Every day I preach that dancing is an elegant fusion of movement and music. Our art form is so unique- you get to create amazing moments with another person and the music at the same time.
Quite often, we get carried away with perfecting our technique and our connection with our partner, (don't get me wrong, it is essential to do so), which leaves little to no time to focus on the outside stimuli the music provides for us. I feel like our understanding and knowledge of music nowadays are very limited, and we lack basic resources to understand this inspiring medium- the music.
I have put together this article to help clarify some of the terminologies so we can start to understand clearly what and how we can create amazing experiences by understanding the basics of music.
The Building Blocks of Music
The most basic building blocks of music is the musical tone ( much like a two or four-piece Lego block) Those are sounds that have specific characteristics like duration, pitch, intensity (loudness) and timbre (quality). We can represent those characteristics with Notes and other signs of the musical notation system.
This is the system used to visually represent sounds on a musical sheet with staffs (a set of 5 lines with four spaces). It can represent sounds created via instruments or sung by the human voice through the use of written, printed, or otherwise-produced symbols, including notation for durations of the absence of sound such as rests.
Melody is the continuous sounding of the individual notes, which is perceived as something complete. If you look at the staff and you connect the top of each note to the other, you will get a curve that we call melodic line.
Rhythm is a structural unit in music, just like it is in life. It is a form of time representation in the sounding of things or simply- the placements of sounds in time. The notion of rhythm also occurs in other arts (e.g., poetry, painting, sculpture, and architecture) as well as in nature (e.g., biological rhythms). You can find rhythm everywhere- in a basketball being dribbled, raindrops falling, or hands clapping.
“A well-timed and alternating repetition of accented and not accented beats” is another popular definition of rhythm, especially within the dance world since we are very involved with interpreting the accents or absence of such in the music to produce characteristic movement.
The beat is the regular pulsation, which represents the basic unit of measure for time in the musical notation.
The first beat of a measure, accented and the strongest of the whole bar.
The last beat of the measure, unaccented, it precedes an accented beat.
The emphasis on a note through a stronger or longer recreation
Intentional change in the structure of the measure. We can move the musical accent onto an unaccented beat or change the duration between the beats.
A bar is a part of the music that starts with an accented beat and finishes right before the next accented beat. One bar represents a metric group. They are represented on the staff with vertical lines called bar lines. Those are placed right before each accented beat and form the basic rhythm for each dance.
A time signature is used in musical notation to specify how many beats are contained in each measure/ bar and which note value is equivalent to a beat. It is indicated with a fraction at the beginning of the staff. The denominator represents the note value, for example, a quarter( 1/4) or a half note (1/2) whereas the numerator gives us the number of beats in a measure, for example, a time signature 4/4 has four beats in a measure and each of those notes is a quarter note.
The tempo is the speed at which the music notes are played.
One thing to remember is that tempo can be represented and written in two ways with the same abbreviation BPM can mean both BARS per Minute and BEATS per Minute. Additionally, it can be noted as MPM, which is measures per minute. When it is written as bar per minute, the number will generally be smaller- 24 bars per minute. Knowing the time signature, you can easily calculate the beats per minute value by simply multiplying the bars per minute X beats in a bar. For example, in Rumba we have 24 bars per minute, and 4 beats in a bar give us 96 beats per minute tempo.
Strict tempo is used primarily in ballroom dancing. It ensures that all the songs will be played at the same speed from beginning to end, giving the dancers a peace of mind that the the tempo will remain the same. The tempi are set by the National Dance Council of America or the World Dance Council, and all competitions obey those rules.
TEMPI currently approved set by NDCA
In Part 2 we will be discussing how all of that terminology can be used in Ballroom Dancing to create more clarity in the actions and more musical dancing. Coming very soon. Stay tuned.