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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Surf Musician »

Permalink Rhythm guitar and syncopation ??s

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Greetings all. I have been lurking for awhile and have finally decided to post. This site is a wealth of information and thanks to all who contribute day after day. I have a newbie-type question, but hopefully it will spawn some interesting discussion.

When I play rhythm guitar over a straight 4 beat drum pattern (k s k s) or "standard" surf drum pattern (k ss k s), I have a natural tendency to want to syncopate the rhythm so that I skip the beat 3 down-beat and play on the 3 upbeat (the "&" of 3). Like this: 1 2& _& 4&, tying the 2 and 3 upbeats.

I know there are no rules in music, but is this bad form to play a syncopated rhythm when the rest of the rhythm section isn't? Should I try to be locking in to the drums more and play the "and of 3" only if the drummer is also playing that. How free are the guitars (including bass) to play their own rhythmic variations (within reason, still sticking to the underlying signature) irrespective of what the kick and snare drums are doing? On the other hand how closely should the guitars being locking into the drums? Are we getting into poly-rhythms, jazz, and prog rock territory here?

Thanks for any responses. I have been searching the web for answers and I'm not finding what I am looking for. Plenty on syncopation in general, but not on in the context of what the rest of the rhythm section may be doing. I'm also going to pose this question to my daughter's drum teacher at next week's lesson.

  • Eric

Last edited: Jun 02, 2011 17:41:24

Welcome Eric.
A lot depends on what kind of rhythm you're talking about. Chord rhythm is often syncopated, while the driving palm-muted rhythm often associated with Surf Music (Think "Baja") is eighth notes played with all downstrokes.

Eric can you upload an example or thrown one up on youtube? Rhythm guitar technique is integral to a surf band and can definitely stand some more analysis here.

Danny Snyder

aka El Viejo Gringo of Combo Tezeta
aka Mycroft Eloi of The TomorrowMen
aka Shecky Shekels of Meshugga Beach Party

I want buns of steel. But I also want buns of cinnamon.

Are you consciously trying to play off-beat? If not, then I would say there is a problem. You should be able to hit the beat; it is your job. If it is intentional, and if it sounds good to you and the group, then go with it.


Last edited: Jun 03, 2011 14:02:19

I'm with LHR on this - if it works you'll know and so will the band and our band's sound. It will feel forced or too busy if not. Each band is different. If I understand the OP's question, would that syncopation works best with faster songs?

IMO surf music then and now flows in and out of rhythmic variations which adds to the originality, excitement and mystery of the music as well as makes it a challenge to try and learn other surf band's songs at times.

I play rhythm guitar and I drift in and out with the drums or lead guitar depending on the song, but we do a lot of harmonics in our music, so I'm with the lead on those sorts of runs. Others you need the rhythm to help pull the song along more.


elreydlp - I'm mainly talking chord rhythm, although the questions pertain to rhythm in general.

DannySnyder - I uploaded a couple of examples:

LHR - Yes, I'm consciously playing off the beat. I think you nailed it when you said go for it if it sounds good.

Volcanik - Great insights as well.

Here's a read that does a pretty good job of answering some of the more general questions I have about rhythm and how all the different players in an ensemble contribute to the rhythmic pulse of a piece of music. It's jazz-centric, but it seems to apply to any music:

I guess in a nutshell, there's seems to be quite a bit of freedom for individual players to add their own rhythmic variations to the general rhythmic pulse of a piece (as Volcanik mentioned). Their choices may provide a sense of rhythmic unity, interest, tension, chaos, or all the above throughout a piece. It also seems that too much rhythmic variation, while maybe sounding okay, may undermine the particular style that's being performed. E.g., if one decides to lay down a heavy funk groove in a surf tune. But maybe that approach would work also in the right setting (?).

I'm sure much of my ramblings are intrinsic knowledge to seasoned musicians. I see where it's easy to fall into a trap of overthinking music. Thanks for your input.


Last edited: Jun 06, 2011 21:04:18

Thanks for posting those samples, now I hear what you mean. The syncopated sample is far more preferable to the non-syncopated one. Check out this video containing a fine example of a syncopated rhythm.

The best way to judge how your rhythm guitar part works is to record it and listen. Far easier than judging while playing.

Danny Snyder

aka El Viejo Gringo of Combo Tezeta
aka Mycroft Eloi of The TomorrowMen
aka Shecky Shekels of Meshugga Beach Party

I want buns of steel. But I also want buns of cinnamon.

Which is preferable depends on what the other instruments are doing, no? When we hear just the drums and rhythm guitar we only hear half the story. Both sycopated and non-syncopated versions work with the drums, but they are different and which you choose to play somewhat depends on what the bass and lead are doing.

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How to decide what to play...answer these questions and you'll find your answer:

  1. How does it sound? If it sounds relaxed and blends well with what everyone else is doing, then you're probably doing it right.

  2. Can you play your rhythm without upsetting the lead player? Yeah, it can be tiresome, but ask the lead player to listen to what you're doing, and to make sure you're not creating a melodic clusterf*ck somewhere. May as well do this with the bass player as well. In surf, their opinions actually mean something.

  3. Can you really play it that way, any time, all the time? Brian Carman could play the "Pipeline" rhythm every single time, but can you? Stick with what you're comfortable with, and leave the awe-inspiring stuff for the studio or the 2nd set.

Bottom line: play what you like. If you think it sounds good, then it probably is. If you have a doubt, then ask for opinions from your band.

When I started to learn guitar my teacher said playing rhythm correctly means the folks listening are tapping their feet to your playing. I think that simple advice is still true today. I try to play rhythm patterns that fit with the drummer and base player.

Happy Sunsets!

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