When you think of hemiolas, what song comes to mind? For me, the following clip contains the ultimate hemiola example.

“America” from West Side Story – such a fun song! Today I’m sharing an idea to help introduce students to hemiolas in a fun way that will engage them. Simply sharing the definition of a hemiola, (a musical figure in which, typically, two groups of three beats are replaced by three groups of two beats, giving the effect of a shift between triple and duple meter) really doesn’t teach the student what it actually is.  So try this simple activity instead – your students will have a blast and really remember the rhythm because they’ll actually use it right away in a simple clapping and composing activity!

The first time I’m introducing the concept, I often use the short video shown above. My questions for the student as they listen are: What time signature is this piece written in? (6/8) How would you write out the rhythm for the first line “I want to live in America” – at this point we use the printable I’m sharing with you today to figure out the rhythm.

As they begin, they’ve usually got the straight 8th notes down. Then they become unsure of what to do for the last 3 syllables of  “A-mer-i-ca”.  As we count along to the music (“1 2 3 4 5 6″) to figure out just how long, students often realize it’s 2 beats each. I love the lightbulb moment when student(s) to realize this doesn’t match the normal triple meter with the downbeats on 1 & 4. When they find out this is purposeful and there’s a name for when a composer writes music like this, they’re ready to make up their own!

Then turning to the printable worksheet, students can take off from here. First I like to use the same rhythm as they wrote out and add new lyrics to it. Then they may also want to go on to create more complicated 6/8 rhythms to mix it up (based on their personal levels).

So go ahead and print this worksheet to see how much fun your students can have creating their own hemiola rhythms. Then send them home to make up a simple melody line to sing the lyrics to and perhaps add LH chords/accompaniment. Most of the time my students come up with goofy lyrics so they laugh every time we sing their hemiola piece! Plus, they remember the silly music they wrote for a LONG time afterwards, perfect to remember hemiolas!

Download here: HEMIOLA

Author: Whitney

Whitney Hawker, NCTM, teaches group and private piano at Weber State University, Utah. She loves surprising students with the perfect piece or a new exciting game! After graduate school, she missed sharing ideas and resources daily with colleagues so she and her friend, Spring, began blogging together at 4DPianoTeaching.com