Just let me hear that rock & roll music
Any old way you choose it
It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it
When describing rock and roll, Berry referred to its “back beat.” This is an example of the lingo that musicians often use. We have unusual words for all sorts of things: a band works to get “tight,” a drummer plays “in the pocket,” a guitarist learns a new “riff” and a blues song has a “turn-around.”
When it comes to counting rhythm, three terms that you are sure to run into are down beat, up beat and back beat. For simplicity, we will use the four-four time signature to explain each of them.
A measure of music is counted “1-2-3-4” in four-four time. The numbers that are being counted fall on the down beat.
You put an “and” in between the numbers (down beat) when you count the measure using eighth notes, “1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and”. The “ands” are on the up beat.
Why do we designate the numbers as the down beat and the “ands” as the up beat? Try clapping the beat with your hand moving vertically (imagine that your arms are an alligator’s mouth). When the top hand claps the bottom hand, that is the down beat and you would count the numbers. When the top hand is at it’s highest point, you are at the up beat and you are counting the “ands”.
The back beat is a bit different from the down beat and the up beat. A back beat happens when a beat in the measure is emphasized other than beats 1 or 3. The most common back beat is an emphasis on 2 and 4. On the drum kit, the snare typically plays the back beat on 2 and 4. This is also the beat in the measure with which the audience is supposed to clap.