A frequent question I receive from students is, “How do I improve my musicality/be more musical?” There are a myriad of potential answers I can give from taking up a musical instrument, learning AABA structure and when a song uses four 8s versus six 8s, listening for breaks in songs, and the list could go on.
What to do?
However my #1 recommendation for anyone whether they are brand new day one newbie or a seasoned dancer is increasing your familiarity with the music. In particular I mean authentic swing dance music from the swing era or modern bands who play in that style. One result of being familiar with the type of music that is played live by bands or djed many dancers can do thing such as recognize famous riffs and play off them.
Example 1: (Compare the first video at 6:13 to the second video at 0:47)
To give you a further context riffs, melodies, and et cetera from jazz standards come up all the time in live music. If you are a dancer wants to or already regularly participates in competitions this is a concept for you to note.
Example 2:(Compare the first video at 1:16 to the second video at 2:13)
If you are scoffed at the last sentence and thought, “Well I never plan to compete… like ever.” This idea also comes up in social dancing at exchanges with live bands as well.
Example 3:(Compare the first video at 2:32 to the second video at 3:47)
I’m a firm believer that one surefire way to increase your ability to creatively express yourself within swing dancing is developing your familiarity with the music. When watching people dance a sign of a more advanced dancer over a novice one is the ability to discern what the music calls for and responding to it in an appropriate artistic manner. We have all encountered the “Tandem Charleston no matter what song is playing” lead, this is an example of where a lack of familiarity with the music causes a disconnect between dancing and the music.
I’m not the only person who holds a similar opinion as well, Glenn Crytzer writes in an interview on Dance Word Takeover,
Generally as people become more advanced that they get more into the music. I think the opposite is true as well, the more people get into the music the more advanced they can become as dancers. – Glenn Crytzer
How to go about this?
There are several ways to improve your familiarity with swing dance music which I have listed below.
- Listen to as much authentic swing dance music (preferably live) as you can: Active listening is the optimal situation where you are trying to pick out individual instruments and seeing how they affect the band, listening to the rhythm section, or listening what other songs or musicians may have influenced their musical choices.
- Talk shop with your local jazz musicians, bandleaders, hardcore jazz fans and DJs: The majority of these people as long as they are not busy doing their work are excited to talk to you about this subject matter. Often they will give you recommendations to versions of songs you may have not heard of before or various insights that you likely wouldn’t have stumbled across on your own.
- Learn how to play a musical instrument: This is listed at third because it is obviously probably the most time consuming and involved out all three suggestions. However having a music background does give you unique insights into jazz music.