Musicality and Listening


Musicality and Listening


A lot of people talk about listening to more swing music to improve their rhythm and musicality, so I sat down and thought ‘how do I do that?’ In workshops and online  you find explanations of different formats, AABB, AAAB, etc for music and how these can be used in your dance. But this article isn’t about that it’s a guide on listening without counting, because for me multitasking is difficult. I’m listening to the music, I’m dancing with a partner, finding space on the floor and often also remembering to breathe and smile. So add counting to this list and what happens?


Now I know what you’re thinking, we listen to music all the time, when we dance, while were socialising, when we’re driving, so here’s the question.
Are you hearing the music or listening?
What’s the difference?


When I hear music it’s not my primary focus, for example when I’m driving the radio is on I hear the song, I sing along (badly) but my concentration is elsewhere. It’s passive listening.

When I listen to music I’m fully engaged, external distractions are at a minimum and I can focus on the rhythms, dynamics and individual instruments.
Can you do this and dance? Well the good news is yes, however like all things it takes practise and you already have all the things you need to get started.

  •  Ears
  • Music
  • Time
Tips for getting started
  1. Environment – Somewhere with minimal distractions, you’ll need to concentrate.
  2. A good quality sound, headphones are great or a good stereo. The car and your laptop/phone speaker are not good quality.
  3. Music – Pick a swing track you like, I’m going to use Splanky by Count Basie as a example a little later on.
  4. Time – You’ll need to listen to the same some 4 or 5 times at the beginning.

Lets Begin. (Simply)


What are we  looking listening for?

  • Rhythms – Drums and Bass, the swing is all about the bass!
  • Melodies – Vocals, piano, brass and woodwind instruments
  • Dynamics – Energy changes, stops.
Example: Splanky – Count Basie

First listen jot down what happens, I’m using time rather than counts as I want to get the feel of the music not it’s structure.

0:00 Piano Intro
0:10 Piano riff changes to signify end of intro
0:12 Brass plays melody with piano fills
0:36 Brass melody continues with call and response
1:00 Saxophone melody
1:44 Drum fill signifies a change
1:47 Dynamics change, energy levels ramp up
2:04 Melody change signifies a change?
2:10 Repeats previous phrase
2:27 Drum fill and melody change, signifies a change
2:31 Dynamics changes, energy level drops
2:38 Brass call and response
3:00 Drum changes, there’s an energy build a change is coming
3:03 Dynamics change, energy level ramps up
3:24 Piano only, signifies a change
3:28 End break.

15 things, did you hear them? How could incorporate this into your dance?
The energy changes, the call and response?

To get a little more in depth try listening just to the drums. Here’s what I heard

0:11 Simple rhythm underpinning Bass
1:20 Drum fill
1:43 Drum Fill
1:43-2:28 Drum fill at end of each phrase
2:28 Different drum fill
2:30 Simple rhythm
2:37 Drum fill
3:00 Drum fill (energy building)
3:03-3:19 Drum fill at end of each phrase
3:19 Different drum fill

From this I can hear from the drums when the changes are, no counting, just listening.

In part 2 I’ll expand on the topic of listening, but if you’d like to participate let me know what you heard. Listen to another track and post comments or make a suggestion of a song that we can break down.

Listen with your ears and dance to the music, no counting required.