Ever listen to ska or reggae? Have you noticed the prominence of the upbeat, usually played by guitar, or keys?
(The upbeat is the beat that’s normally not prominent – the beat when, if you’re tapping your toes, your toes would be up. For example, if you count 1-2-3-4 in a pop or rock song, the 1 and 3 are usually stronger, and the 2 and 4 are less prominent. Divide the time into divisions half as long, and then you have “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and,” where 1-2-3-4 are stronger than the “and”s. Divide it again and you have the same idea, faster, although you have to say “1-e-and-uh-2-e-and-uh-3-e-and-uh-4-e-and-uh.” For more detail on what the upbeat is, here’s Wikipedia’s definition.)
Cool. OK, now, can you sing on the upbeat? Not everyone can. For some people it comes naturally, but for others it takes some work. It’s good to be able to do, because otherwise you can sound very square!
Here’s a 30-second clip where a lot of the words are sung on the upbeat. Listen in particular to “life ain’t always what it seems, oh yeah”:
Can you sing those words accurately where they’re supposed to land? Or do you find yourself sliding toward the pull of the downbeat? It’s tricky, because the lyrics go back and forth between landing on the downbeat and landing on the upbeat.
If you can sing on the upbeat, great. If you can’t, here’s what to do.
1) Tap one hand – say, your right hand – to the count of 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and. In the Shining Star clip, that’s the speed at which you’d have 8 taps for the time of “when you wish upon a star.” This hand is tapping on a downbeat.
2) Tap your left hand alternating with your right hand. So now you have taps happening twice as fast – 16 taps during the time of “when you wish upon a star.” Your left hand is tapping on an upbeat.
3) Stop tapping your right hand, but keep your left hand tapping on the upbeat. It’s harder than it seems! Your left hand is going to want to obey the gravitational pull of the downbeat. You know you’re doing it right when your left hand taps exactly in time with the words “life ain’t always what it seems oh yeah.”
Practice this for a while on several different days. The feeling of the offbeat will settle in to your body after some time, and you’ll be able to sing on the offbeat!
(c) 2010 Adrienne Osborn