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Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by Bob
4/14/2014  5:08:00 PM
I have no musical talent and have a hard time following the "time-keeping" beats when listening to ballroom dance music because some music is so high class and complex ( to me ) that I cannot find that special beat that seems to be buried among the other beats which may come from several other instruments.

Therefore, I am thinking that if I had a metronome to practice with, I would at least be able to dance in practice sessions with a partner.

In ten years of taking ballroom dance lessons, I have never heard any instructor even mention one word about metronomes.

What is your feeling about using a metronome for ballroom practice? And is there such a thing as waltz metronomes and cha cha metronomes ? and metronomes for the other dances?

What do you think?
Re: Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by Waltz123
4/14/2014  5:11:00 PM
Hi Bob,

A metronome may or may not help you It depends on the nature of your difficulty in interpreting the music.

If your problem is so fundamental that you have difficulty recognizing and keeping time with a basic pulse, then a metronome might help you. However, this is very unlikely to be the case. I have taught several hundred students over the years, and can only remember one for whom clapping along with a metronome was actually a problem. I sat patiently with her and helped her to eventually clap along in time with the pulse, but it was a long haul. If this truly is your issue, then you may want to invest, at least for a little while, in a music teacher instead.

Assuming you can clap along with a pulse, I would next check to see if you can dance to the same, first with something simple such as Merengue (no rhythms; just one step per beat). Assuming thats ok, try a basic repeatable pattern with rhythm, such as a Foxtrot, Swing, Rumba or Cha Cha basic. And if you can do that easily, try something that really challenges you -- 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.

If you can clap to a basic pulse but have trouble with any of the above exercises, it will help you zero in on the types of distractions and level of complexity that prevent you from staying in time, which will make it clear where you need to focus your attention. In this way, a metronome can help.

If you dont have trouble with any of this, then the issue lies more with the way you hear the music itself, and a metronome is really not what you need. The chances are very good that this is really the problem.

With regard to the music, I find that students have one of two problems: (1) They cant find the basic pulse buried within the sounds produced by the instruments, or (2) they have trouble identifying which is the strongest beat, I.e. the 1 beat.

To help with the first problem, understand that music comes in a wide variety of styles, some with a very strong beat, some not so much. You should start with the easiest music and work your way up. International Tango music, for example, is a march with a strong snare hit on every beat. Slow Waltz can have no rhythm section at all, forcing you to rely on melodic orchestral instruments to find the subtle pulse. Spend 20 minutes every day sitting down and listening to various types of music and clapping out the pulse. You can even do it on your way to the dance studio by tapping on your steering wheel. Commit yourself to a certain amount of time each day where your interaction with the music is simply listening and clapping or tapping, but not doing anything dance-related, which adds distraction. Start with music with a strong beat, and work your way up in difficulty. As you get better, you can add even more difficulty by trying to tap out dance rhythms, e.g. SSQQ or 1a2, 3a4, etc.

Some people (myself included) have made music tracks that begin with a straight metronome, fading the music in slowly over the top, and eventually fading the metronome out. This can be a handy tool, but Ive only ever found it really necessary with chronically unmusical students, like the lady I described earlier. In most cases, forcing the student to listen to and tap along with unmodified music daily usually does the trick.

(continued in next post)
Re: Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by Waltz123
4/14/2014  5:12:00 PM
(continued from previous post)

The second and most prevalent issue is difficulty in identifying the strong beat. Here again there is no magic pill, but daily listening will get you there eventually. As with finding the basic pulse, finding the strong beat is a matter of starting with music thats easy, and slowly adding more difficult types of music over time. The easiest music you can find is songs you are familiar with, especially those you love to sing or hum along with in your everyday life (They dont need to be ballroom-related). Find notes or lyrics that help cue you to the location of the 1 beat, and count along as an exercise. Count to 4 or 8 (or 3 or 6 if its a Waltz). If you dont know what notes or lyrics are on the strong beat, enlist the help of a more musical friend to give you the information initially (e.g. The word Help! in the song of the same name by the Beatles is on the 1 beat), and then take it from there. Use those cues and keep at it until you cant forget it. Once you have 20 songs under your belt, you will begin to find the strong beat without the need for memorized cues.

