Can I Learn to Hear Music? Yes, You Can!


As a judge, the first criteria we look for is timing – notice that I did not say rhythm.  Timing and rhythm are different, yet interrelated.  For the purpose of this blog, we are only discussing timing.  Look for a future blog on developing rhythm.

Relax we are going to keep this simple!  However, the more you practice hearing and counting music the easier it will get.
If you are a fan of West Coast Swing you probably sick of hearing about musicality.  Well, what is musicality? It is how dancers hear, interpret, and dance to music.  Musicality is the ultimate goal, but it starts with timing.

Why does everyone use 8-counts?

We use an 8-count to break down the structure of the music.  (I know musicians count in 4s)

Dancers use the 8-count to cue movements and its easier to track the phrasing of routines.  Most partner dances have an 8 count basic rhythm.  For example: west coast swing has a six count basic and an 8 count basic known as the whip.
For example, if a choreographer/teacher says that a routine starts on “the 5,” you’re going to count into the music: “One, two, three, four, MOVE.
Most dances (except waltz) are counted and danced to an 8-count which is 2 measures of music.
For the purpose of this exercise we will focus on music in 4/4 timing.

 Try this out:

Pick a song and try counting– “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.”
Match your counts to the rhythm – this is what you’d tap your foot.  Usually it is the percussion instrument in the song. March it out, left, right, let, right to match the counts.  Can you stay on time? Not sure video yourself and play it back to see if your feet hit the beat in the music.  Still can’t tell ask a friend to help. DO IT UNTIL YOU CAN”T GET IT WRONG!

Eureka I think we are on our way, you can mindlessly count an 8-count!  GREAT!

Now, clap on the even counts: “One, clap, three, clap, five, clap, seven, clap

Imagine dancing at the club and watching someone dancing step tap step tap, the tap would be the clap.
Hold on we now have timing, rhythm and musicality are in the horizon.This is the start of creating a foundation for your dance musicality.

The “And” Creating

You can break down the structure even more – let’s divide each count in the 8 count in half.  By inserting an “and” in between each count – “1 (and), 2 (and), 3 (and), 4…” You’re splitting up the 8 count into 16ths.
Practice locating the “and” counts by snapping on them.
The tempo of this exercise (the speed at which you’re clapping/snapping) will change according to the tempo of the song.

(*East Coast Swing preferred music tempo is usually 136BPM, at the novice level.  The average speed of Cha Cha at country competitions is around 110BPM.)

Exercises for Developing Your Musicality:

Tap your foot when you hear a cha cha or east coast swing song until it becomes second nature tap out 8 counts.  Now try it with the 16 counts.
You can try clapping, snapping, bobbing your head, or bouncing.  Then try to march it out with your feet 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8.  Now try 1 2 3 4 and 5 6 7 8 and repeat! You just marched out cha cha timing.  For ECS count 1 and 2  3 and 4 5 6.
It takes time to build coordination so don’t get discouraged. 

Challenge yourself:

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)..”

Don’t worry we are working on one thing, timing, but I have future blogs to help you become more musical.