A generative model for the characterization of musical rhythms

George Sioros, Matthew E.P. Davies, Carlos Guedes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present a novel model for the characterization of musical rhythms that is based on the pervasive rhythmic phenomenon of syncopation. Syncopation is felt when the sensation of the regular beat or pulse in the music is momentarily disrupted; the feeling arises from breaking more expected patterns such as pickups (anacrusis) and faster events that introduce and bridge the notes articulated on the beats. Our model begins with a simple pattern that articulates a beat consistent with the metrical expectations of a listener. Any rhythm is then generated from a unique combination of transformations applied on that simple pattern. Each transformation introduces notes in off-beat positions as one of three basic characteristic elements: (1) syncopations, (2) pickup rhythmic figures and (3) faster notes that articulate a subdivision of the beat. The characterization of a pattern is based on an algorithm that discovers and reverses the transformations in a stepwise manner. We formalize the above transformations and present the characterization algorithm, and then demonstrate and discuss the model through the analysis of the main rhythmic pattern of the song ‘Don’t stop ‘till you get enough’ by Michael Jackson.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-128
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of New Music Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 15 2018


  • Rhythm
  • metre
  • music analysis
  • syncopation
  • timing
  • transformation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Music


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