So! You want to learn how to dance. Or, you’re already a dancer who is looking to brush up on some technical knowledge behind what you do.
Whether you’re a beginner dancer just venturing out, or an experienced dancer who is curious, it never hurts to get down to the nitty gritty of music theory and gain insight on the structure of songs, dance musicality. As a beginner you will learn how to become a dancer, or, learn how to become a better dancer.
We’re going to start our learn to dance lessons with songs – or more specifically, the understanding of music and its relationship with dance, called dance musicality.
While it is definitely possible to learn to dance without any music or noise, the majority of what you’ll be learning, practicing, and performing, will be to some kind of music.
It doesn’t matter how many beginner dance tips you read if you don’t start at the basics. All beginner dance classes start here. Though some things may seem obvious or intuitive, basics are never irrelevant! Basics are home.
So with that, let’s get started! Annnnnd 5.. 6.., 5, 6, 7, 8!
What Is An 8-Count?
An 8 count is the most general way to break down the structure of music.
Most dances (except the waltz) are counted and choreographed to a count of 8 rhythmic segments, or two 4-count measures back to back.
Before you get to moving to any count, you first have to be able to recognize where the count is. You do this by, simply, catching on to the rhythm of the song and counting the beats – in increments of 8.
(*We’re gonna focus on songs on standard 4/4 time, which means there are 4 beats/counts in every bar, or every measure – but note that not all songs follow this signature! There’s 3/4, 4/8, 7/8, 11/16… but let’s start with 4/4, which is the most common.)
Try this out:
Listen to a song, any song, and try counting with a mental metronome – “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.”
Match your counts to the syncopation of the sounds – what you’d naturally bob your head to. Try clapping on each count, to make its placement more obvious. Think of a choir swaying from side to side and clapping their hands while they sing.
Got comfortable with that? Now count aloud all the counts, but clap only on the even counts: “One, clap, three, clap, five, clap, seven, clap“
Counts are important, because it’s a blueprint for when your movement is going to take place.
For example, if a choreographer says that a move executes on “the 5,” you’re going to count into the music (probably with their cue), until you reach the “5” within that 8-count: “One, two, three, four, MOVE“
16 counts: The “And”
You can even break down the structure even more – let’s divide that 8 count in half.
By inserting an “and” in between each count – “One (and), two (and), three (and), four…” You’re splitting up the 8 count into 16ths.
Practice locating those “and” counts by snapping on those.
If you want to note both the “whole” and “and” counts, clap on the whole counts, and snap on the “and”s – clap (one) – snap (and) – clap (two) – snap (and) – clap (three) – snap (and) – clap (four) – snap (and)…
The tempo of this exercise (the speed at which you’re clapping/snapping) will change according to the tempo of the song.
(*Popular music tempo is usually 120BPM, but changes depending on the song/genre.)
Try these practices out with different songs of different genres.
Make it a habit every time you hear a song, so that it becomes second nature to not only pinpoint those 8 counts / 16 counts, but to move to them react to them instinctively, without having to think about it.
You can go from clapping and snapping, to bobbing your head, and bouncing.
Whatever way your body reacts to those counts, use that to mark that 8!
While you’re doing these clapping/snapping exercises, you may notice that there is a pattern in the noises you hear, according to the beats you’re marking.
Take note of these! There may be a lot of other things going on in the song, but there are usually anchors in the music that you can use to help mark those counts.
For example, a snare on every 4th count, or a bass on every even count.
“Wait, what? (again)..”
Maybe you know, by ear, what these sounds are, but let’s define them to give more clarity.
Different Musical Elements Of A Song
All right, so we got the gist of the timing. Now, what’s going on in those counts? Let’s give those “sounds” a name.
(*We’re not going into every single sound found in the history of music! Just the basics, so as not to overwhelm or overcomplicate.)
What Are Lyrics?
The words that the singer is singing to, also referred to as “the melody”
The lyrics are probably the easiest to distinguish, but hardest to count / dance to, since vocals don’t always match the strict structure of 8-counts
Sometimes, choreographers will make moves that correlate with the lyrics, like miming actions or using certain body parts.
What Is A “Bass”?
The bass is the lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano), or, the lowest melodic line in a musical composition, that supports the harmony
Different instruments can produce a bass sound (drums, guitar..)
Dancers often use the onomatopoeia “boom” to describe a bass drum
What Is A “Snare”?
It’s the sharp, staccato sound you hear, like the sound you make when you clap your hands
Dancers often describe as snare as “ka!”
What Is A “Hi-Hat”?
A hi-hat is produced by a hi- hat cymbal
Dancers often describe this sound as “tss tss”
What Is A “Synth”?
A “synth” sound, from a sound synthesizer, is produced by electric signals converted to sound through amps and loudspeakers
A common reference to a “synth” is the synth piano, which may sound like a long, slow bass, “wobba wobba”
What Are “Strings”?
Guitar strums and melodies are also useful to take note of, for more instrumental / acoustic songs
What Is The “Keyboard/Piano”?
The piano sounds will also accent, or set the melody/harmony of the song.
You’ll discover different combinations of different sounds in layers and layers of any song. Get used to listening and dissecting music so that you can name which sounds are what.
Try This Out:
With more practice in listening and counting to music, you’ll start to see patterns. Maybe there’s a bass drum on each 1st and 5th count, or a snare on every even count.
As you’re clapping or bouncing or whatever you’re doing to mark the beats in the music, take notice of the sound patterns that exist within it. It’ll cue you in to the concept of dance musicality.
What Is Dance Musicality?
Musicality, for dancers, refers to the matching of movement to the rhythm, melody, and mood of the music.
Dance Musicality is demonstrated in several ways, depending on the dancer’s style, the song, and countless other elements.
Check out these 2 pieces to the same song, that are completely different in both style of dance and musicality choice. See if you can hear the difference in dance musicality choices made by the choreographers.
Superstar (Aluna George) – Charles Nguyen
Superstar (Aluna George) – Chris Martin
The cool thing is that everyone listens to music differently. The different ways choreographers interpret the music are translated into movements.
Great choreographers have unique ways of moving to music that bring out sounds you might not have heard when you’re just listening to the song. Now you know what it means when someone says. “UGHHH, her musicality is so sick!”
When you’re in tune with the musicality, you can really transmit the feeling of the song through your movement, rather than stiffly hitting beats and noises.
By being more familiar with the different sounds that make up a song, and their relationship to the tempo and flow of it, you’ll have a better understanding of how to execute moves to embody those sounds more closely.
For beginning dancers, we hope that you took away some knowledge on music, and that this will help set a good foundation for the movements you will be applying to them.
Practice the recommended exercises any time you hear a song, and we guarantee you’ll go from claps to choreo in no time.
Next time, we’ll take this knowledge of music and experiment with dynamics using different body parts. Stay tuned, STEEZY Nation!
Besides music and dynamics, what else would you like to learn about? Comment below and share with us!