Elsewhere in this blog, I have written about the strengths and weaknesses of some of the rhythm syllables systems in use. (See my post “A Review of Rhythm Syllables Systems.”) These included Gordon, Eastman, Takadimi, Kodaly, and Orff rhythm teaching systems. Of these, I prefer the Gordon and Eastman systems, because both the ictus and its first division always have the same syllable, which makes the rhythmic function clear. Today I will discuss the so-called French time names, which are really another set of rhythm syllables.
The French time names were “translated” into English by Curwin, whose work became popularly known as the Kodaly system. The two systems, French time names and Curwin/Kodaly system, are fundamentally the same. In this system, the ictus is always taa. Like the Gordon and Eastman systems, this keeps the function of the ictus clear. After that, though, things begin to become a bit muddled. When the beat is divided into two, as when the ictus is a quarter note and the division is two eighth notes, the latter is called taa tay, but when the rhythm is an eighth followed by two sixteenths, the first sixteenth, which is in the same rhythmic position as the second eighth note in taa tay, is this time called teh. As with Kodaly syllables a note with the same rhythmic function gets a different name when it is a sixteenth note compared to when it is an eighth note. This confuses the learning of rhythms, because we can only tell what kind of note is being chanted, but not where it is located within the beat. Naming notes after the kind of note rather than after function continues throughout the French time names. Four sixteenth notes are ta fa teh fee, two sixteenths and an eighth are ta fa tay, and a dotted eighth and sixteenth is taa fee.
In compound time, things get more confusing. Remember that in simple time, four sixteenth notes were ta fa teh fee. In compound time, the first three syllables are reused, making no distinction between simple and compound meter. The six sixteenth notes are ta fa teh fe ti fee. Apparently “fee” is reserved for the last sixteenth in a group of sixteenths, regardless of how many there are. Three eighth notes are taa tay tee, reusing the taa tay from simple meter, and then adding on tee.
There are two disadvantages to these rhythm syllables related to their pronunciation. First is the use of syllables beginning with the letter “f.” This is a disadvantage because it is difficult to pronounce surrounded as it is by syllables beginning with “t” and also because, unlike syllables beginning with “t” or “d,” “f” is never used to articulate on wind instruments, so it is of no advantage to have players practice articulating rhythms with “f” and then have to articulate with “t” or “d” on their instruments. Because, as I have said, these are fundamentally Curwin/Kodaly syllables, all comments I have made in other posts concerning Kodaly rhythm syllables equally applies to French time names. Below is a summary of the French time names.