Staying on beat

#1
Hey swing dancers,
I have been learning to lead Lindy hop about once a week since September 2007. I have learned lots of moves and still manage to get off beat a majority of the time.

Does anyone have any suggestions/strategies to stay on beat and in tune with the music? I may be over counting in my head, I usually silently count 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 throughout the entire song. But then again I'm not sure.

Thanks,
 

waltzgirl

Active Member
#2
Welcome to DF!

I had the same problem in my first few months of dancing. I found that the part of my brain that thinks in words/numbers and the part of my brain that listens to music don't actually communicate very well! So when I first started dancing, I could start counting, then the focus on the words "one, two, etc." took over, and then I was counting them to my own rhythm, not the music. So I learned to let my body react to the beat without the intervention of my brain--tapping out the rhythm on the steering wheel to the radio (at stoplights!), tapping my toe to music, etc. (Story I've told here before: I learned to trust my body's reactions when my teacher pointed out one time that, simultaneously with telling him I couldn't hear the beat of a song, my head was nodding along to it perfectly in time.)

I can count now along with the music, but it was a skill I had to develop, to get those parts of the brain cooperating. :)
 
#3
Does anyone have any suggestions/strategies to stay on beat and in tune with the music? I may be over counting in my head, I usually silently count 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 throughout the entire song. But then again I'm not sure.
Warning: westie disclaimer applies.

1) Always be listening to music, and trying to figure out where you are. Driving to work? Tuck in a CD or tune a local station and find the beat. Watching the game on TV? Listen to the band and find the beat. Listen to the commercial jingles and find the beat. Spend Christmas eve stalking the carolers and find the beat.

2) Once that starts to seem to easy, start shuffling your way into a random location of a song, and find the beat. As you get better, you'll require fewer and fewer notes to figure out what's going on.


[thread]14434[/thread] may also be helpful.
 

Steve Pastor

Moderator
Staff member
#4
Hallelujah! Someone else wants to talk about being on the beat!

Sometimes, I want to just give it up, but I can't...talk about being on the beat that is.

Listening to music, and trying to find the beat is an OK place to start, but you have to get it into your body.

So, if you put some music on at home, you can practice doing all of your steps and patterns in time to the music. Start with simple stuff. Most people seem to do OK as long as they are doing basics. They lose it when they lead turns or turn themselves, or do more complex moves. Add the more complex moves slowly.

When you are out dancing, dedicate a song or two to simple, basic moves, and practice staying on the beat. If you have a partner who you think will work with you a bit, tell them what you want to work on for just a song or two.

And speaking of partners, don't forget that swing is a partner dance. If your partner doesn't stay on the beat as she does a turn, and comes out ahead or behind it, that's going to throw you off, too.
Once you become aware of this, you are going to realize that a lot of women aren't so good at staying on the beat, either.
Then it's a question of how do you handle it. Do you just go with what you get, or do you try to fix it. You'll be more popular if you just go along, but you'll eventually end up with better partners (defined as people who dance to the music) if you try, somehow, to fix it.
 
#5
Hey guys, thanks for the advice! One question about a suggestion... Does dancing alone at home help? lol. I'm single, so I usually don't have someone around to practice with.
 

Vince A

Active Member
#7
Luckily, we have a cushioned dance floor at home to practice on, but you don't need to go that far.

Practice the basic steps until they are just about in muscle memory.

I remember practicing a whole lot at home before I installed the dance floor . . . in the grocery store - holding on to the cart handle . . . in my office with the door closed . . . walking down the street . . . invent ways to get that basic footwork in . . .

Sometimes, it helps to have something to hold on to, so that you can work on your frame too . . . a refrigerator handle gives great connection!
 

Steve Pastor

Moderator
Staff member
#8
If you want to get being with the music into your body, practice your stuff with music on as much as you can.
As far as practicing alone... yes, it helps. I have almost never had a regular practice partner. I can remember putting headphones on and dancing around the living room back in my early twenties when I was living with 2 other guys. (I hope both of them slept through the whole thing.) Your body becomes more comfortable with "unfamiliar" movements, such as being in time with a beat, for example, the more you do it.
Even now, I will step through things again and again if I am having trouble doing them.

The more you get your part down, the less brain power you will have to devote to your own movements, and you'll be able to pay more attention to the music (not just the beat, but lots of other things), your partner, and the people around you.
 
