4.5 Offbeats and Syncopation

Offbeats are easy when someone plays on the downbeat. If the downbeat is a conductor solo, it can be much harder! The important thing here is to give quite a “dry” beat with minimal rebound. This gives the players certainty about where the silence is, and they can then decide where to place the offbeat. You can prove this to yourself with a group of musicians. Ask them to play an offbeat after your downbeat, and then give a beat that bounces back to the top of the upbeat. If they do manage to play together, it will likely be without much conviction. Try again with a firm beat that stops pretty much where it lands – the result will almost certainly be better. A good analogy is to visualise an axe going into a tree. 

The Holst excerpt is a great way to practise this technique: there are 20 beats before the melody starts and only 8 of them have somebody playing on the beat. You can also think about dynamics, particularly getting the accompaniment to be piano at measure 7 while the melody is forte. Notice also how the character of the beat changes in measures 11 & 12 when the accompaniment becomes more sustained.

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