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In a post called The (Actual) Evolution of Cool, I described the difference between cool and non-cool music using Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and a Sousa march. TL;DR: Putting the emphasis in unexpected places tickles the cerebellum’s timekeeper, which simulates danger, which feels cool.

One way to inject the unexpected into music is by emphasizing the offbeats. If a song has four beats per measure, as most do, beats 1 and 3 are strong beats, the obvious places to put your emphasis. Polka bands, marches, and hymns all emphasize 1 and 3.

But if you want to be even cooler than a hymn, throw the emphasis to the offbeats — one-TWO-three-FOUR.

Harry Connick Jr. is a cool guy, but his audience is mostly white suburban moms, sorry, which means the clapping is gonna be on 1 and 3, which kills the feels. And the particular kind of New Orleans jazz he plays can teeter between cool and square, so a little push from the wrong side of the beat is death.

The concert clip below starts with 40 seconds of painful 1-3 clapping, and sure enough, Connick’s piano sounds rinky dink. But right at 0:40 Connick adds a beat, turning one of the four-beat measures into a five-beat measure. The audience just keeps clapping on every other beat, but now they’re on 2 and 4, and everybody wins. You can see the drummer exulting in the background when he realizes that Connick saved the swing:

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Genius move.

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h/t Rob Tarr | Top image by Stephanie Schoyer Creative Commons 2.0

Title inspiration via Drummer’s Resource


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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.