#9
I've been looking through the forums but have been unable to find a "holy grail" of dance moves on the internet. Does anyone know of any good swing sites with lots of instruction videos? My memory is horrible and I often forget a lot of the moves taught to me in group lessons.
 

kayak

Active Member
#10
You might try DanceVision. I find patterns are hard to learn on video, but videos are great reminders of what I have learned in class. However, what I like from DanceVision are their practice cds. So you can get several swing specific cds for the car. I had a ton of trouble with rhythm at the beginning as well and even now have to correct myself when I am trying something that is new. So the listening in the car or shower suggestions worked great.
 
#11
What kind of swing are you learning?

try how2dance.com All free, although they don't say no to donations.
They've got Lindy, Balboa, WCS, and I thought they had Collegiate Shag, but I'm not seeing it now.
 
#12
If you want instructional tapes and DVDs for Lindy there is no better place than savoystyle.com Don't let the name fool you, their dance store has instructionals from some of Lindy Hops best teachers and most recognized competitors of many different styles.

As to how to get the beat... honestly your best bet is to stop trying to count. Instead use a mnemonic... I like to call out, in rhythm, what I am doing, i.e. step, step, tri-ple step, step, step, tri-ple step. Each syllabul is a step and each step fits the music when lined up properly.

As to how to find out where the music is at any given time to match up the mnemonic, I use BOOM-Ta. If you listen to swing music (though it works of most modern music which is descended from jazz/blues) it has a heavy hit of the upright bass or bass drum on the odd beats (1,3,5,7) also known as the down beat, and a sharp beat from the high hat or ride cymbals on the even beats (2,4,6,8) also known as the up beat. The upbeat is where you would clap or snap your fingers.

If you say the word boom you find that it fits with the deep sound of the down beat and the ta aligns with the sharp sound of the up beat. To find it you may want to say boom quietly under your breath repeatedly until you here it "resonate" with the down beat. Then add ta to the end to verify that you are in the right place in the music.

Once you can do this (shouldn't take more than a handful of times before you can start doing it regularly and quickly) you can start your dancing on any down beat (boom), but when you start listening to the music beyond just the 2 beats of the down up cycle you'll hear how it cycles in fours and eights. Soon you'll be able to hear the beginning of a cycle of four and then the cycles of eight, that is the "1" that your teachers probably count you in on to begin your moves and patterns, and is generally considered the "ideal" place to start in Lindy Hop since it's eight beat cycle will match up so easily with the eight count swing out. The six count moves will cycle through and every 24 counts you'll be starting a new move on the one.

I know you've been dancing for awhile, and I wrote some of this as if you were completely new and had little to no knowledge of music and counts, but someone later without the knowledge you have will come across this and it'll hopefully answer some of their unasked questions.

As to dancing around to the music without a partner... YES! Do It! First any movement is better than none, and it will cement the process into your muscle memory as much as burn some new neural pathways.

However you really don't want to do it to just any music. Some music is less rhythmically driven than Swing music and will be much harder to hear. Others are so rhythmically simple that it will not force you to grow and adapt. IOW stick to the music you plan on dancing to.
 
#13
As to how to get the beat... honestly your best bet is to stop trying to count. Instead use a mnemonic... I like to call out, in rhythm, what I am doing, i.e. step, step, tri-ple step, step, step, tri-ple step. Each syllabul is a step and each step fits the music when lined up properly.

As to how to find out where the music is at any given time to match up the mnemonic, I use BOOM-Ta. If you listen to swing music (though it works of most modern music which is descended from jazz/blues) it has a heavy hit of the upright bass or bass drum on the odd beats (1,3,5,7) also known as the down beat, and a sharp beat from the high hat or ride cymbals on the even beats (2,4,6,8) also known as the up beat. The upbeat is where you would clap or snap your fingers.

If you say the word boom you find that it fits with the deep sound of the down beat and the ta aligns with the sharp sound of the up beat. To find it you may want to say boom quietly under your breath repeatedly until you here it "resonate" with the down beat. Then add ta to the end to verify that you are in the right place in the music.

Once you can do this (shouldn't take more than a handful of times before you can start doing it regularly and quickly) you can start your dancing on any down beat (boom), but when you start listening to the music beyond just the 2 beats of the down up cycle you'll hear how it cycles in fours and eights. Soon you'll be able to hear the beginning of a cycle of four and then the cycles of eight, that is the "1" that your teachers probably count you in on to begin your moves and patterns, and is generally considered the "ideal" place to start in Lindy Hop since it's eight beat cycle will match up so easily with the eight count swing out. The six count moves will cycle through and every 24 counts you'll be starting a new move on the one.

