Rhythm Class 3
Basic Rhythm Segments

  1. Syncopation

  2. Subdivision of the 4/4 Bar

  3. The 8 Basic Rhythm Segments

  4. Rhythm Patterns 1 - 24

  5. Downbeat Anchor points

  6. Circle of 5ths Play-a-Longs

  7. Practice Material

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RC 3.1 - Syncopation

Syncopation is the main rhythmic feature in Jazz, Blues and most Latin style music (Bossa Novas).
The natural accents in a piece in 4/4 time occur on the four downbeats. The strong accents fall on beats 1 and 3, weaker accents occur on beats 2 and 4.

Syncopation either displaces a strong accent from beat 1 or 3 to beat 2 or 4 (Example 2) , or from any downbeat to an offbeat (Examples 3 and 4).

Syncopation is produced by the use of :

  1. rests (Example 2),

  2. short notes (Example 3), or

  3. ties (Example 4)

Example 2 is a case of delayed syncopation where the notes occur later than expected. (The accent is expected on beat 1, but occurs on beat 2.)

Examples 3 and 4 are cases of anticipated syncopation where the notes occur earlier than expected. (The accents are expected on beats 3 and 4, but occur on offbeats 2+ and 3+.)

The quaver is clearly the defining note (and rest length) for the rhythms of Blues, Jazz and Latin music.
The triplet quaver (3 notes of equal length play over 1 beat) is also an important feature in Jazz and Blues rhythms.

In this Lesson we start with quavers and longer notes, without rests or ties.

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RC 3.2 - Subdivision of the 4/4 Bar

For ease of reading sheet music in 4/4 time (4 crotchet beats to each bar, also called 'Common time') generally avoids placing black headed notes (and their rest equivalents) across the middle point (downbeat of 3) of the bar.
(More about this in Chapter 3.5 below.)

Example 3 above is one of the rare exceptions to this general rule.

A better way of writing this is :
Also when groups of quavers and/or shorter notes are beamed together the beam never reaches across the middle point of the bar (as in Example 4).
The row of 6 quavers are not beamed all together, but in two separate groups.
The first 4 are beamed together and also the two.

This shows the center point of the bar.
This subdivides the music of each bar into two rhythmic elements, each of a half bar (2 beats) length.

As a consequence of this rule almost all rhythms in 4/4 time (as used in most Western music including Blues, Jazz, Pop and Latin) can be created from only a small number of rhythmic building blocks, each only 2 beats (half a bar) long.
All music consists of a number of these 2-beat building blocks, strung together into musical 'phrases' of 1, 2, 3, 4 or more bars lengths.
Throughout this Course I will call these building blocks Rhythm Segments.

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RC 3.3 - The 8 Basic Rhythm Segments

Shown below are the 8 most basic Rhythm Segments.
They use the quaver as shortest note, and contain no rests, no triplets and no ties.

Press on any Rhythm Segment to hear its Audio.


Clap or play a long with each of above demos to become thoroughly familiar with each one.
They are also a good exercise for improving your precision of timing.
Each demo plays the Rhythm Segment on beat 1 and 2 of each bar, while the metronome clicks like this :

  • First 2 bars = count in : 1   3   1 2 3 4

  • Next 4 bars = a click on each beat

  • Next 8 bars = a click on beats 1 and 3 of each bar

  • Next 8 bars = a click on beat 1 of each bar

  • Next 12 bars = a click on beat 1 once every 2 bars

  • Next 16 bars = a click on beat 1 once every 4 bars
Listen carefully, tap with your foot and try to clap the rhythm exactly at the right moment each time. It is not easy and requires plenty of practice !

Here are the same 8 basic Rhythm Segments, each one used twice to form a complete bar.

Audio 3.1

Clap and play the Preparatory Exercise 1 a few times, until confident, before embarking on the next Chapter.
Click anywhere on the sheet music to activated the Audio Demo.)

