Teaching Uneven Meters – Guest Post by Dan Chandler

It is a great pleasure to feature a guest post by Dan Chandler, a research sociologist who also teaches Suzuki violin at the Humboldt Music Academy in Arcata, CA. Dan plays violin and bagpipe with the Balkan band Musaic. He is host of a radio program of ethnic music called In the Tradition, which can be streamed live from KHSU.org at 9pm Pacific Time or heard on the KHSU.org archive.

Musaic on the Steps

Musaic on the Steps (Dan Chandler is at the top)

There are now many resources that allow Suzuki teachers to incorporate fiddle tunes into their Suzuki curriculum. A good example is Lisa Deakins’ Fiddlin’ Favorites graded tunes with technical skills keyed to specific pieces in Suzuki Book I and Book II.

Less common is the introduction of music from other traditions, but my experience is that these tunes also are of great interest to students. I have used Violin Globetrotters by Ros Stephen, which has pieces based on folk music from Greece, Ireland, Argentina, Egypt, Bulgaria and other cultures written with a violin lead and a second violin part and piano part. Since I am in a band that primarily plays Balkan music, I also sometimes introduce students to supplementary pieces from the Balkans which feature uneven meters.

It is the uneven meters which I want to discuss in this post. I hope to show you why learning them early will be of benefit to Suzuki students, and remind you why Suzuki students have an advantage in learning them. I also will share some resources that I hope you—whether teacher, student, or parent—will find useful.

Why Study Uneven Meters?

First, why should students studying classical music and in particular those using the Suzuki approach be interested in uneven meters? One answer is that if our students go on to play classical music professionally, they will encounter uneven rhythms in much music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Composers like Bartok, Messien, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Stravinsky are among those who use uneven meters.

But there is also a great synthesis happening among contemporary musicians. In the US, most younger fiddle champions have been Suzuki students, and many of these have gone on to play jazz, bluegrass or other “alternative” musics professionally—with or without parallel classical careers. Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and the Brooklyn Rider string quartet embody this synthesis as it reaches out to incorporate music from other cultures. The focus in school music programs on alternative styles is part of this overall movement that is making music more interesting for many students and challenging teachers to learn about improvisation and other skills—like playing uneven meters—that will allow our students access to this new world.

What are Uneven Meters?

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Witches’ Dance by Paganini, the Violin Magician

Franz Xaver Süssmayr wrote the melody on which Niccolò Paganini, the most famous violin virtuoso of all time, based his set of variations called Le Streghe, or The Witches. The Witches’ Dance is a simple version of the theme.



Born in Genoa, Italy, Paganini (1782 – 1840) was an unprecedented musical phenomenon – violin virtuoso, violist, guitarist and composer, whose musical athleticism, showmanship and self-cultivated mystique transfixed concert audiences in 19th century Europe. His famous Caprice No. 24 in A minor is a stunning example of his technical accomplishments and compositional mastery. Take a look at this classic performance by Heifitz of the Caprice on Youtube:

Witches’ Dance builds on the dotted rhythm skills studied in The Two Grenadiers and features the triplet (3 notes in the same duration as 2). The score is available for download in Resources.

Main Study Points

The Dotted Rhythm
This bowing pattern uses quick long bows for the dotted quavers (8th notes). Play the first dotted quaver F# and stop. Then continue down with the short semiquaver E and follow immediately with the long upbow on D and stop. Then continue with the short C# and downbow on D. This pattern is sometimes called the hook stroke. The most common error is making the dotted quavers too short. Read More →

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Five Easy Rhythms


Teach Suzuki Violin

Teach Suzuki Violin

For me, rhythm is the soul of music. I love the energy it creates for movement in our bodies and minds.  This is why I love teaching the five rhythms of Suzuki’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star variations for violin. Watching a three year old student learn these simple rhythmic patterns is always exciting. It is the beginning of their lifelong journey with music.

First I mark out the length of these first bow strokes, by placing two markers on the bow. Often I use narrow coloured tape or small stickers ‐ the upper one is near the middle of the bow. Over the years I’ve positioned the markers more towards the lower part of the bow. There are big advantages for students who become adept from the very start at playing in the lower half.

bow with markers

Before starting the first rhythm, set up basic playing posture as follows: Read More →

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