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Lesson 2: Learning “Cu Ti Lu Dissi”

Aim: How are meter and rhythm used to support dancing?
Summary: Students will learn to sing “Cu Ti Lu Dissi,” explore 3/4 meter by learning the tamburello rhythm and dancing the waltz, and discover Sicilian folk instruments.
Materials: Musical Explorers digital resources, Musical Explorers Student Guide
Standards: National 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11
Vocabulary: improvisation, meter, tamburello, waltz

Julia Teaches “Cu Ti Lu Dissi”

“Cu Ti Lu Dissi” Demonstration

Sicilian artist Julia teaches “Cu Ti Lu Dissi.”

Sing “Cu Ti Lu Dissi”

  • Listen to “Cu Ti Lu Dissi,” Track 47.
  • Learn the words and the melody to the chorus, using “Cu Ti Lu Dissi” pronunciation, Track 48, and “Cu Ti Lu Dissi” chorus Track 49.
  • Learn the melody to the wordless refrain using “Cu Ti Lu Dissi” refrain, Track 50.

“Cu Ti Lu Dissi”


Cu ti lu dissi ca t’haju a lassari?
Megliu la morti e no chistu duluri

Ay ay ay ay, amor’ amor’ amor’ amore
Ciatu di lu me cori, l’amuri miu si tu

Le lo le lo le lo lai ...

Cu ti lu dissi a tia nicuzza
lu cori mi scricchia a picca a picca a picca a picca





Who told you I have to leave you?
I’d rather die than suffer such pain.

Ay ay ay ay love, love, love
Breath of my heart, you are my love

Le lo le lo le lo lai ...

Who told you little one?
My heart burns, burns, burns, burns



  • Read the lyrics aloud to your students and discuss.
    • Julia says that there are no Sicilian love songs without heartbreak; this song, she says, is about choosing love over pain.

Explore Meter, Rhythm, and Improvisation in “Cu Ti Lu Dissi”

  • Listen to “Cu Ti Lu Dissi,” Track 47, and create different movements to illustrate the 3/4 meter: STRONG-weak-weak, STRONG-weak-weak. You can use swaying, hand motions, foot work, and levels (e.g., down and up).
  • Explore the basic rhythm played by the tamburello. Note that there are two different rhythms, both in groups of three. Each measure is divided into three quarter notes. In the last measure, each quarter note is divided into triplets.
  • Using Basic tamburello rhythm, Track 51, as a guide, play the tamburello rhythm, starting out slow and speeding up. Once your students have practiced the basic rhythm, they can experiment with improvising as the tamburello traditionally does.
  • Use the quarter notes and triplets as the two building blocks, varying the number of quarter notes and the number of triplet sets. Tamburello rhythm with variations, Track 52, demonstrates this activity.
  • Improvised tamburello rhythms, Track 53, demonstrates a more elaborate improvisation.

Waltz to “Cu Ti Lu Dissi”

  • Sicilian folk music is often accompanied by dancing. “Cu Ti Lu Dissi” is a waltz, which is a dance form found in many cultures.
  • A waltz is a dance in 3/4. Beat 1 is strong and beats 2 and 3 are weak.
  • Learn a basic waltz step. Students will step down on the strong beat and up on the weak beats (DOWN-up-up): Ask students to form a circle.
    • Beat 1 (DOWN): Step forward on your right foot and bend your knee as you plant your foot down.
    • Beat 2 (up): Bring your left foot to meet your right, stepping on your tiptoes.
    • Beat 3 (up): Step on tiptoes in place on your right foot.
    • Repeat the three steps beginning with your left foot.
    • Once students are comfortable with the movement and can do it up to speed, play “Cu Ti Lu Dissi,” Track 47, and have them waltz in a circle to the music.
  • If they master the waltz moving in a circle, try it paired up.
Creative Extension

Discover Sicilian Folk Instruments

In Sicilian Folk Instruments (PDF), your students will learn about four instruments that characterize Sicilian folk music. Read the descriptions of each instrument and discuss them with your students. Using Tracks 54–57, listen to examples of each instrument.

Creative Extension

Sicilian History

Using Learn About Sicily (PDF), your students can learn about the rich and complex history of the island of Sicily and how it became a unique cultural melting pot.


Meter Matters

Meter Matters

Music educator Margaret Jenks teaches the differences between duple and triple meter in this lesson for students in grades 3–5.

Literacy Extension

Strega Nona

Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola tells the story of a grandmother witch with an enchanted pasta pot. When her helper, Big Anthony, decides to use the pasta pot against her wishes, things get out of hand!

Book cover for "Strega Nona" depicting an elderly woman holding a cauldron smiling up at a peacock on a tree branch

Musical Word Wall

Add the words improvisation, meter, tamburello, and waltz to the Musical Word Wall.

Don't Forget

Image Credits

Santa Rosalia photo by Ed Wilkinson.

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