Offbeat in music

Since we are talking about rhythmic analysis, it is worth explaining the meaning of “offbeat”.

What is Offbeat?

Any time in a song can be subdivided into strong and weak parts. The strong part is the one that makes the main beat, usually highlighted by the bass drum and/or the snare. The weak parts are the intermediate times between the strong parts.

For example, in the first song we reviewed (Rolling in the Deep), beats 1 and 3 of our count are the strong beats of the song, while beats 2 and 4 are the weak beats. It is not difficult to see that the pulse of the song is in beats 1 and 3, so they are called strong beats, or “on” beats.

If an instrument were playing its notes in beats 2 and 4, we would say that it is playing offbeat, as its note marking is taking place in the weak beats of the song.

Therefore, the definition of offbeat in sheet music is to put a note on the weak part of the song and a rest on the strong part.

Despite being a not very intuitive way to play, the offbeat provides a very pleasant feeling for the listener when well explored. Soul & Groove bassists, for example, often use this feature a lot.

Go to: Rhythmic Exercises

Back to: Module 12