I know you've been dancing for awhile, and I wrote some of this as if you were completely new and had little to no knowledge of music and counts, but someone later without the knowledge you have will come across this and it'll hopefully answer some of their unasked questions.

As to dancing around to the music without a partner... YES! Do It! First any movement is better than none, and it will cement the process into your muscle memory as much as burn some new neural pathways.

However you really don't want to do it to just any music. Some music is less rhythmically driven than Swing music and will be much harder to hear. Others are so rhythmically simple that it will not force you to grow and adapt. IOW stick to the music you plan on dancing to.
I found this very helpful! Thank you so much! I'd been struggling with finding the "1" beat since I started dancing WCS back in February of this year. I've gotten better at finding the "1", but sometimes I find myself struggling again. I have NO music training at all so I really appreciate this info.
 
#14
I found this very helpful! Thank you so much! I'd been struggling with finding the "1" beat since I started dancing WCS back in February of this year. I've gotten better at finding the "1", but sometimes I find myself struggling again. I have NO music training at all so I really appreciate this info.
Hi Cali :)

I would recommend James Brown as really good music for practicing finding the "1". The emphasis on the downbeat (the "1") was one of his main musical trademarks. Listen to "Sex Machine" and you can clearly hear the bass strongly hit the "1", followed by the cymbal on "2" just as d nice described.
Plus many of James Brown's songs are a good tempo for WCS dance.

Just a warning though: once you always hear the "1", you will notice that the WCS patterns don't always begin on that count. That's because the song's rhythm is in "four" meaning the beat goes "one-two-three-four", or multiples of four, such as "one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight". But many WCS patterns, including the basic sugar push, use six beats of music (one-two-three&-four-five&-six). So mathematically, you can't always start and finish a pattern on the "1".

It gets especially complicated because WCS mixes patterns of various lengths, i.e. a six-count sugar push might be followed by an eight-count whip, then maybe a six-count side pass, then a ten-count turn pattern, etc. It made me crazy at first, but I try to not think about it anymore and just keep the rhythm. The leader has to worry about the counts a lot more than I do. ;)

Still, knowing where the "1" is, and feeling the structure of the song, is very useful for followers. It helps you get back on the beat if you lose it, and it helps you predict when the leader may change what he's doing, especially if he likes to hit the breaks in the song.
 
#15
Jenny, that's very helpful. Thank you.

You know, ever since d nice's post, I've found it very easy to find the down beat and the up beat in various songs (I listen to music on my drive to/from work and all day long at work). I find myself not counting 8, but 4 beats instinctively when I listen for the beats in music. I'm not sure what that means, but it's what I do. Am I right in thinking that if I can count "1, 2, 3, 4" (or 'boom TA boom TA') in a song, that WCS can be danced to it? I mean, "1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4" is the same as "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8", right? LOL, sorry for sounding so elementary. I've also noticed that not all music has a "1, 2, 3, 4" beat...which, of course, I'd heard before, but I never really understood what it meant.

So, at my weekly lesson/party last night, I tried to count (4 count) while I danced and, of course, it screwed me up....LOL! As Jenny said, WCS patterns aren't all neatly packaged into 8 counts. So yeah, that's not gonna work. Also, I agree Jenny that knowing where the 1 beat is will help during breaks in music. Is it true that all song breaks will start on the 1? I would think that would be true. So, if I hit a break, I can just count in my head "1, 2, 3, 4...and 1" and be ready to go again on that "and 1". I think. LOL!

I have natural rhythm (like moving to the beat of music and snapping on the up beats of 2 and 4). I just never knew that's what I was doing. :D Learning about up/down beats, counts etc is very interesting to me. I'm hoping it'll help my WCS.
 
#16
Am I right in thinking that if I can count "1, 2, 3, 4" (or 'boom TA boom TA') in a song, that WCS can be danced to it? I mean, "1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4" is the same as "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8", right?
Yes, WCS can be danced to it (though other dances may fit it better. Dancing swing when the music says tango is weird, but not wrong).

But two fours isn't quite the same as one eight. It doesn't effect the basics of the dance at all, but some of the musical expression later on changes a bit. Don't worry about it yet.

Also, I agree Jenny that knowing where the 1 beat is will help during breaks in music. Is it true that all song breaks will start on the 1?
No. It's a good bet, but it's not a sure thing.
 
#17
Yes, WCS can be danced to it (though other dances may fit it better. Dancing swing when the music says tango is weird, but not wrong).

