We expect strong beats to fall on certain beats of the bar, such as the first
or third beats. We are used to them falling at least squarely on one of the beats.
When they don’t, a slight rhythmic hiccup develops, like this:
In this case, the notes with the accent marks (>) are stressed on the second
half of the first and fourth beats, while the thumb bass plays squarely on the downbeat.
This results in a syncopated rhythm.
To understand upbeats and downbeats, simply tap a four-beat rhythm with your
fingers on a table. When the fingers go down to make the tap, that is the downbeat.
When the fingers come up, the highest point reached marks the upbeat, the point
halfway between the main beats. If a conductor was beating the time, his baton would
travel up for the upbeat.
Here is a tune to play that includes syncopation. Notice that the “and” beats
(which have accent marks) cause the syncopated effect, so give them extra stress.
This type of syncopation is at the heart of the Travis picking style, where it
is used to give bounce and rhythmic interest to the guitar accompaniment. Here are
some examples to try using the C, F, and G7 chords:
When you play this example, let the notes ring until the chord changes. It would
be more accurate to write it like this:
However, this seems a little harder to read, and the effect is exactly the same
as long as the notes are held.
Now let’s add more movement:
The next example adds another pair of eighth notes to each measure.
In this example, we start the movement right on the first beat for a change.
Here is a good-sounding practice example with more chord changes.
Finally, here is a complete song to try in Travis style. Notice the following
points when you play it:
The bass note of the chord can be alternated for variety. For example, in the
first measure, instead of playing the low C twice, the low G is used.
Similarly, in the second measure, the D is used as bass on the first beat instead
of using the G twice.
Different patterns can be mixed. For instance, the first and second measures
use slightly different patterns.
The real secret is to keep experimenting. Try varying both the notes of the chord
and the rhythm patterns.