Joe's Blog

How to play 3 in one hand against 2 in the other

April 16, 2018

This is a brief technical manual for coping with the rhythmic situation known as “three against two.”  One encounters this situation when one hand is subdividing a pulse into three equal parts while the other hand is subdividing the same pulse into two equal parts.

I want to break the problem down into a short series of small, doable steps.

We start by taking the two rhythms (triplet and duplet) and superimposing them one upon the other, and derive a single composite rhythm.  Once we have it in the form of a composite rhythm, there is no longer anything special required to address the coordination of one hand with the other.  Once we see 3 against 2 as a single rhythm, it looses all its strangeness, and becomes a very simple rhythm to execute.

THE COMPOSITE RHYTHM ONCE WE HAVE AMALGAMATED THE TWO DIFFERENT RHYTHMS.

One way to write it is: a quarter note – eighth note – eighth note – quarter note.  It does not matter if these note values are different than those in the score.  Any note values would serve the same purpose as long as their durations stand in the following comparative ratio: 2 : 1 : 1 : 2.  Half  -Quarter  – Quarter – Half, or Eighth – Sixteenth – Sixteenth – Eighth ,would do as well.

We no longer have to concern ourselves with the difference in the duration of a triplet versus a duplet.  It is all homogenized in the combined rhythm.

This, then is the composite rhythm of a 3 against 2:

|| quarter – eighth – eighth – quarter ||

|| means a bar line.  We assume the meter to be 3/4 time,

First, let us consider the situation where the 3 (or triplet) is in the right hand and the 2 (or duplet) is in the left hand.

THREE IN THE RIGHT HAND VERSUS TWO IN THE LEFT HAND:

Step 1:

|| quarter – eighth – eighth – quarter  ||

Using both hands at once, tap or play this rhythm (quarter eight eighth quarter) over and over in an endless loop*.  You can keep the hands a foot or two apart as you do this.  Each time you reach the end of the measure recycle, without a pause, to the beginning of the measure.  And continuing in this fashion, doing the measure over and over.  Do it enough times for it to feel completely natural and automatic in the hands.

What to tap on:

You can tap it on the closed fall board at two separated places, or always playing the C below middle C with the left hand and Middle C with the right hand.  Or on two drums, or on your lap, or anything else handy.

Step 2:

Repeat step 1 and add these spoken words to the notes:

|| quarter  eighth eighth quarter || quarter …. <-Play *

|| together  right   left   right”   || together … <- Say

* each note with both hands

Step 3:

Repeat step 1 and 2 with this revision.  The four notes in the composite rhythm are not all played with both hands.

(the rhythm):

|| quarter  eighth eighth  quarter  || quarter ….   || together  right   left       right       || together …

(which hand(s))

here is another description of step 3:

play the first note in both hands and say  “together”

play the second note in just the right hand and say  “right”

play the third note in just the left hand and say  “left”

play the fourth note in just the right hand and say “right”

start the pattern again with “together”

just make sure to stay with the same rhythm: quarter eighth eighth quarter.

Step 4:

4A  for the right hand:

Repeat step 3, but say only the word ‘right’ and only at those times when the right hand is due to play.

|| quarter    eighth   eighth  quarter  || quarter ….    <= play

|| right         right                     right       || right     ….    <= say

4B  for the left hand:

Repeat step 3, but say only the word ‘left’ and only at those times when the left hand is due to play.

|| quarter   eighth eighth quarter  || quarter .

|| left                          left                         || left ….     <= say

Let us now consider the situation where the 3 is in the left hand and the 2 is in the right hand.

TWO IN THE RIGHT HAND VERSUS THREE IN THE LEFT HAND:

Step 1:

Step 1 is the same as before.  Using both hands at once tap or play this rhythm (quarter eight eighth quarter) over and over in an endless loop.  At the end of each measure of 3/4 go back (without a pause) to the beginning of the measure.

Step 2:

Repeat step 1 and add these spoken words to the notes:

|| quarter    eighth eighth quarter || quarter ….   <= Play

|| together  left     right    left        || together …   <= Say this

Step 3:

Repeat step 1 and 2 with this revision.  The four notes in the composite rhythm are not all played with both hands.

|| quarter   eighth eighth quarter  || quarter ….  <= rhythm

|| both left  right left ||  both … <= which hand

here is another description of step 3:

play the    first note  in both hands  and say  “together”

play the    second note  in just the left hand    and say  left”

play the    third note     in just the right hand  and say right”

play the   fourth note    in just the left hand    and say  “left”

start the pattern again with “together”

Once again, just make sure to stay with the same rhythm: quarter-eighth-eighth-quarter.

Step 4:

4A  for the right hand:

Repeat step 3, but say only the word ‘right’ and only at those times when the right hand is due to play.

|| quarter   eighth eighth quarter  || quarter ….  <= play this rhythm

|| right                       right                      || right ….    <= say

4B  for the left hand:

Repeat step 3, but say only the word ‘left’ and only at those times when the left hand is due to play.

|| quarter   eighth eighth quarter  || quarter ….  <= play this rhythm

|| left           left                       left         || left ….     <= say

Have fun. Start slowly until the muscular and vocal habits have had a chance to set in.

I would love some feedback.  For instance,

1) is this technique too complicated to follow

2) does this technique help put the 3 against 2 issue in a clearer light

3) A: didn’t help much. B: helped slightly C: made a difference

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Comments

  1. Joe – how do you feel about using a saying/ phrase to learn 3 against 2? I learned it in Sightsinging class as “Nice cup of tea” for 3 against two, where you say that as you tap. The three (nice, cup, tea) is in the right hand, and two is in the left hand (nice, of). It helps to start saying the phrase slowly in rhythm (the one you outlined)
    Then for 2 against 3, we had “Pass the butter” where two is in the left hand (Pass, but-) and three is in the right hand (Pass, the, -ter).
    Does that make sense, or is there any reason that is a bad method to use?

    Joe: It makes perfect sense. Whatever ‘works’ is a ‘good method’.