I am playing a violin duet with a friend, and he has a really hard time playing syncopated notes correctly.

E.g. here in the first part (top staff) he is playing the syncopated A, G, F as 16-th notes (and then 3 16-th note rests)

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How can we practise to play this as written? We tried playing with a metronome, but he just plays those notes on time, but really short.

Edit: What he told me yesterday is that he can play it really slowly while counting. So we will go from there, as one of the answers suggests.

  • Not sure if this matters, but can your friend play his part alone with correct rhythm? Dec 18, 2019 at 18:26
  • @MichaelCurtis No, he can't. At least at a 'reasonable' tempo (see edit).
    – Minethlos
    Dec 19, 2019 at 9:02
  • You might need to go back a few steps and take an easier syncopated exercise to find out what level he does master. Then increase the difficulty to get to this level.
    – MeanGreen
    Dec 19, 2019 at 10:05

3 Answers 3


Use a metronome at a very slow tempo and try to sing the rhythms accurately using some kind of counting scheme, like "One-e-and-uh, two-e-and-uh", then gradually increase the tempo. If you can't get the rhythm at a slow tempo, you can't master it at a fast tempo. Once you can accurately sing a musical line, it translates unreasonably well to playing on an instrument (try it!).


It's fairly straightforward 'push' notes. They're played earlier than he thinks they should be! Try counting 1&2&3&4& for a whole bar, and get him to clap on each &. Then sing the notes, on each &. Then, slowly, play the notes on each &. Before you join in.

What I tend to do is tap a foot 4 to the bar, and pretend it hits something on the way up. That's where the notes are.

  • 2
    Hehe. "Foot up" is my go to device. Always felt natural to me. If, after slowing down, it's complicated enough, or I just can't seem to get the feel, I double it to 8 to the bar (or whatever is appropriate to the time signature), to "measure" more minute intervals, and if necessary, rinse and repeat. "Foot up" keeps working (for me). Dec 18, 2019 at 16:38
  • On "foot up" is a nice mechanical way to play at the right time, but then vocalizing the beats only (sort of like @ahazybellcord's answer) while playing the actual part seems like a better demonstration the meter and rhythm are really internalized. You can practice in stages from mechanical to internalized. Dec 18, 2019 at 20:03
  • I've encountered this with several trained musicians. A poor sense of apposition. They can be floored by off-beats. "Foot up" can work. Btw, have you tried swapping parts so that he can hear how it fits together? Dec 19, 2019 at 0:33
  • @OldBrixtonian We haven't tried swapping. I'm afraid he doesn't listen to my part that much, and just tries to keep his internal pulse. So I end up having to sync with him. But that's a different problem altogether.
    – Minethlos
    Dec 19, 2019 at 9:42

This syncopation rhythm - and any other rhythm - has to be not only in your arm, hand and fingers, it has to be in your whole body, flesh and blood or heart and soul.

  • Start by slapping your hands on your knees counting 4th notes, first both hands together, 1,2,3,4, than l.h. only 1 and 3, r.h. only 2 and 4, than the same with 8th and 19th notes.

  • same exercices as above but longer sequence ( 2 measures) and skipping the l.h., only r.h. off beat.

  • you can also count or sing instead the numbers da,da,da, (on beat: 1 3 5 7) and ba,ba,ba (off beat: 2 4 6 8) and invent syncopated rhythms like daba daba da da daba daba daba -ba -ba

By this approach you will be able to analyze, play and feel any rhythm. This means: stamp your feet, clap your hands, snip your fingers, count and sing ...

another approach just to learn this passage:

Play and sing both voices (parts) together as it would be written as only one voice. You will hear out the first voice by playing this and when you have to play ensemble with your teacher or another musician you will be in time.

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