Timing and Syncopation for Fiddlers

metronomeKeeping your internal metronome intact is important when you’re playing the violin (or any instrument, at that!). Here’s some great advice to keep in mind, from Orlando violin teacher Sharon F...


It has been said “timing is everything.”

I play by another saying: “You can be out of tune, but not out of time.” On the violin, if one is out of tune, it can be covered up by finger position, and not stand out. If one is out of time, it can throw the whole tune off. Think of synchronization of an automobile. If the timing belt goes, so does the engine. First keep the time, and then experiment with syncopation.

When analyzing that new tune, tap your foot along with the beat. Now count it. It may be a 4/4, 6/8, ¾, or even 9/8, 12/8, and different time signatures. Usually the tune will have two repeating lines of music in them. We call them phrases. Usually these phrases are in a 32-count phrase. There are measures on sheet music to help identify the 32 counts. They may be divided by four beats per measure, which will give a phrase eight measures. See, music really does interact with math! This is the base that this instruction is based on.

Changing the beat within the measure is how other ways to count the phrasing come into play. If you’re learning the tune by ear, listen for the repeat of the phrase. The majority of traditional tunes have an AA/BB phrasing, or A/B where the phrase doesn’t repeat. Some tunes use a combination of those phrases. Listening comes into play here to count the phrases and listen for repeats in the phrase. Once the correlation of tune structure is made, then the rest gets a lot easier.

It is best to keep time with one’s foot. Tap the right heel lightly. Just get in the habit of feeling the time and using the foot as a reference. One thing I do to train my feet to keep time is: try to flatfoot on a piece of plywood or a wood floor and work for a smooth time. However one can learn to keep the time with the tune is good. The main thing is to be aware of the time and beat counts.

Next, what is syncopation? Syncopation are the syllables in a phrase of music. It is made up of short and long notes. Some tunes have a lot of notes in the phrase. It’s better to break down the phrases to the main parts, as one would do when writing a sentence. Phrases are sentences in music. Listen to the cadence of the song. The foot acting as the metronome is giving you the beat – 1, 2, 3, 4. Or you may hear 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. Think of the “and” as the syncopated note.

I find exercising and staying in good physical shape in general will help one conquer this instrument. You need strong shoulders, arms, fingers and good posture to withstand the rigors of holding a violin in front of the body and playing a fast paced tune. It’s good advice for life in general anyway.

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Orlando violin lessons with Sharon H.Sharon H. teaches violin and fiddle lessons to students of all ages in Orlando, FL. She specializes in Celtic, old-time and bluegrass fiddling. Sharon joined the TakeLessons team in January 2013. Learn more about Sharon, or search for a teacher near you!



Photo by jronaldlee

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