In Kingdom Hearts, with nearly every field/town theme comes a corresponding battle theme. Epic battles need epic music, and battle themes are usually driven by strong percussion or otherwise strong rhythms. This particular battle theme includes one of my favorite rhythmic components, our topic for today: syncopation.
Let’s listen to “Daybreak Town Battle Theme”:
I love how Yoko Shimomura writes her battle themes, in relation to their corresponding field/town themes. They’re not quite variations, but usually they will have definite similarities—often in terms of instrumentation, and perhaps tempi (plural of tempo) that are close. In the case of Daybreak Town and its corresponding battle theme, we have a strong presence of strings and piano, and the overall bright tone is still there.
The focus in today’s article is going to be on syncopation. What exactly is syncopation? Syncopation occurs when a rhythm is unexpected, or off-beat—off-beat meaning off of the downbeat/strong beat. For example, if a piece is in 4/4 (four beats per measure, counted as 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and ), a syncopated rhythm would have accented beats on the “and”s.
Although syncopation is used in all kinds of music, one of my favorite examples of syncopation is one of Girls’ Generation’s Japanese songs called “motorcycle”. It can be a little tricky to pick up on the syncopation, but in the line “speed a-ge-te mo-tor-cy-cle”, and “who’s ri-ding mo-tor-cy-cle?”, all of those words are on off-beats.
There’s a lot of syncopation throughout the entire song, which gives it a very driven, bouncy feel. Think of how boring it would be if all of the notes were simply on the downbeat!?
In “Daybreak Town Battle Theme”, the main melody line does not include much syncopation, and most of the other instruments follow melodies that lie mostly on the usual downbeats. But throughout the whole piece—especially present at the beginning—the strings are percussion are playing the same rhythmic pattern:
Since the piece is in 4/4, there are four strong beats per measure, and you will notice that all counts in red are the accented rhythms. The second part of the melody (after the first three notes) begins on the off-beat between beats 4 and 1 of the next measure. The actual pitches in each section do not follow this exactly, but if you listen closely you can hear this rhythm throughout the entire piece, especially when the track loops.
Now imagine if that rhythm was not syncopated, and instead was like this, where the second part of the melody begins on the downbeat of 1 of the next measure:
Isn’t that boring!? I don’t know about you, but I much prefer the syncopation. There’s something about a syncopated rhythm that seems to tie the music together. The downbeat of a piece of music is a very powerful thing, on a visceral level—our mother’s heartbeat was the very first thing that we as human beings ever heard, so naturally we are drawn to strong beats. But when you add that little bit of syncopation—that little bit of delightful surprise—it can make the music that much sweeter. ♪
Stay tuned for more Single-Track Analysis Articles of tracks from Kingdom Hearts Unchained X / Kingdom Hearts Union Cross! One article every day in the month of April 2017!