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Syncopation in Common Time Signatures

Do you know those guitar riffs where you can't quite find the head-banging center? You’re trying to rock out, but just when you think you’ve identified the rhythmic center, the riff flips over, throwing off your internal body clock. You think to yourself, “Oh, this must be in some weird time signature like 7/4.”

The truth is, not all odd-sounding riffs subscribe to this thinking.

The use of triplet rhythms in a common time signature like 4/4 is a great way to mix up your otherwise familiar-sounding guitar playing. In the video lesson below, I walk you through various rhythm figures, from quarter notes to 16th note triplets, demonstrating how each pattern can affect the groove.

Confusing the listener’s ear in order to instill a sense of unresolved momentum is a great way to differentiate various sections of a song, as well as make the resolution to a subsequent chorus or bridge of a song more impactful.

The meat of this lesson concentrates on first transforming a given riff from quarter-note pulsations into a triplet-infused meter. Going further, I then display how removing certain notes from those triplet figures can result in truly progressive and odd-sounding music, even though we can clearly pinpoint the standard 4/4 signature underneath.

If you’re looking for a way to spice up your riff-writing and hone your rhythm chops in the process, this lesson will be right up your alley.

Tyler Larson is the founder of the guitar-centric brand Music is Win. His insightful, uncomplicated guitar lessons and gear demonstrations along with entertaining, satirical content about life as a musician receive tens of millions of video views per month across social media. Tyler is also the creator of the extremely popular online guitar learning platform, Guitar Super System. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Tyler has been teaching guitar for over a decade and operates a production studio in Nashville, TN.