Sunday, February 9, 2014


In the past I've struggled with explaining "syncopa".  I mean, sure the kids understand what to call it and they understand the short-long-short feeling of it, but do they really understand all the components and how they indeed last two beats?  Yikes!

So, this is a silly way I've created to explain it (I can't get the picture to not go sideways, sorry! - and of course, being the Kodaly person I am, the students have already experienced the feel of syncopa, they were prepared, it just hadn't been presented yet):
First, I lay-out the quarter note heart and eighth note pair heart.  I ask the students, "Which heart has one sound on a beat?" (quarter note)  and "Which heart has two sounds on a beat?" (eighth note pair).  "How many beats do you see now?" (two) and "How many sounds do we have?" (three)  "Well, one day the quarter note was hanging out with his friends the eighth note pair.  The eighth note pair always went somewhere together - they were best friends - BFFs.  In fact, the quarter note had never seen them apart.  Today, however, as he approached, he heard the eighth note pair arguing.  It seemed they had grown tired of hanging out all the time and need a little break from each other.  They were getting pretty upset (at this point I take out the pink heart with the eighth notes, separate or "break" it, and put the quarter note in between them), so the quarter note decided to get in the middle of their argument to try to help them out."  Then I ask the students "How many beats do we see?" (two)  "How many sounds do we see?" (three)  "Where does the longest sound occur?" (in the middle)  We chant it saying "ti-ta-ti" and do a pat-clap-pat body percussion with it.  Then, I say "The quarter note helped the eighth note pair realize that they need a little bit of a break from each other.  The three of them walked around in this order and decided that they liked this arrangement.  Maybe they could stay this way and become something else all together?"  (At this point I bring out the syn-co-pa hearts).  "Look, its a new rhythm called syn-co-pa!"  We chant syn-co-pa and use pat-clap-pat.  Then I ask "How many beats make-up syncopa?" (two)  "How many sounds make up syncopa?" (three)  "Where do the short and long sounds occur?" (short-long-short).  "How many eighth notes make up syn-co-pa?" (two)  "How many quarter note are in syncopa?" (one)

I like to use syncopa around Valentine's day because of the heart analogy (the hearts are currently available at Target in the $1 section) and because there are so many cute Valentine's Day songs that use syncopa.  I found this song at  Amy Abbott's blog last year.  Here's how I plan to have my students dictate the rhythm this year:

The students can see that "syn-co-pa" doesn't fall exactly on the beats like the quarter note and half note do.


  1. I love this post, what a great way to drive home the concept of syncopa! I'm a longtime follower of yours and wanted to let you know that I've nominated you for a Liebster Award. To find out more, please visit my blog: The Yellow Brick Road. I look forward to reading your next post!