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The origins of syncopation in American popular music

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 June 2021

David Temperley
Affiliation:
Eastman School of Music, 26 Gibbs St, Rochester, NY 14604, USA
Corresponding

Abstract

The origins of syncopation in 20th-century American popular music have been a source of controversy. I offer a new account of this historical process. I distinguish between second-position syncopation, an accent on the second quarter of a half-note or quarter-note unit, and fourth-position syncopation, an accent on the fourth quarter of such a unit. Unlike second-position syncopation, fourth-position syncopation tends to have an anticipatory character. In an earlier study I presented evidence suggesting British roots for second-position syncopation. in contrast, fourth-position syncopation – the focus of the current study – seems to have had no presence in published 19th-century vocal music, British or American. It first appears in notation in ragtime songs and piano music at the very end of the 19th century; it was also used in recordings by African-American singers before it was widely notated.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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