Ever notice how kids have no problem with syncopation when they’re doing the Sprechstimme thing along with their favourite Rap artist?
Speaking the complicated rhythms is a very valuable trick when trying to get an entire group of people to feel them. However, this does mean that the director has actually spent enough time with the patterns to be free from having to read them – from having to work them out in front of the group.
Here are some suggestions.
1. A really first rate learning track – where the rhythms are very clean and clear
2. Director (and Accompanist) should have already internalized the syncopations before trying to teach them.
3. With single syllable words that are tied from a weak beat to a strong beat (for example, the very common pattern of starting the word on the ‘and’ of beat four, and tying it over the bar line), try actually emphasizing the second note – as if the word had two syllables.
4. A dramatic, over the top spoken rendering (by the director) repeated again and again until everyone has joined in, can help everyone feel the rhythmic pattern. My kids have told me that this is just embarrassing, and that I’ll never ever be a rapper – but it does work with choirs.
5. As a director, this is the one teaching issue that has made me have to completely abandon any shred of physical dignity. Syncopated movement is rarely dignified. In fact, initially it’ll probably need to be much more exaggerated than is generally considered socially acceptable. I also encourage choir members to move, because movement helps to embed any musical pattern. And yes – by the time the gig rolls around the choir should have internalized the rhythms, so that my gyrations (and theirs) are no longer necessary.