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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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Next UK ABRSM Paper-based Theory Exams Grades 6-8:
Tue 16th November 2021 [Grades 1-5 available online on demand from Aug 2021]
Next UK Trinity Paper-based Theory Exams Grades 1-8:
Sat 6th November 2021

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Grade 7 Music Theory - Rhythm in Score Reading Questions


In un-syncopated music, the longer notes fall on the stronger beats of the bar. For example, in 12/8, one beat is worth one dotted crotchet (dotted quarter note), and there are four of them in each bar. So an un-syncopated rhythm could look like this:

non syncopated rhythm


In syncopated music, the longer notes are displaced onto a weaker part of the bar, i.e. somewhere not falling on the beat. I’ve rewritten the above rhythm using the same lengths of notes, but pushed forward by a crotchet (quarter note). Now the longer notes fall on the off beats, and the rhythm is syncopated.

syncopated rhythm grade 7 music theory


To find out whether a section of music is syncopated or not, first you need to look at the time signature and work out where the strong beats fall. Then decide whether the longer note values in the rhythm are aligned with the main beats. If they are not, then the music is syncopated.

In this example, both bars contain syncopation, in different ways:

syncopation examples grade 7


In the first bar, the quaver (eighth note) A falls on a weaker beat than the semiquavers (16th notes) either side of it. In the second bar, the tied Bs create a note worth ¾ of a beat, but this note falls just before beat 2, (which is the second strongest beat of the bar in 2/4).


Alternative Rhythms

Some rhythms can be written in more than one way, with the same aural effect. For example, in compound time signatures, a duplet can be written as two dotted notes. These two rhythms are identical:

alternative rhythm rhythmic notation



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