5. Syncopation - upbeats of 2+ and 4+

Syncopation on 2+ and 4+ - One and two bar phrase segments - Four bar phrase segments
Song : Two Up - Practice Material - In Focus lessons online

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IF 5.1 - Syncopation on 2+ and 4+

The two most important rhythmic characteristics of Jazz are swing quavers and syncopation.
Two very common syncopations in Jazz and Blues are the anticipation of beat 1 and beat 2 (in 4/4 time).

The natural accents in most Western music always fall on the first and the third beat of each bar.

Audio IF 5.1

In Jazz syncopation notes in these positions are often shifted half a beat earlier in time.

  • The note on beat 1 is shifted to the up beat position of 4 (4+) in the preceding bar.

  • The note on beat 3 is shifted to the up beat position of 2 (2+) in the same bar.

This anticipation of the natural accents creates a strong forward motion in the rhythm of the melody.

Syncopations on the offbeats 1+ and 3+ in a bar have the opposite effect. They produce a holding back (backward motion) in the rhythm.

Good improvisation mixes three rhythmic effects in a creative way :

  1. notes on a down beat - these form important rhythm reference points

  2. notes on 2+ and 4+ to create forward motion

  3. notes on 1+ and 3+ to create backward motion

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IF 5.2 - Song : Two Up

Two Up is a basic 12 bar blues progression which illustrates the use of anticipated syncopations on 2+ and 4+. The melody shows the traditional vocal blues pattern of :

  1. call in the first 4 bar phrase

  2. repeated call in the second 4 bar phrase

  3. response (or 'resolution') in the final 4 bar phrase


At a smaller scale a call - call - response pattern also exists in each of the first two 4 bar phrases. This is a very useful recipe for constructing a musical phrase in a composition or an improvisation.


"And look, there is more !" as the man in the TV shopping advertisements says.
The four note rhythm segment on the first two beats in the bar is used 8 times in this short 12 bar melody. This illustrates a very important principle beginning improvisation students especially should remember :

Repetition is GOOD !!


Repetition in music achieves three important objectives.

  1. it instantly creates a musical story

  2. it builds tension

  3. it sets the scene for an eventual musical resolution, surprise or release of tension

The name Two Up refers to the 2+ syncopation which is featured in this song.
Two Up is also a traditional gambling game in Australia. It is played in every Casino in the country.
Two coins are placed on a flat stick and then whipped into the air. Bets are placed on how the two coins land on the ground : 2 heads up, 2 tails up or head and tail.
In the song you can hear the coins tumble through the air until they finally land onto the ground.

In the old days when gambling was illegal, punters in the old gold rush towns would travel 10 miles into the bush to play Two Up out in the open. Some of these 'Two Up schools' still exist in legendary mining towns like Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

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IF 5.3 - One bar and two bar phrase segments

One of the difficulties in improvisation is keeping your place in the chord progression of a song. Eventually you will develop a sense of phrasing that covers one, two or four bars. Practising rhythm patterns is a good way to develop this skill and also build up your rhythmic repertoire.

Exercise 5.1 contains eight very simple one bar rhythms featuring syncopation on 2+. Each rhythm comes in two versions, one with a staccato at the end (creating tension), the other with a long note ending (creating release). Practise each pattern through all keys around the Circle of 5ths alternating between the two versions like this.

Audio IF 5.2

You can play just key tonic notes, or outline a major chord (as I do on the Demo) or be creative, but be disciplined and stay with the one pattern. Do not go of doodling away after a few lines. (You can do this once you are rock solid on all patterns provided.)

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IF 5.4 - Four bars phrase segments

Exercise 5.2 uses the same one bar segments as in Exercise 5.1 but adds a two bar ending segment with 4+ syncopation forming a complete four bar phrase with a call - call - response format. Use the same Circle of 5ths routine to go through all 12 keys.

Audio IF 5.3

You can combine any of the 2 beat staccato versions of Exercise 5.1 with any of the two bar endings of Exercise 5.2

12 Bar Blues
Finally create your own call - call - response pattern over the 12 bar blues by using two 4 bar patterns from the previous exercises. Use one pattern for the first and second blues phrase, then use a different pattern as a response over the third phrase.
For the following example I used rhythm patterns 11 and 13.

Audio IF 5.4

Use any note selection for your improvisation you like (C blues scale, C minor pentatonic scale, Mixolydian modes).

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IF 5.5 - Practice Material

General File Manuscript Paper
Rhythm patterns Single bar Four bars
Two Up (song) Lead sheet melody PaL
CoF track - major 4 bars PaL

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