed by snares.

A syncopated groove

Example 3

This is example 1 but played with crashes on every snare.

A syncopated groove

Example 4

This is example 2 but played with crashes on every snare.

A syncopated groove

Example 5

Here we have a fill that follows the syncopated rhythm and has a flam played around various parts of the kit on the first of each group followed by kicks.

A syncopated groove

Example 6

This is example 5 reversed.

A syncopated groove

Example 7

This is a simple roll around the kit following the original grouping.

A syncopated groove


  1. Attempt to play the parts above.
  2. Create your own variations on these patterns. Write as many down as possible.
  3. Create your own fill based on the original syncopated pattern.

Why not try our lesson on Syncopated 16th Notes next.


Buy Me A Coffee

I hope you are enjoying this free content. If you feel like buying me a coffee to say thank you you can do so here.

Buy Me A Coffee