Reply To: Teaching 6/8

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I would teach it using rhythm syllables rather than counting numbers (when you’re in fast 2, it’s it’s impossible to count quickly enough to be practical). I introduce notation for 6/8 in 2 in third grade general music. The students have previously had lots of rote experiences with the meter (singing songs, dancing/movement, echoing patterns on a neutral syllable, etc.) since kindergarten, and in late 2nd/early 3rd we begin working with rhythm syllables for triple meter in 6/8. I use “du” for the macrobeat/dotted quarter, and “du-da-di” for the microbeats/3 beamed 8th notes. We do activities with echoing patterns using the syllables (also, learning ostinati using syllables to play on rhythm instruments or barred instruments), improvising patterns (ex., I will chant a 4-beat pattern using the syllables, some combination of du and du-da-di, and the students respond with a pattern that is different from mine using syllables), “decoding” patterns (where I say a pattern on a neutral syllable, or tap a pattern on a rhythm instrument, and the students respond with the rhythm syllables to go with the pattern), etc. and then when I introduce the notation, they can read it right away with the syllables, no problem. They also move on to composing rhythms in 6/8. I just explain the meter to them by saying that we can fit 6 eighth notes per measure (just as in 4/4 time, you can fit 4 quarter notes in a measure, or 2/4 time you fit 2 quarter notes per measure). When you’re in 2, the 8th note is the microbeat, not the macrobeat… trying to approach some meters from a numerical point of view is just confusing and doesn’t really help the kids “feel” the music.

When they get to 4th grade, we learn recorders and just do a quick review of the macro/microbeat patterns and play patterns and songs using these rhythms (in addition to playing songs in duple meter), then partway through the year we add division and elongation rhythms in triple meter–such as the quarter/8th pattern (du–di), 8th/quarter (du-da–), and dotted half (elongated du that lasts 2 macrobeats) with a similar process but just move along a little quicker. Syllables can be used so much more facilely than numbers, and the kids have a lot of success when they learn to feel the rhythms rather than count them.

Although you’re doing this in a band context, you could use work with rhythm patterns as part of your warmups or in between working on repertoire… isolate the rhythms from pitch and just work with rhythm flash cards, writing rhythms on the board, etc., work on reading the rhythms on just one pitch to isolate the rhythm concept from pitch so that they grasp it better and then put it back into the song.