While perusing some Chopin and Liszt sheets, I tried to play a Mazurka or two. But, I simply don't understand how the rhythm works. It feels awkward and unbalanced when I try and I just don't get it, you know?

Would someone kindly breakdown how a Mazurka makes sense rhythmically?

  • Mazurka Op 7 no. 1 in Bb is a superb piece. It's challenging but not too terribly hard. You should try that one out. – MrTheBard Mar 31 '14 at 12:11

The basic idea of the style is that it's in 3/4 time (or other triple meter), with accents on beats TWO and THREE.

The accents are what makes it feel unbalanced. You are probably used to waltz style, where the accents are on ONE and THREE. As such, it may be easy to mistake beat 3 of a mazurka for beat 1 of a waltz, since those accents are in the same place if you phase the mazurka by a beat.

I haven't played too many mazurkas, but I have lots of experience with "weird" 3/4 time with subdivisions and accents that differ greatly from regular waltes, so mazurka rhythm doesn't bother me. What I would suggest you do is listen to some artist recordings of Chopin mazurkas while following along with your score (so you don't get lost in the rubato), and speak along "one TWO THREE one TWO THREE" to get yourself used to the pattern of accents.

"But how is that meter musical," you may ask ask "without an emphasis on the beginning of each measure?" The reason is the harmonic rhythm. The style might not accent the beginning of each measure in terms of dynamics, but if you follow the harmony through each measure, you will hear that it lines up with what you might expect from 3/4 time. In fact, many of Chopin's mazurka left hand parts follow the same "BASS chord chord" (or "BOOM chik chik") pattern that you are used to from waltzes.

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  • I think counting one TWO THREE is the cause of the problem because of the tendency to switch to Waltz feel with a certain swing in the count in other words there is a Waltz hidden if you look at it as THREE one TWO repeated. It's probably better to switch to a 6/4 perspective. I know it shouldn't matter but somehow it does. – user1306 Dec 21 '12 at 16:46
  • @percusse That's the same point I make in the second paragraph. The purpose of counting 'one TWO THREE' is to practice tracking the progress of the meter irrespective of the accent pattern. If the numbers don't mean anything to you, there are bigger problems to address. I'm not sure what you mean by switching to a 6/4 perspective--are you talking about merging every two measures and counting them as one? I don't see how that would change the problem--you can still phase by a beat and then it's a waltz. – NReilingh Dec 22 '12 at 4:21
  • Oh, sorry you are right. I've completely misread your second paragraph. With 6/4, I meant something like a rumba clave in 6/8 that only two bars of it gives a completeness feel in your head instead of breaking it down 3/8 atoms. – user1306 Dec 22 '12 at 7:41

A mazurka is a waltz with attitude. A waltz is a minuet with heart and (sometimes) a hiccup. A minuet is a polite dance in 3/4.

A waltz glides, a minuet walks, a mazurka thumps.

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