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Beginners and 3/4 time

I am working on some alternative strategies to teach my young singers (and piano students too) how to internalize the difference between counting in 3/4 versus 4/4 time. Many times I find my students have far less difficulty thinking in 4/4 but have a hard time switiching when 3/4 is introduced or used. They want to keep that "secret" 4th beat at the end even in 3/4. Are there any strategies others have used with success? Thanks for your help. 
on November 17, 2013 6:19am
We sway in time, and I use the imagery of skating or skiing or swinging.  We stand up and march for 2/4 and 4/4, and then we sway/skate/ski for 1 2 3 , 1 2 3... This is for 6-8th graders.  Play lots of different music in 3/4 and have them move.  I've also taught them to conduct, and 3/4 is a "triangle" (don't jump all over me, conductors, I know what 3/4 really looks like, but this is a get to feel it moment, not a you-will-conduct-this-properly-moment). :-) Conducting usually comes last... the swaying is really fun.  
on November 17, 2013 7:50am
A few Strauss waltzes and some group dancing will solve your problem pronto. 
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on November 17, 2013 9:31am
In teaching 3/4 time, I have found that a simple "Step-Follow (Rest)" dance regimen, accompanied by a waltz or minuet, has always worked best: Step out on the dominant beat, follow up with the other foot on the second beat, and rest on the third beat. Essentially, this is an easy "three-step", and even someone like me -- uncoordinated, with two left feet -- can master it!!
Ron Isaacson
Germantown MD
P.S. There are good reasons why, during the dance numbers, they put me in the pit!! RI
on November 17, 2013 10:22am
With my elementary age students, I use the swaying in three stages: swaying alone, swaying holding hands (hands up in the "W" formation), then swaying holding hands with crossed arms (your right arm crosses your mid-abdomen and holds the left hand of the person on your left).  The latter was used during the Civil Rights era and is at once a help and a potential problem because there is no elasticity built in.  We also sing two specific songs while doing this: Amazing Grace, and Free at Last (Music K-8).
I also use the conducting motion, and stepping in place, R-2-3, L-2-3, emphasizing the shifting of the downbeat (downstep?).
on November 17, 2013 2:25pm
It is a problem, likely because kids never hear anything in 3. My high school students have the same trouble, especially those in beginner piano/keyboard.
Let's hope we're not forced to abandon 3/4 altogether! Do you remember the Super Bowl a few years ago when they did "The Star-Spangled Banner" in 4?
on November 18, 2013 10:39am
I have had success with simple body percussion: pat (thigs)-clap-snap.
on November 18, 2013 4:27pm
Hello. Here is a fun and easy thing to do (it also provides a healthy snack which can be shared afterwards). Bring in a salad spinner. Have selected helpers add some water and some lettuce to ithe spinner.  Now pass it around and ask the students to spin it until it can go around on its own.  As they turn the spinner, they will all experience the sensation (feel + hear) of something which turns.  It is important to note and discuss that at first there is effort, which is then followed by the draw- or pull, into itself, followed by the release, as momentun takes over and you no longer have to spin it.  There should be inertia, rebound and floating- with must be also traslate into lifting "breath" to prepare for the repeat of the cycle.  Also try chanting "down-up-up" while tapping a hand on their lap, or on a desk -especially helps if you make the downbeat  a stronger tap.  I have my students also tap three imaginary spaces in a row (from left/then middle/ to right) as they tap- because notes progress from left to right across the page.  At first it isn't so hot but let them go into the trance adn soon it becomes automatic and the best part is that they have to lift/prepare for beat one by moving quickly back to the beginning spot. Hope this helps. Motion is probably the best way to get them to "feel" 3/4 in their bodies. Good luck! ~ Heather
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on November 19, 2013 3:08am
With my 300 middle school choral students, helping them be successful with 3/4 time signature is definitely all about two things:
a)  acknowledging with them that 3/4 is going to be more difficult because 99% of the music they hear in their lives is 4/4.
b)  helping them feel and experience the differences (some good ideas above, so I'll simply add one more thing I do in a group setting for my students).
In the group setting, I use the Kodaly TA system when I teach rhythm.  In my demonstrations of rhythm in the early days of teaching it to them, I overemphasize the accents and have them do the same.  This is key.  They will be reluctant to do it, but you just have to make it funny or something so they will have a good time and still deliver the goods!
When I teach meter, I teach the word "accent" to them and have them draw accent marks on every downbeat for weeks.  If kids see the accent, feel the accent and hear the accent, they are likely to remember it and continue to use it.  I teach them to always accent after the barline even when it isn't written down.  It is expected.  I teach 3/4, 4/4, and 2/4 in the same unit so they feel the differences between the three time signatures.   When they transfer that information to singing, I make sure they continue to accent, but I actually TEACH how important it is to accent with good tone and pitch because when they sing at this age, they often go sharp, for example, when trying to demonstrate strong accents while singing.
3/4 will never be easier for them than 4/ matter what you do...because we just don't hear or experience all that much music that uses that
time signature, but we can help give them some tools in their toolbox to help them be successful when they encounter it.
Here is a link to two videos of me teaching this concept to my beginners in September.  There are more videos on the channel as well that emphasize this same concept.  
Here is a link to two products I created as a part of my Sight Singing program for Middle School children in which I address this very issue:
Hope this helps!
Dale Duncan
Music in the Middle with Mr D
on November 19, 2013 12:27pm
Swaying, put5ting emphasis on beat one, and all teh aforementioned ideas are great.  This may seem obvious, but I've had many student teachers make the mistake in front of kids that it needs to be said. Be sure YOU are counting them off differently when in 3/4 time.  Try this:
For 4/4 I say 1 - 2- breathe - (breathe on 4th beat with them).
For 3/4 I say 1 - 2 - 3 - Ready - breathe - (breathe with them on the 3rd beat)
...and when sight reading, keep the pulse at 60-75 - no faster or they just get sloppy. :-)
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