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Lesson 2: Learning “J’ouvert Barrio”

Aim: How is syncopation used in calypso rhythms?
Summary: Students will learn to sing and dance to “J’ouvert Barrio” and explore syncopation.
Materials: Musical Explorers digital resources, Musical Explorers Student Guide, long stick or bar (for limbo)
Standards: National 1, 2, 3, 5, 10
Vocabulary: Carnival, chipping, limbo, rhyme, syncopation

Carnival is a major festival that occurs just before the start of Lent. It is celebrated in Trinidad and other Caribbean countries with a street party, parade, music, and dancing. Many people wear elaborate, colorful costumes that depict traditional Carnival characters, including the Sailor, Dragon, Bat, Pierrot (or clown), Cow, Jab Molassie (or devil), and Moko Jumbie (or stilt walker).

Etienne Teaches “J’ouvert Barrio”

“J’ouvert Barrio” Demonstration

Calypso artist Etienne teaches “J’ouvert Barrio.”

Sing “J’ouvert Barrio”

  • Listen to “J’ouvert Barrio,” Track 62.
  • “J’ouvert,” which means “daybreak” in Trinidadian Creole, is a celebration that happens at the start of Carnival. Calypso bands march and play music, and everyone dresses in costumes and sings and dances.
  • Learn the pronunciation using “J’ouvert Barrio” pronunciation, Track 63. The chorus to “J’ouvert Barrio” is sung in Trinidadian Creole. The verses are sung in English.
  • Sing the melody “J’ouvert Barrio” chorus, Track 64.

“J’ouvert Barrio”


J’ouvert barre yeux
Pas leve la main a se yeux
J’ouvert barre yeux
Pas leve la main a se yeux

I’ll tell you a story you do not know
It’s about Carnival and calypso


It is the folk song and ballad
Of that beautiful island of Trinidad


Every year there’s Carnival—don’t forget
That is Trinidad national fete


On Carnival morning, six bells chime
And everyone, they would start to rhyme


Jump your jump, dance your dance, it’s bacchanal
Play mas* Monday morning Carnival


Jump in the line and break away
Shake your hips, believe, and faint away


Jump in the line and smack your lips
Roll your eyes, roll your head, and shake your hips


Monday morning on parade
Everybody, man, play masquerade


*Mas is the West Indian tradition of masquerade.



Daybreak, block them,
But don’t put a hand on them.
Daybreak, block them,
But don’t put a hand on them.

Explore Syncopation in “J’ouvert Barrio”

  • Listen to “J’ouvert Barrio,” Track 62, while clapping a steady beat.
  • Now, have your students try speaking the lyrics while patting the beat on their laps. Exaggerate the “vert” and the “pas” of the phrase so that your students can feel the change in rhythm from the rest of the chorus.
    • Which words feel different from the rest of the chorus?
    • Notice that your hands are up in the air when you say or sing those words.
  • Explain to your students that if a word is performed when their hands are up in the air, that word is the syncopation, or off the beat.
  • Have your students speak the rhythm of the melody, adding a movement such as a stomp or a hop to the two syncopated notes to help them stand out.
  • Sing the melody of “J’ouvert Barrio,” Track 62, adding your new syncopated movements.

Explore Calypso Movement in “J’ouvert Barrio”

  • Play the recording of “J’ouvert Barrio,” Track 62, and ask students to set the steady beat of the song through clapping.
  • Explain that when people dance together during the Carnival parade, it is called a “jump-up.” One of the steps is called “chipping.”
  • Chipping is a simple step. You walk in time to the music, stepping on every beat, shuffling your feet a little, and adding hip movement to the step.
  • Ask students to stand in a line and form a parade. Play the recording of “J’ouvert Barrio,” Track 62. Have them practice chipping as they move in a circle or around the room.
  • Ask students to do the chipping movement during the refrain and improvise their own movements during verses.
The Limbo

The limbo is a traditional dance contest from Trinidad that is sometimes considered the national dance. It was popularized in the US by Chubby Checker and continues to be a favorite party game.

  • While playing “J’ouvert Barrio,” Track 62, or “Mary Ann,” Track 58, take a long stick or bar and have two students each hold one end at about shoulder level.
  • Have the rest of the students form a line and pass under the bar leaning backwards, with their backs facing the floor, without touching the bar. Anyone who touches the bar is out.
  • After all the students have passed through, lower the bar. Keep going around until the last person remains who can successfully limbo under the bar.
Creative Extension

Discover Calypso Rhymes

  • Rhyme is a key feature of calypso lyrics, which generally are in rhyming couplets.
  • Read the lyrics to “J’ouvert Barrio” or “Mary Ann” aloud.
    • Which words rhyme? Is there a pattern?
  • Have students use Calypso Rhymes (PDF) and create their own calypso rhymes, using the rhyming word pairs to complete the lyrics provided. This can be done individually or as a group.
Discover Calypso Rhymes

Teaching artist Shanna Whitney shows how to create simple rhyme schemes.


Between the Beats

Between the Beats

Music educator Margaret Jenks teaches how to recognize and really feel syncopated rhythms in this lesson for students in grades 3–5.

Literacy Extension

Jump Up Time and Drummer Boy of John John

Carnival is supposed to be a happy time, but Lily wishes it were over. In the story Jump Up Time by Lynn Joseph, Lily’s family has been working on the gorgeous hummingbird costume for months, but it’s Lily’s big sister, Christine, who will wear it at the children’s Carnival. Lily doesn’t want to wait until next year for her chance to jump up in costume.

In Drummer Boy of John John by Mark Greenwood, steel drum pioneer Winston “Spree” Simon discovers as a boy that he can create tunes by banging on discarded cans.

"Jump Up Time" book cover depicting an illustration of Carnival dancers

"Drummer Boy of John John" book cover depicting an illustration of a young boy drumming, a village shaded by palm trees, and a dog

Musical Word Wall

Add the words Carnival, chipping, limbo, rhyme, and syncopation to the Musical Word Wall.

Don't Forget

Image Credits

34th Annual West Indian American Carnival Parade by Richard Levine.

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