AskDefine | Define downbeat

Dictionary Definition

downbeat n : the first beat of a musical measure (as the conductor's arm moves downward)

User Contributed Dictionary



From down + beat.


  1. The accented beat at the beginning of a bar (indicated by a conductor with a downward stroke)


  1. sad or pessimistic


Extensive Definition

In music performance and music theory, the downbeat is the first beat of a measure in music, the impulse that occurs at the beginning of a bar in measured music. It is named after the downward stroke of the director or conductor's baton at the start of each measure. This differentiates it from the back beat on the even beats.
James Brown’s signature funk groove emphasized the downbeat – that is, with heavy emphasis "on the one" (the first beat of every measure) – to etch his distinctive sound, rather than the backbeat, familiar to many R&B musicians, that placed the emphasis on the second beat. According to the New York Times: "By the mid-1960's Brown was producing his own recording sessions. In February 1965, with 'Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,' he decided to shift the beat of his band: from the one-two-three-four backbeat to one-two-three-four. 'I changed from the upbeat to the downbeat,' Mr. Brown said in 1990. 'Simple as that, really.'" According to Maceo Parker, Brown's former saxophonist, playing on the downbeat was at first hard for him and took some getting used to. Reflecting back to his early days with Brown's band, Parker reported that he had difficulty in playing "on the one" during solo performances, since he was used to hearing and playing with the accent on the second beat.b Thus summarising the downbeat.


downbeat in Japanese: ダウンビート
downbeat in Ukrainian: Даун-біт

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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