How do you teach musicality?

How do you teach musicality?

This was a question I was asked at a social dance a couple of weeks ago. There are loads of resources around this topic in swing dancing but I always thought that they miss one obvious answer: The thing that could improve everyone’s dancing.


Want to

  • Improve your syncopation? 
  • Improve improvisation? 
  • Learn where the breaks are?
  • Understand the structure of the song?

Listen to the music.

I know what you’re going to say, ‘We do listen to the music if we didn’t then we couldn’t dance’.
I’d happily suggest that you’re not REALLY listening.

How did the rest of my conversation go?

I opened up with ‘You have to listen to the music’. They frowned; obviously not the answer they were expecting, so I set them a challenge. I asked them to tell me how many instruments they could hear in the song that was playing and name them. I wasn’t expecting them to name every single drum, brass and woodwind instrument, groups of instruments were close enough. At that moment the way they were listening changed.

Fortunately, it was a Gordon Webster track and not a big band. They got all the major groups, so the next challenge was to name some of the individual instruments, ramping up of the complexity of the challenge a little.
As it was a social dance I didn’t continue with the challenges and as we chatted they revealed they listened to Sting.

I set some homework.

A little preamble before I tell you what it was.
One of my many undocumented skills is as a live sound engineer (bear with me). In setting up PA’s for gigs, small and large Sting’s All this time album was used to soundcheck. The album has excellent production, fantastic dynamics and the most subtle stereo separation. Back to the thread…

They own a copy, so I asked them to listen to it through a good pair of headphones or speakers in a darkened room (to remove distractions). To concentrate on identifying the instruments and where they thought they were standing in the room when it was recorded. If you own a copy I’d suggest track 4 ‘All this time’. Listen to it and be amazed.

A simple exercise to change how you listen to music.

If you want more tips, let me know in the comments

If you do listen to ‘All this time’, let me know what you heard. There’s a lot to comment on. Or suggest your favourite track and I’ll have a listen, we can compare numbers.

Instead of being a passive consumer of music, use your ears.

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