Backbeats or just interesting beats?
November 11, 2012 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Can someone explain to me what backbeats are?

More specifically, does this song from the Kill Bill soundtrack exhibit use of backbeats on the drums?
posted by dfriedman to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A backbeat is simply the accenting of beats 2 and 4 (usually on the snare drum) in a standard 4-beats-per-bar time signature. The song you link to does have a backbeat (as does 90% of rock music).
posted by dfan at 11:17 AM on November 11, 2012

Most pop/rock music is in a time signature of 4/4. So you can count along with it 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 etc.

In most Western music you emphasise beats 1 and 3. (Imagine a marching band march, you can strongly feel it there) The count is ONE, two, THREE, four.

If you have a backbeat the emphasis is on 2 and 4. Most rock beats emphasise 2 and 4 (the backbeat) and is a large part of what makes it sound "rocky". A basic rock rhythm is a classic example. When the drums come in on the Kill Bill song, it does indeed have a backbeat.

On preview what the nice person above just said.
posted by jujulalia at 11:18 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

A "backbeat" is a rhythm which places more emphasis on the second and fourth notes of a bar than on the first and third. Think: "one-and-TWO-and three-and-FOUR-and."

That song, yes, has a backbeat.

For that matter, so does just about every rock, pop or country song recorded since 1950. It is extremely common: it's basically the standard, default rhythm for current music.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:20 AM on November 11, 2012

Thanks, that was an easy question, I guess.
posted by dfriedman at 11:24 AM on November 11, 2012

Coincidentally this backbeat-driven song by Tapes 'n Tapes was just now playing here.
posted by rhizome at 11:56 AM on November 11, 2012

Mind if I ask for an example of a song that doesn't have one?
posted by empath at 1:00 PM on November 11, 2012

A good barebones example is in this instruction video at 1:46:

You can hear the identical components--cymbal on the eighth notes, snare on 2 and 4--in that song from the kill bill sountrack.
posted by bfields at 1:10 PM on November 11, 2012

Mind if I ask for an example of a song that doesn't have one?

My favorite example is the Pixies' Bone Machine, which has the exact opposite of a backbeat. Through most of the song, the emphasis is firmly on the downbeat: ONE and two and THREE and four and.

Another, maybe better-known exmple would be the shuffle beat from "Fool in the Rain."

Also: Waltzes. Most songs with an Afro-Cuban or Afro-Brazilian beat (rumba, son, merengue, bossa nova, samba). Just about anything you'll ever hear on a classical radio station.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:57 PM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mind if I ask for an example of a song that doesn't have one?

A common variant in rock and dance music is to accent 1 2 3 4. For instance, the verses of "Lump" by the Presidents of the United States of America. (The chorus has a standard backbeat.)
posted by John Cohen at 2:11 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah that Pixies song is it. It took me a while to realize the emphasis was not on 2 and 4. Cool.
posted by sully75 at 2:43 PM on November 11, 2012

From 1947, the same song (essentially) by the same performer, with and without a backbeat.

Without a clear backbeat:

Roy Brown - Good Rockin' Tonight

and with a handclapped backbeat (begins around 0:18, some people say this is the birth of rock and roll):

Roy Brown - Rockin' at Midnight
posted by caek at 3:38 PM on November 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

For strong examples, most rockabilly stuff emphasises beats 2 and 4 significantly. Like so.

A lot of hard rock, metal etc, applies a more sledgehammmer approach to 4/4, often emphasising beat one, or one and three, or all four more or less equally. Mick Jagger was famously dismissive of the more excessively bludgeoning versions of this when he said something like "They know how to rock, but they don't know how to roll."
posted by Decani at 3:21 AM on November 12, 2012

I feel like there's a spectrum of emphasis, and music that has more African American influence generally has a stronger emphasis on the backbeat. That's a monster generalization but I think as a generalization it is somewhat true.

Fiddle music, for instance. Irish fiddle music is fairly 1 and 3 oriented (that's where people tap their feet). Old time Appalachian music (which is sort of N European fiddle music with a ton of African influence) is much more backbeat oriented. Kinda. Although in Irish music I hear a strong backbeat too. Sometimes I think it's less the African influence, and more an economic thing: people who play music for their own entertainment and who dance generally prefer a backbeat.

Talking about music is dangerous though. It's very easy to poke holes in any of the above...
posted by sully75 at 6:49 AM on November 12, 2012

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