But two fours isn't quite the same as one eight. It doesn't effect the basics of the dance at all, but some of the musical expression later on changes a bit. Don't worry about it yet.



No. It's a good bet, but it's not a sure thing.
Agreed. Especially a lot of traditional WCS songs (i.e. blues) do start a break on the 1, but not all. It's good to spend time listening to different kinds of songs and eventually you can predict where the breaks will be. However, note that a break doesn't always take exactly four counts. Sometimes they take eight counts, two counts, or something else. You'll eventually get a feel for that, and in the meantime you can always just follow your leader's cues.

To expand on dancelf's point, most WCS songs are in what is called 4/4 time, meaning you count 1-2-3-4 and you will hear that rhythm repeated. In many cases, as you said Cali, you could also count to eight (because it's a multiple of four), but not always. That's because there is rhythm and there is phrasing.

The rhythm is the 1-2-3-4 and the phrasing is how many blocks of four are joined together for a musical idea or melody line or verse. Some songs will join together two blocks of four (making eight counts), some songs will tend to join four blocks of four (making sixteen counts), and so on.

After enough listening and dancing, you'll eventually feel the phrasing without any counting. If you have a good leader who really knows his music, you'll see how he will arrange the dance to fit those phrases. And you can do the same, because you'll be able to see when and how to play and improvise in a way that really works with the song. So yeah, having musicality very much helps the dance.

You absolutely do have great rhythm already, Cali :)
It puts you way ahead of a lot of other folks who struggle with that. For me, the challenge has been the opposite - I know the music, but I have struggled to learn good following skills.
 

Steve Pastor

Moderator
Staff member
#18
"traditional WCS songs (i.e. blues)"

It is questionable as to when people started dancing WCS to blues. Based on the entire history of the dance (starting in the very early 1950s as Western Swing in the Los Angeles area), I guess it depends on how you define "tradition".
The earliest recorded performance of what can truly be called West Coast Swing is in the 1958 film "Hot Rod Gang", to a rockabilly song by Gene Vincent - "Dance to the Bop". The song reached #23 on the pop charts that year.
http://www.sd455.com/moviehotrodgang.htm
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051741/to http://rcs.law.emory.edu/rcs/ss/04/ss4463.mp3
(Reports of WCS in earlier films are greatly exagerated. I keep looking, though.)
Note too, that WCS didn't go mainstream until the late 1960s, although it was taught all along in Southern California (as far as we know). (TangoTime, a poster these forums, and a long time dancer who was there, agrees with this -not taught on the East Coast- information.)
Take a look at the "Original music WSC was danced to" thread. The last few pages have nothing to do with music, though.
A bit off thread, but I've spent lots of time looking into this, and just have to share.

P.S. I've had people tell me that they couldn't dance WCS to blues, all of wheich isn;t slow! They found out otherwise.
 
#19
Wow, so much info. Thanks Dancelf and my Jenny. :D ...and for the kind words, Jenny.

Phrasing, huh.... I've got a lot to learn, I see. I didn't even think about a break being less than 4 counts. ;-)
 
#20
The dance called West Coast Swing is a modified form of Lindy Hop. Trying to date when it became a seperate form is impossible. There is no move in what is recognized as early WCS that did not exist in Lindy Hop, what distinguished the early WCS was the style and the restrictions that it created on the broader form of Lindy Hop (such as wlaking forward on 1,2 or the concept of the slot).

If you want to talk about original music it is going to be Swing, Blues or Rhythm and Blues. What was danced in studios is a completely different animal entirely, as is evidenced by any chain studio playbook which is envariably full of strict tempo pieces that are popular due to movies, being done or covered by popular musicians of the time or to that area, but often have no real relation to the music as it is being danced by those who invented the dance.

As to traditional, yes, blues is a traditional music form for West Coast Swing. Looking at the tapes of WCS performers you'll find an entire period where Blues was the predominant form chosen. This in no way is intended to say that it was ever only danced to Blues. Any claims of such exclusivity demonstrates a woeful lack of swing dance history.

You should pretty much always be able to count WCS music in 8's though that is a dancers way to think about the 4/4 time music that is the most popular time signature these days for WCS. Counting fours is really better and more accurate (and is how the musicians tend to count it out... though if you are ready what you really want is to just ingrain the down and upbeats in your head and body... ESPECIALLY if you are a WCS follower.

If you can think about all your movement as a serious of two beat movements rather than six or eight count patterns you'll open up a whole new world of styling and improvisation without ever getting "off".
 

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