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Re: Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by Waltz123
4/16/2014  9:47:00 PM
(2) they have trouble identifying which is the strongest beat, I.e. the 1 beat.
It is recognized that in International Rumba the most prominent beat is the 4, and the 4 should be sometimes accented in the dance. So there is a difference between strong and prominent?

Yes, there is a difference between the dominant beat in the measure vs. the musical accents played by various instruments.

In the backbone of the music there is an underlying pulse, which has an arrangement of beat groupings -- what we call "bars" or "measures". The ear perceives these groups quite naturally, with a tendency for the brain to interpret the first beat of each group as being "strong" or "dominant". There's a term that has been coined to describe this natural strength of the first beat: "Agogic stress". The brain interprets this agogic stress on the first beat of each measure, regardless of where the accents of the music fall. You can have notes that are played loudest on any random beat, and even have syncopated accents played in between beats, but the first beat is always naturally the strongest... Not in terms of volume level, but just in a natural sense in the way the brain interprets the underlying pulse, to feel which beat leads each measure.

- the idea being that you distract your conscious brain enough to see how automatic your response is to the pulse and the rhythms that you superimpose upon it.
This sounds like high psychiatry. Would you elaborate for the dilettantes?

Yes, what I was recommending is a form of troubleshooting by process of elimination. When you want to get to the bottom of a problem, you isolate specific elements to pinpoint a culprit. By starting with the simplest of actions (sit down and clap to a metronome), and adding one layer of difficulty at a time, you can pinpoint where the breakdown occurs.

One very common point of breakdown in students is preoccupation with circumstances that might tend to distract from staying on time with the music. In a beginner, it might be something as simple as trying to remember a simple sequence of dance steps. A slightly more advanced student might be able to handle that much, but then have trouble with an array of distractions at a social dance, such as leading, maneuvering around traffic, etc.

Once you pinpoint what types of things get in the way of your ability to stay on time, you can then construct a series of exercises that could really target the problem, and fast-track your progress in overcoming the problem in real-world circumstances. (I'm a huge proponent of exercises).

Needless to say, musicality is not a strong suit for everyone. I believe we are all blessed with the potential to be musical, however some people need to put more time and practice into sharpening those skills than others. Any new skill needs time to develop, to make the shift from conscious thought to subconscious. Your ability to execute a particular skill while having your conscious brain occupied by other thoughts is a good measure of just how much you "own" that skill, i.e. where it resides in your brain between conscious and subconscious.

There is only one way to make the transition from conscious to subconscious: Repetition. The more you do something, the more automatic it becomes. The more you pinpoint a problem and isolate the repetition of it, the more effective your practice will be. In this way, I think our friend Bob could take something that has felt elusive for years -- something he may have eventually conquered over, say, a decade -- and whittle it down to a year or even less.

The ability to perform simple rhythms to time -- whether as a clapping of hands, beating of a drum, playing a few notes on the piano, etc. -- is not something that should take several years for somebody to learn. But there's a lot more to dancing than tapping out a rhythm. The simultaneous application of all that dancing entails is a tall order. That's why it helps to slow down upon occasion and isolate the learning of that very important aspect of our dancing -- the music.

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