Handling Rhythmic Anticipations

Anticipation: What is it?

One of the most common stumbling blocks of rhythmic playing is the anticipation. An anticipation is a note (of any time-value) that is brought forward or played earlier, followed by either a tie or a rest. When an anticipation occurs it creates a feeling of forward motion, urgency and excitement. However, when played wrongly, an anticipated note sounds rushed.

How it works

An easy way to understand anticipation is as follows. Think of a row of quarter notes or crotchets in a bar of 4/4 time. All four notes here are played on the downbeats or the main beats; there are no anticipated rhythms. Note the accents (extra emphasis) on beats 2 and 4.

Four Q notes-1

Now, let’s anticipate Beat 3 of the bar, or the third F note. This example shows the note on Beat 3 being brought forward by half a beat, and tied over the rest of Beat 3. Note the accent now falls on the anticipated beat “and-of-2” while beat 4 still retains its original accent. Anticipating Beat 3 tie-1

The second example is the same, except Beat 3 itself is now a rest. When an anticipated note is followed by a rest, it gives an extra kick to the overall effect — enhanced by the accent on the anticipated beat “and-of-2”. Anticipating Beat 3 rest-1

In this next example, Beat 3 is not anticipated as it is still sounded on the third beat itself. In this case, there is only an extra rhythmic time-value to Beat 2, or the original quarter note has been split into two eighth notes adding more motion to the rhythm. Note the accents are back on beats 2 and 4.

No anticipation-1

Getting Anticipations Right!

This is how you practice all rhythmic passages.  Always make sure you maintain a steady downbeat — I personally like using the heel of the right foot. Place your heel down as you count each main downbeat. Instinctively, you will notice that as you lift your heel it hits the upbeat between the main beats, and this upbeat is commonly counted as “and,” represented by the symbol “+.”

Train yourself to internalize the downbeats, feel them each and every time your heel hits the floor. For a start, count out loud the pulse of the measure. In the examples above, the pulse is represented by the smallest re-occuring time-value in the measure, which is the eighth note. Hence, begin counting 1+2+3+4+ (one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and) as your heel digs in on the main beats.

When you are ready, use one of your hands to tap the top of a table (or any stable surface), or the side of your thigh. (You can clap too, but make sure one hand is held stationary while the other taps on it — unlike when you are applauding where both hands are brought together — to ensure you get a steady rhythm.)

As you are counting the pulse and feeling the main beats, tap the first example. This will coincide exactly with your heel movement. For the anticipated examples, do the same thing, but this time instead of tapping on downbeat 3 together with your heel, tap on the and-of-2 as you are counting out loud. If you do this correctly and without rushing the timing, you will feel a sudden urgency in the rhythm.

Listen to the anticipated examples, then try tapping along to get the overall feel of how this rhythmic manipulation should sound.

When does an anticipation occur?

Anticipations of Beats 1 and 3 are very common, although technically any beat of the bar can be anticipated.

Play through and listen to the following examples:

Anticipating 1 and 3-1

Compare the above with the following anticipations of Beats 2 and 4.

Anticipating 2 and 4-1

To me, anticipating Beats 1 and/or 3 sounds more compelling, much more exciting, has a cooler feel than the latter. How so? I’ll explain and demonstrate in my next post.


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    • Hey Tammy, glad you find the information here useful! And thanks for sharing and liking my FB page as well! You’re doing an incredible job too of making piano-playing FUN while not forgetting to emphasize the FUNdamentals! Yes, do visit more often 🙂

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