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"For some reason he and his friends kept singing the same tune the whole way there. They sang it mechanically and off the beat from one another."

  • Chekhov, Anton. ["A Nervous Breakdown" / "The Seizure" / "An Attack of Nerves" / "Breakdown"]

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Beat: Beat also has more than one meaning, but always refers to music with a steady pulse. It may refer to the pulse itself (as in “play this note on beat two of the measure”).On the beat or on the downbeat refer to the moment when the pulse is strongest. Off the beat is in between pulses, and the upbeat is exactly halfway between pulses. Beatmay also refer to a specific repetitive rhythmic pattern that maintains the pulse (as in “it has a Latin beat”). Note that once a strong feeling of having a beat is established, it is not necessary for something to happen on every beat; a beat can still be “felt” even if it is not specifically heard. - Link

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Assume you are playing in 4/4 time. For every bar there are 4 beats. Playing 'on the beat' means playing a note at the same time as one of those 4 beats begins. If a bar has 4 quarter-notes in 4/4 time, every note would be played 'on the beat'. Playing 'off the beat' means playing a note at some time other than the start of a beat. Imagine a bar that has 8 eighth-notes in 4/4 time. In this case, the first note is played 'on the beat', the second is 'off the beat', the third is 'on the beat', etc. - Music SE

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Off the beat means not to the beat/ not to the rhythm/ not in accordance with the beat (kind of unpleasant).

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  • Okay, I get it. I vaguely intuited something like your explanation. I balked however because of the sentences reference of the beat to other singers. It makes sense now. Each singer is maintaining their own beat, or rhythm, as they sing.
    – Pound Hash
    Mar 23, 2020 at 11:24

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