The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Contributed by Susan Saposnik, C.M.S. Mt. Olive Middle School, Budd Lake, NJ


Music students rarely see the value or have any interest in music other than their favorite popular artist or group. By showing connections and similarities between current music and “classical” music, the teacher begins to break down the barriers that separate pop music from all other genres.


The student will be able to: 

  1. recognize and clap the syncopated rhythmic beat of a rap song.
  2. identify recurring rhythmic pattern in the excerpt of “Dance of the Adolescents” from Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
  3. clap or perform on percussion instruments the accented, syncopated polyrhythms from the excerpt.


general music students grades 5-8. The rhythmic comparisons could be demonstrated in high school music theory classes, but the lesson would need to be modified for the older student.

Time Frame

one class period


CD player/tape cassette recorder, CD/tape of “Dance of the Adolescents” and “Sumpin’ New (1,2,3,4)” by Coolio, percussion instruments (optional)


Explain that in traditional classical music, rhythm flowed freely and smoothly. With The Rite of Spring the rhythm became the main focus, much like in rap music 70 years later. Stravinsky was influenced by American jazz music and much of this African-American music is rhythmically strong and uses syncopation throughout. The Rite of Spring was written as a ballet and its first performance caused a riot in the audience. The music was considered harsh and violent, savage and complex, as much of today’s popular music is viewed.



  1. Put the following terms and definitions on the board:


    Meter: how many beats per measure (the excerpt of “Dance of the Adolescents” has 2 beats per measure, Sumpin’ New 1,2,3,4 has 4 beats per measure)

    Beat: the underlying pulse of the music

    Syncopation: rhythm that is unexpected, accenting the weak beats (beats 2 and 4)

    Accent: to emphasize, make stronger 

  2. Put the following rhythm on the board:
  3. Have students clap each rhythm separately. Explain that the top rhythm is syncopation. The music is being accented on the off (or weak) beat. Listen to Coolio’s “Sumpin’ New (1,2,3,4)” from the album Gangsta’s Paradise. (Only play through the first two verses since the latter lyrics may not be appropriate for your classroom. Most rap songs would be appropriate for this lesson, but this song actually counts the rhythm out loud, making the syncopation obvious.) Have students clap along with the performance, which is on the syncopated beats.
  4. Now put the following rhythmic excerpt from “Dance of the Adolescents” on the board. Explain that the top line means another instrument plays and that it is accented on the bottom line with the rest of the instruments.
  5. Beginning with a slow tempo and counting out loud ("1 and 2 and"), have the entire class clap each line or play the rhythm on instruments. Be sure the accented notes are emphasized. Next, divide the class into two groups and perform the complete rhythm. Try to work up to a fast tempo.
  6. Play the excerpt of “Dance of the Adolescents” from The Rite of Spring (3:31 into the piece). Have students raise their hands or clap along each time they hear the rhythmic excerpt. You may need to play the example a few times.


Have students compare the syncopation of the two rhythms they listened to today. Have them discuss their similarities (emphatic, strong) and their differences (Stravinsky’s is more unsettled because it is not consistent throughout). Further assessments could involve students researching and finding comparisons in their own choices of music from the classical and pop genres.

Selected Recordings

“The Dance of the Adolescents,” recorded by the New York Philharmonic, conductor Zubin Mehta (The Rite of Spring/Le Sacre du Printemps CBS Records, 1977/1987)

“Sumpin’ New (1,2,3,4)” recorded by Coolio (Gangsta’s Paradise, Tommy Boy Records, 1995); written by Adams, Ivey, Sear, Cooper, Bunch, Smith, Grusin, Browne; Colgems EMI Music Inc. T-Boy Music Inc., A BMI Publisher, MCA/On Backstreet Music Inc.

Enrichment/Additional Resources

Show Disney’s vision of The Rite of Spring from the Fantasia video. Discuss Disney’s interpretation and that of a rap music video.

As an interdisciplinary unit with language arts/social studies - have student learn more about the ballet The Rite of Spring and its unsuccessful first performance. Compare the attitudes of the audience to this new rhythm and story to the attitudes of many adults (and/or politicians) to rap or other types of popular music of any decade since the 1950s. Discuss reasons why there are similar reactions today to the music as there was in 1913 to Stravinsky’s music. How do both musical styles reflect the society in which they were created?

As an interdisciplinary unit with art - same as above, but use the art of the Fauves, the Surrealists and/or Expressionists and compare the attitudes of the art world and critics to the new style of painting and to Stravinsky’s music.