Mastering Syncopation

So much of the music we play on piano and keyboards has easy rhythms, allowing for smooth coordination between the hands. But there are times when you will encounter a piece of music, or even just a section within a song, where the rhythm gets a little more complicated and your two hands need to play very different parts at the same time. In those instances, you may stumble a bit and find that you can’t seem to get the parts feeling comfortable. Each hand by itself is easy enough, but when you try to put them together you hit the proverbial wall.

The most common reason for this is that the passage involves what is called syncopation: rhythms that fall between the strong beats of the measure, and where the two hands don’t always play the same beats at the same time. The answer to mastering these phrases is to learn how to count through the section, analyze how the two parts relate to each other, and then combine the two hands slowly while counting. Let’s explore how to do this.

Choose The Lowest Common Denominator Rhythm To Count

When you encounter these kind of problematic phrases, you will want to start by learning each hand separately. Work out your fingerings and practice at a slow tempo until each part feels comfortable. Then look and see what rhythms are being used for each hand; specifically, whether any notes are being played on sixteenth-note subdivisions, or just eighth notes. This will determine how you will approach counting in your head.

Eighth notes are counted by saying “one and two and three and four and,” dividing the quarter note into two equal subdivisions, as shown in the first measure below:

Musical annotation.