Identifying Musical Phrases

Identifying Musical Phrases

When you learned WCS, you learned to distinguish downbeats and upbeats.

In musical terms, the downbeat and upbeat are quarter note rhythms: they take up a quarter of a measure, which is the division used in musical scores.

A single measure of music for WCS songs takes four beats: a downbeat, an upbeat, another downbeat, and another upbeat.

(There are exceptions to the previous sentence, but we’ll set those aside for the moment.)

WCS music is generally phrased over two measures, or eight beats.

Each eight-beat phrase is the musical equivalent of a sentence.

Most verses, for instance, have a natural break every eight beats.

Struggling with hearing the 1 in the music? Learn counting straight 8’s with this video

For instance, listen to Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel

(Sentence:) Hey pretty baby with the high heels on
(Sentence:) You give me fever like I’ve never, ever known
(Sentence:) You’re just a product of loveliness
(Sentence:) I like the groove of your walk, your talk, your dress

You can hear the musical sentences continue throughout the song.

Now it’s time to count them.

How to practice this!

Listen to a song phrased in perfect eight-beat phrases, like The Way You Make Me Feel.

Count the eights: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, [repeat].

Your goal is to train yourself to hear and feel the beginning of a new set of eight.

If you don’t have previous musical training, it will take a while to master this drill. That’s ok!

Being able to quickly identify the 1 of a new phrase is extremely important for musical phrasing, so it’s worth spending time on this skill.

What the #1 Key to Musicality for WCS?

There is a concept that you must understand before you can connect your patterns and dancing to the music.

It’s called counting straight 8’s

Learn counting straight 8’s with this video

When you first learn west coast swing you typically will count your patterns.

Imagine dancing 2 sugar pushes… You would count 1,2,3&4,5&6 for the first sugar push then 1,2,3&4.5&6 for the second sugar push.

The music however will not stop at count 6. It will continue through 8 beats of music.

Counting straight 8’s is counting the music, not just the beats in your pattern.

Counting your 2 sugar pushes in straight 8’s would be counted like this.

1,2,3&4.5&6 for the first sugar push, 7,8,1&2,3&4 for the second.

You are not essentially counting the music while you dance, not just your patterns.

It’s a tricky concept but it’s the #1 thing you need to master to connect your patterns, styling and dancing to the music.

You can download a video of us demonstrating the concept here.

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