Watch the Syncopation online guitar lesson by Matthieu Brandt from Modern Mountain Banjo: Clawhammer & Up-Picking
Syncopation is, as Wikipedia
states, the placement of rhythmic stress and accents where you wouldn't expect it. A tune or a part of a song can sound offbeat or syncopated. Unlike any other instrument, the banjo is suited to mixing straight on beat rhythms with syncopated rhythms, especially when you're playing clawhammer styles or related styles like up picking. The reason for this is of course the short pedal string. In most common banjo tunings like open G, sawmill, double C, and open C, this pedal string is tuned to the root or the fifth of the key, meaning a strong note within the key. When you're playing a "bum ditty" clawhammer groove, that pedal string is played on the and
of 2 and 4; literally on the off beats. The combination of the frail or strum on top off beats 1, 2, 3, and 4 and the syncopated strong notes played on the pedal string make for a funky foot tapping groove.
These next exercises will give you extra options when it comes to syncopating the beat. By doing this, you'll get a better grip on the sometimes complicated rhythms a tune can have. You can introduce rhythmic tension and release and you'll be able to play melodies that can't be played any other way. These exercises are all played in double C, so CGCD with the pedal tuned to G, the fifth of the key C. This tuning works well for songs in C major, C minor, C blues, and other mixed tuning.