The ultimate guide to finding the beat in the music!
Question: Should I count the music?
Answer: Always. *
No matter who you are, what your musical background is, or how skilled you are at feeling the music, counting always elevates your dance.
Dancers who move by feel only are unattached to their third partner, the music.
Counting gives a way for both partners to be simultaneously directed to the same thing.
Even if you are great at feeling the music, you will always be more precise if you are also focusing on the count.
How to hear the beat in the music?
The first element to finding the beat is simply being able to hear the beat. For individuals without some past musical experience, this can be a tricky skill.
The videos below is from our course “The Ultimate Guide to Musicality” If you’re serious about musicality for west coast swing, you’ll want to pick this awesome course!
To learn this skill on your own, put on a song with a very clear and consistent beat.
Good songs include:
- “Goin’ Down South” by R.L. Burnside and
- “Juke Joint” by Johnnie Taylor.
Both of these songs have very solid beats without much distraction happening in the bass line.
As you listen, clap on the beat (which is the loud drum noise in these songs).
Keep practicing this skill until you can effortlessly clap along with the beat through the whole song!
How to practice counting the music while dancing.
With or without a partner, dance and focus on counting through the entire song.
Whether you count patterns, eights, or downbeats and upbeats is up to you: the key is to keep the count running through your head for the entire song.
This drill works great during social dancing as well as during solo or partnered practice, so give it a try the next time you head out social dancing.
If you struggle to dance and keep the count going at the same time, spend some time listening to WCS music and counting throughout the song.
As that becomes more comfortable, you can add in solo dancing WCS rhythms and finally WCS patterns.
If you are a dancer who moves by feel, this may take a while to become comfortable with counting and dancing. That’s ok!
You are reprogramming the way you listen to music so that you can perform at a much higher level, and that’s going to take some time.
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Don’t think you need to count music?
Some people learn to dance without spending a lot of time counting music, and they tend to dance by feel.
If you are one of those people, you probably think that counting the music while you are dancing inhibits your ability to dance to the lyrics or the melody.
You’re probably right.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t count. That means that you need to practice counting in order to be more comfortable thinking in musical terms.
Being able to count while you dance raises the ceiling on how precise your dancing can be; actually, counting in turn helps you tune in to the music at a higher level.
Is counting easy for you?
When you dance a part of the song lyrically, you need to be able to reattach to the beat once the lyric has finished.
If you are not rock solid at counting, there will be a slight jar as you catch the beat again.
By contrast, if your counting is rock solid, you can deviate from the beat and reattach seamlessly.
So, if counting is easy for you….
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A different way to ‘count’ music
There are some rare instances in which counting by numbers may impede your ability to feel something really awesome within the music.
In those instances, you may have more success if you “count” with sounds—making the mm-da-duh in your head as your “count.”
You still want to do something to stay attached to the music, but it may not be numeric.
Be honest with yourself.
If counting numbers truly stops you from moving a specific way, that’s one thing. But if you say that to yourself all the time, it might be that you need a stronger technical foundation in counting music and you’re just covering up for it.
Great performers seek out weaknesses in their game and struggle to overcome them; mediocre performers hide (from) their weaknesses.
What’s next after you can find the beat?
You’ll want to start connecting your steps to the music while staying on time! Then you’ll want to listen to music to deepen your understanding of the different types of music you’ll hear in west coast swing. After that you’ll want to dig in and understand the phrasing of songs so you can predict the musical accents. We’ve done a detailed breakdown of a song to help you understand. Finally you’ll want to download our video The #1 Key to Musicality for WCS before learning to put it all together with some cool west coast swing styling. I’m excited to hear how you do!