Any (or even several) of the above situations could be your problem Its hard to know without spending time with you. But you might just have enough information here to self-diagnose, perhaps with the help of a friend (or better yet, a music teacher). Perhaps the most important point is, whatever the problem, your best course of action is to take dancing out of the equation, and focus on listening to the music without distraction. Simple actions like clapping, tapping and counting out loud will produce the best results. And remember nobody is hopeless. You just need a little time, a little persistence, and the right guidance. Good luck.

Regards,
Jonathan
Re: Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by Voco
4/16/2014  1:04:00 AM
Hi Jonathan,

Your response to Bob is very interesting and useful. Would you elaborate on the following points, also addressing my comments?

(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?


- 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?


There are some dance-teachers who claim that the students should not use 1,2,3,4 etc. (numbers) when counting. They say that it is better to use sounds such as chica, bum etc. in Latin. I think that is what you call the rhythms that you superimpose upon it. Is that right?
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.

Regards,
Jonathan
Re: Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by Voco
4/17/2014  10:54:00 PM
Hi Jonathan,

Thank you for the throwing light on this stubbornly difficult subject. Your explanation is very useful. Most dance-teachers recognize Beat-1 instinctively, but unable to explain it to students understandably. For example they say: the downbeat is Beat-1. So the student is left figuring out what the teacher meant by the downbeat.

What exercises would you recommend to a student who would tell you?

No problem with recognizing the 1 in any of the 5 Standard-music and Jive or Paso. Mambo 50% OK. Problem in International and American Rumba and occasionally in CC. No formal, or any type of music education. However, very strong taste for like or dislike of dance songs. Prefer the classic, romantic style Spanish-language Rs or very rhythmic CCs with clear beats, as opposed to the contemporary English vocals in Latin.
Re: Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by Waltz123
4/21/2014  2:22:00 PM
The key to accelerating your progress in any skill is to isolate.

If hearing the music is difficult, then isolate it: Spend a certain amount of practice time sitting down and listening to music, with no dancing.

If finding beat 1 is difficult, spend your music listening time counting along in time with the music. Start with songs you know, and slowly build a repertoire.

If certain styles of music are more difficult for you than others, the formula is the same: Focus on those styles that you find difficult. If Rumba is a problem, then acquire 10 Rumbas. Start with the easiest ones, and work your way up in difficulty. You will start to identify which instruments are responsible for which patterns of rhythm, and what beats they tend to fall on. As you are learning, you will go through a phase of conscious identification. As long as you're still in that phase, keep your regular regimen of listening sessions, and keep adding songs, as well as reviewing the old ones. If you're patient and persistent, the conscious identification will slowly turn into subconscious reaction. Eventually, you will just "feel" the music.

Regards,
Jonathan
Re: Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by Voco
4/23/2014  11:14:00 PM
Jonathan,

Thanks for your comments.
Re: Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by Chun_Songie
4/16/2014  5:23:00 PM
I follow Don Baarns' youtube page "Music for Dancers" to help me with this issue. When I really started being able to hear the beat in latin music was after I listened to "La Vida es un Carnival" only God knows how many times (it must have been well over 100) over a 30 hour train ride.

When I first started dancing, I had no musical background at all, and I practiced all the moves to an on-line metronome. I think it helped because I was really struggling with rhythm in general, and it created some important mind-body neural connections. Now I use the "salsa beat machine" because you can isolate all the instruments and speed up and slow down the tempo, and you have the option of having the beat spoken out. If Salsa is what you like to dance, then I highly recommend this site.

Another very important is just to listen to the music that you like to dance to a lot. When I'm at the club and I'm sitting out a dance, I always have my phone with me. When a song that I don't own comes on, I use "sound hound" to find out the artist and title of the song, then I buy it and add it to a playlist that I listen to all day long everyday. It makes a huge difference.

Also, picking one song and listening to it carefully a couple hundred times to try to try and really know it inside and out is very helpful. I do this with songs I'm going to perform to, but even if you're not performing this really helps you to hear things in other music as well.
Re: Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by O.Z.
4/19/2014  5:52:00 PM
A few years ago from Japan there were a series of disks where the music was played as it should be. Then at the end one of the tunes was used where only the beats could be heard They were very good. I don't know if they are still available.
Re: Trouble Hearing Music
Posted by nloftofan1
4/21/2014  7:01:00 AM
Helmut Licht made a recording called "Rhythm Music." Ten dance styles, each starting with only the beat, eventually (each) adding a simple melody. It's as simple as it gets.
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