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RC 3.4 - Rhythm Patterns 1 - 24

Rhythm Patterns 1 - 12 and 13 - 24 consist of combinations of Rhythm Segments 1 to 8 only.

Clap and play these patterns first at a comfortable tempo (about 60 bpm) until you can play them confidently without any mistakes.
Then :

  1. Increase the tempo to improve your reading and playing skills

  2. Slow down the tempo to improve your timing accuracy.

The downbeats 1 and 3 are shown below each bar. If you have trouble reading a particular pattern write the additional beat positions (numbers and plus signs) underneath it in pencil, but rub them out as soon as you can play the pattern with some confidence correctly.

The following active links are embedded in the sheet music for all Rhythm Patterns


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RC 3.5 - Downbeat Anchor points

Music notation, where possible, groups quavers and shorter notes together into whole beats by beaming. The start of a beam indicates therefore almost always the point of a downbeat.
Exceptions :

  1. A group of 4 quavers are beamed together when they occur on beats 1 and 2, or on beats 3 and 4 (but never on beats 2 and 3).

  2. In Jazz : when the first quaver in Rhythm Segment 8 is replaced by a rest the remaining 3 quavers are usually still beamed together.

As explained in Chapter 3.2 above, written music shows the middle point (downbeat 3) of each bar.
In general only notes with white note heads run across the middle point of a bar.
Crotchets are almost always split into 2 quavers (on 2+ and 3) tied together, except in situations where a crotchet makes the reading easier.


Rests of 2 beats and shorter duration are written to show the downbeats and do not cross the middle point of the bar.


When playing from written music always look for the following anchor points :

  1. Notes which start on a downbeat.
    Always aim at getting the downbeat notes exactly on time. The notes in between will then naturally fall into the right place.

  2. Look for the middle point (downbeat 3) in the bar.
    This helps you to recognise the rhythm, as it breaks down the rhythm pattern into basic (2-beat) Rhythm Segments.

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RC 3.6 - The Circle of Fifths Play-a-Longs

Once you are familiar with clapping and playing the rhythm patterns with and without a Metronome you can use the Circle of Fifths Play-a-Long tracks.

The tracks use dominant 7th chords, 2 bars for each chord, in anti-clockwise Circle of Fifths order.
(2 bar of C7 - 2 bars of F7 - 2 bars of Bb7 - etc.)

Audio 3.2

The various instruments start at different points on the Circle of Fifths as shown above.

  • Concert key instruments (C-instruments) - start on C
    They include : accordion, banjo, bass flute, guitar, harp, keyboard, recorder, trombone, vibes, violin, voice

  • Bb-instruments - start on D
    They include : clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, trumpet

  • Eb-instruments - start on A
    They include : alto saxophone, baritone saxophone

Which notes to play
You can select any one note from each dominant 7th chords for playing with the Circle of Fifths tracks.
For example :

  1. Play the rhythm pattern with chord root tones only
    Roots : 2 bars on C   -   2 bars on F   -   2 bars on Bb   -   etc.
    (Audio 3.3 for RP 1-12)

  2. Play the rhythm pattern with any other chord tone (3rds, 5ths,7ths or 9th)
    3rds : 2 bars on E   -   2 bars on A   -   2 bars on D   -   etc.
    (Audio 3.4 for RP 13-24)

Keep it simple at first using one single note only : the main objective is to play the rhythms accurately and on time. Gradually experiment with using more notes : good improvisation practice for note selection and phrasing skills.

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RC 3.7 - Practice Material

Metronome   Play-a-Long tracks
Circle of 5ths   Dominant 7th chords
Rhythm Segments 1-8  
Preparatory Exercise 1 - Demo
Rhythm Patterns 1-12 - Demo   (Bossa)
Rhythm Patterns 13-24 - Demo   (Bossa)

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Copyright © 2004 - 2008 Michael Furstner (Jazclass). All rights reserved.