An accent (which we will cover more later) is an emphasis on a note during performance. Usually, this is indicated by the composer on the sheet music to tell the performer on which notes to put the accent.
However, accents can also naturally happen. We have talked about this before with metric grouping. Within a measure a specific number of beats are grouped together. Not only is it used for organization, but it helps tell the performer where to put the emphasis when playing.
A metric accents is a natural emphasis put on a note due to its placement in the meter. Below is a graph with the level of accentuation put on different beats of various metric groupings:
You have probably already realized this knowing that an upbeat is light, while a downbeat is strong.
Now for a new term:
Syncopation, placing the accent on a weak or unexpected part/division of the beat.
When the emphasis avoids the strong metric accents and is applied to the weaker beats, or to the beat divisions (eighth-notes, etc.), it is called syncopation.
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