Reply To: Duple vs triple meter

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I don’t think this is something that can be learned in a few lessons–it takes quite a bit of time with first learning to feel both the macrobeat and the microbeat in both meters. There are a variety of activities that can help with this. As far as materials to use–you can use ANYTHING you have as long as you make sure that between your songs, rhymes, and listening examples the students experience both duple and triple meter in every lesson beginning in kindergarten (or in pre-K, if you teach pre-K). I use a whole variety of songs, singing games, rhymes–a lot are in the “Book of _________” books compiled by John Feierabend, from the Jump Right In general music series, or from songs I’ve collected in classes and workshops–and most of my listening selections come from my own personal music collection (chosen to go with composer or styles of music we’re learning about). Just be careful of the tempo of the music you choose or the tempos you sing your songs, so that it isn’t too fast for the students to be able to keep up with a microbeat and it’s not so slow that they start to rush. You can have the students tap the macrobeat of a new song you’re teaching while they are listening to the song, then on the next repetition of the song they can tap the microbeat (with pre-K/kindergarten/1st, I just call it big and little beat)…. or they can tap the macrobeat/microbeat while listening to a recording–and for a challenge, switch back and forth on cue (hold up signs that say “big” and “little” so they know when to switch). Sometimes I will also have them chant “big, big, big, big” or “lit-tle, lit-tle, lit-tle, lit-tle” (or lit-tle beat, lit-tle beat, etc. for triple so that there are 3 syllables for the microbeats), or give them some kind of a repetitive ostinato that fits in with the words of the song… and this can be possibly transitioned to rhythm instruments or Orff instruments. They can walk/march around the room to the macrobeat or tiptoe to the microbeat while you/they are singing a song. If you have a stretchy band/coopera-band, they can sit in a circle and move together to the big or little beat with the band (tapping on laps or the floor, moving in and out, up and down, side to side, etc.). You can also have them work on audiating the big or little beat (saying big/little/whatever ostinato you’re using inside their head).

In between repetitions of a song or rhyme, you can do activities with chanting rhythm patterns. I start out with using a neutral syllable (“bah”), and chant a variety of 4-macrobeat rhythms in the meter of the song we’re singing–sometimes I will have the entire class echo, other times I will gesture to an individual student to echo me. After the students have pretty consistent success with echoing a variety of patterns (which may take a few months), you can move on to improvising patterns–you chant a 4-macrobeat pattern, and the students have to respond with a pattern that is different from yours but also lasts 4-macrobeats (you can point to your fingers as you/they chant as a visual reminder of when the pattern is finished). With younger students you might notice that some of them aren’t really feeling the meter yet and they might chant a pattern that seems to be in duple meter when you are in triple meter. This might be an indication that you need to go back and do more echo chanting in triple. I try to include one rhythm pattern activity in each lesson… and if this activity goes with a song in duple meter, I make sure they also have at least one other song they’re singing in triple meter at another point in the lesson to go with another activity (maybe an activity that has a tonal objective), or vice versa. You can make this more interesting (so it doesn’t get to be the same thing every week) by changing up the way you do these rhythm activities–sometimes while the students are at their seats, sometimes while seated in a circle, sometimes while moving around the room (at the end of the song, they freeze in place and you do rhythm echoes or group improv patterns), sometimes in between repetitions of a singing game, etc.

After the students do pretty well with chanting/improvising on a neutral syllable, then you can transition to rhythm syllables. I use beat-function-based syllables: “du” for the macrobeat (regardless of which meter), “du-de” for microbeats in duple meter, and “du-da-di” for microbeats in triple meter. (BTW, at this point you don’t need to worry about whether your triple meter is 3/4, 6/8, 3/8, or whatever because this is in a verbal association context–you’re focusing on the way the meter feels and not how it looks, since the way the time signature is written is often arbitrary anyway.) Repeat the same types of activities you did with the neutral syllables at the aural/oral or rote stage, but now just have the student echo using syllables. You can do some improvising using syllables, but you can also add in “generalization” activities, which is like decoding rhythms–you tap/clap/chant a pattern using a neutral syllable, and the students have to chant it back to you using the rhythm syllables. Once you’ve started using syllables, you can introduce the terms duple and triple. Music in duple meter has microbeats that move in groups of 2, so we say du-de; and music in triple meter has microbeats that move in groups of 3, so we say du-da-di. Once they are pretty reliable with using their syllables in a variety of activities, you should be able to put on a piece of music at a moderate tempo (or sing a song for them), ask them to find the macrobeat, then find the microbeat, and ask them if du-de or du-da-di fits the music better (they can chant the syllables either out loud or eventually they can audiate the syllables to themselves)… and if they’ve had enough prior preparation with moving/chanting/using syllables in both meters they should be able to figure out the meter easily.

You can then of course move to learning to read/write the notation for the patterns the students have learned to chant. And you can approach this a variety of ways–I work on both duple and triple throughout K/1/2 using neutral syllable and we get to using syllables in triple by 2nd… but I also start with their learning to read notation in duple in 1st/2nd grade so that they have some experience with reading to meet our state standards. I have them reading triple meter in 6/8 by the end of 3rd, but by that time it’s really easy for them since they’ve had so much rote and verbal association experience with it. But as you can see it is not a quick and easy process–you really have to develop rhythm awareness from an early age for the students to successfully feel differences in meter. There are some kids who might get it earlier, but when you’re starting out in kindergarten where half of them can’t even find the steady beat and many kids haven’t made any music before, you need to remediate the students with little rhythm experience prior to starting school.