How to Use Anticipation in Music

“Music Arranging:

The Basics of Anticipation”


  • Anticipation explained
  1. Definition
  2. Note values review
  3. Why rhythm clapping
  4. Straight & anticipated rhythm clapping
  5. Imaginary bar line

music notes stream

In the last 12 posts I’ve talked about various kinds of song forms such as the arrangers chorus, major scales and keys and a little bit about minor scales. In future posts I will elaborate further on the 12 minor scales as I’ve done with the major ones. But now, finally, it’s time to start applying music arranging techniques as advertized in my title description (after a long long time, yawn). The first technique we’re going to discuss is called anticipation:


Anticipation explained


In contemporary music an anticipation is a rhythmic shift of melody and/or harmony where notes which are normally played “on the beat“, are played either a half beat early (an eight note anticipation) or a quarter beat early (a sixteenth note anticipation). The outcome is a melodic and/or harmonic anticipation.

Note values review

Before I start giving you examples, here is a chart to refresh your mind of all the rhythmic beat divisions:

Rhytmic subdivision of music notes





1 whole note (at the top) = 2 half notes = 4 quarter notes = 8 eighth notes = 16 sixteenth notes = 32 thirty-second notes (bottom). All different note values are equal 4 beats.

Here are two examples of anticipation:

Examples Melodic Anticipations









Eighth note anticipation is more often used in jazz and Latin tunes, where melodies with eighth note rhythms are prevalent. Sixteenth note, as well as eighth note anticipation are used frequently in rock and funk songs where sixteenth note melodic rhythms are most common.

“Why rhythm clapping?”

Rhythm clapping is very important. If you can’t clap eighth and sixteenth note anticipations, how can you play them on your instrument. If you aren’t sure you can clap these, below are some exercises to get you started.

It’s important to separate straight (regular) and anticipated rhythms, so you know which one is which. It also gives you the capability to change straight rhythms into anticipated ones.

“Straight & Anticipated Rhythm Clapping”

Ant. = Anticipation in the examples below. Remember how to count eighth notes? One – and, two – and, three – and, four – and.  Please clap the following examples and check them with the attached audio files:

Example 1

Straight and Anticipated 8th Note Clapping Example 1





Example 2

Straight and Anticipated 8th Note Clapping Exmaple 2








Example 3

Straight and Anticipated 8th Note Clapping Example 3









Example 4 is with 16th note anticipations. Again remember how to count sixteenth notes? One – ee – and – a, two – ee – and – a, three – ee – and – a, four – ee – and – a.

Straight and Anticipated 16th Note Clapping Example 4





“Imaginary Bar Line”

Before I start to discuss melodic and harmonic anticipations, there’s one more thing you need to know with regard to rhythmic notation. In 4/4 time (4 beats = 4 quarter notes), the 3rd beat of the measure should always be clearly visible. That means that you always should think of an imaginary bar line, in this case to divide the measure into 2 equal halves.

As shown below you can clearly see the division between beats 1 and 2, which are on the left side and beats 3 and 4 on the right site of the imaginary bar line. This is necessary so that musicians can quickly locate all the beats of a rhythm, instead of trying to figure out where they are.

Example 1

Imaginary Bar Line Example 1









Beams of eighth note (and sixteenth notes) groupings should not cross the imaginary bar line.

Example 2

Eighth Note Beamings






Rhythms relating to sixteenth notes should be notated so that all 4 beats are noticeable. Remember this: the smaller the note value, the more divisions you have to make.

Example 3

Sixteenth Note Beamings with Imaginary Barlines






Please rewrite the 4 examples below so that they are adjusted to the imaginary bar line:

Four Exercises Imaginary Bar Line








You can download the answers here

How about the imaginary bar line in other time signatures? We know now that in 4/4 time the imaginary bar line appears at beat no. 3, which is exactly halfway.

When a song is in 3/4 time (waltz), what would be half way? A half of 3 would be 1 ½, right? However most often the imaginary bar line would appear at every beat, this makes it easier to read:

3/4 Imaginary Bar Line Examples











No. 1 could be either way notated as none of them are wrong. No. 2 are exceptions again. No. 3 and 4 are notated so that each beat is clearly visible as in the 4/4 examples.

Here are two more time signatures which are frequently used in any kind of music: 2/4 which consists out of 2 quarter notes. The imaginary bar line here appears between beats 1 and 2.

2/4 Time Signature with Imaginary Bar Line











No. 1 is an exception again because there’s only one single beat involved. No. 3 and 4 are the same rhythms, both ways are written correctly.  No. 5 and 6 are also the same and again both ways are fine. No. 7 and 8 are sixteenth note rhythms.

Then we have 6/8 time which consists out of 6 eighth note beats. The imaginary bar line appears between the 3rd and 4th beats and eighth notes are notated in groupings of 3.

Note that 1 beat equals one eighth note instead of 1 quarter note. Counting 6/8 time is simple: 1 2 3 4 5 6. Sixteenth notes are counted as one – and, two – and, three – and, etc.

6/8 Time Signature with Imaginary Bar Line









A recap of today’s post:

  • I’ve discussed what the definition is of an anticipation in music
  • I’ve shown you a review of the most common note values
  • I’ve discussed why it’s important to be able to clap a rhythm
  • I’ve shown you examples of straight and anticipated rhythm clapping
  • I’ve discussed and shown examples why it’s important to think of an imaginary bar line while writing rhythms, melodies and/or harmonies


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I had to split this post into 2 halves otherwise it would have gotten to lengthy and readers would have probably fallen asleep. So soon you’ll see my second post, How to Write for Harmonic & Melodic Anticipation, published.

For now review all the stuff in this post and experiment with writing some anticipated rhythms or melodies. Catch you later.

About the Author:

Hans Hansen is the author and founder of “The Music Arrangers Page” and is always happy to share his passion for music arranging. In addition, he is a well experienced piano & bass guitar teacher, specializing in classical, rock and jazz. Any questions you have about music arranging; he is the person to ask. He also likes to invite you to download his Special Free Gift and connect with him on Facebook & Twitter or leave a comment on his blog.


  • By Joan Groff, September 2, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

    Very clear and informative material. I am looking forward to the next installment.

  • By Hans, September 6, 2012 @ 10:40 am

    Thanks a lot. Nice to hear that my material is useful.

Other Links to this Post

  1. My Personal Melodies | The Music Arrangers Page — September 15, 2012 @ 10:22 am

  2. Music Arranging - Kinds of Anticipations | The Music Arrangers Page — September 25, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

  3. Music Arranging - Anticipations in Musical Styles | The Music Arrangers Page — October 6, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

  4. How to Arrange a Song from Scratch - The Basics | The Music Arrangers Page — November 30, 2012 @ 10:45 am

  5. How to Write for Harmonic & Melodic Anticipation | The Music Arrangers Page — February 15, 2013 @ 11:35 am

  6. How to Apply Anticipation in Musical Styles | The Music Arrangers Page — March 11, 2013 @ 8:21 am

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