Swing Discussion Boards > Beats in Swing music

Discussion in 'Swing Discussion Boards' started by Outsider80, May 17, 2017.

  1. Outsider80

    Outsider80 New Member

    My wife and I recently started East Coast Swing lessons with hopes of learning Lindy Hop down the road. I have absolutely no prior dance experience and an driving myself nuts trying to dance on the downbeat. A lot of times I can't even hear it much less dance on it. I've watched YouTube videos and read articles trying to get a definitive feeling of what the upbeat vs downbeat is. I can hear it in obvious examples,such as a slower song with a loud bass on the downbeat and a snare on the upbeat, but have trouble hearing it in most Swing music. Are there any resources or tips that you can recommend. I'm obsessing over it to the point where I fear I'll stop enjoying dance practice.
  2. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    It´s simply a question of time Outsider, don´t give up too soon. It takes some time that your brain will find some suitable filters for music. Two possible options
    Taritz likes this.
  3. flying_backwards

    flying_backwards Active Member

    Please do not stop enjoying your practice!

    I love swing music. Some songs are easier to hear the simpler parts of the rhythm versus the more jazzy extra parts. It helped me to actively listen a lot while not trying to also dance. By "active" I mean count to yourself or even out loud.

    I googled
    swing dance music for beginners
    and saw some good playlists. That also reminded me how giving the swing community is with their knowledge.

    To practice hearing the beat I play the song while having tempotap.com open to tap out the tempo and compare bpm to what is listed on the CD. I count 12345678 at the same time to hear the phrases.

    As a follower, I can also learn to hear more in the music by dancing with the musically skilled leaders and feel from them how they're hearing more nuance. But when I lead, I only attempt the beginner-level definite-beat songs. So I would advise go easy on yourself, allow it is going to take awhile, and accept with a smile all the mistakes. It is ok to "reboot" to get back on count during a song. Stop, pulse, then resume when you find a solid 1.

    I know beginning swing is taught as the 6-count like ECS but I do wonder sometimes if starting with 8-count patterns might be easier to hear.
    Taritz likes this.
  4. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Can we assume, then, that you can already dance in time to the music without any problems?
    If this is not the case, then you should concentrate on THAT before worrying about the downbeat.

    Are you learning your East Coast with single, double, or triple rhythm (since in my opinion triple is not the way to go with newbies), but then I'm just kinda curious and the triple takes away from brain power that could be used otherwise IMO.

    Remember, too, that downbeats alternate with upbeats throughout a song. With six beat patterns you will only be starting your patterns on the FIRST downbeat in a measure every other time.

    Frankie Manning wrote about using "freezes" during his Lindy Hop. I think working with Posin' by Jimmie Lunceford would be helpful for you to get a feel for when to "start up again" which for our purposes would be "on the downbeat."

    Here's Lunceford's recording

    Watch this group's routine if you aren't getting a feel for when to start / stop.

    Lunceford was know for a "two beat" swing, but this might be a good thing to help you get started.

    Maybe throw out some songs they use where you are taking lessons and we can point out some "beginnings of phrases," which are almost always on a downbeat, that could help you learn to hear them.
    opendoor likes this.
  5. Outsider80

    Outsider80 New Member

    Thanks for the help! I know I need to discuss this further with my instructor but sometimes these questions don't pop up in my mind when I'm at class. I try and listen for the snare or cymbal which I always assume is the upbeat so I can start dancing on the alternate beat. I'll keep practicing listening for the beat! My instructor rarely scolds me for not dancing on the beat but he often stops me for dancing on the upbeat...

    One more question for now:
    I'm doing single time 6 count right now and sometimes feel as though an 8 count swing would be easier for me to keep dance on the beat. In an 8 count you do a step on every beat (both downbeats and upbeats) right? Sometimes I feel like the "holds" on the 6 count are helping to mess up my timing.
  6. ralf

    ralf Active Member

    It would depend on which style you mean by "8-count". However, none of the Swing styles I'm familiar with have eight steps per eight beats of music as basic footwork. Lindy Hop and WCS have ten (one two three-and-four five six seven-and-eight), Balboa has six plus holds (either step-step-hold-step * 2 or step-step-step-hold * 2, and you can mix-and-match within eight counts). Lindy Charleston is step-step-kick-step-kick-retract-kick-step.

    That said, an eight-count style could well help you keep the beat by staying synchronized with the phrasing of the music, rather than cycling through 1/7/5/3.
  7. flying_backwards

    flying_backwards Active Member

    Thank you ralf. I should have been more clear.

    The reference to "8-count swing" meant the basic rhythm of Lindy which spans 8 counts (beats) of music with 10 weight transfers. I agree with ralf that this might appeal to those learning to hear the music, phrased so the start of each 8-beats sounds distinct. It is not easier in terms of movements or patterns and certainly not as simple a movement as single-time.

    rock step (or swish swish for follower)
    step step


    1 2
    5 6

    Where the numbers and the & are all weight transfers ("steps").

    Compared to 6-count patterns with the basic rhythm of

    rock step


    5 6

    Are there any swing teachers out there on DF who introduce new-to-dance students to 8-count Charleston, Balboa, or Lindy before 6-count swing for this reason, to allow them to stay on phrase? I am curious if it would help students hear the beat.
  8. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    One variant of "single rhythm," which means you do one weight change for every two beats of music, is to step (a weight change) then follow that with a tap with the other foot, usually beside your weighted foot.

    So it would be step tap step tap rock step.

    When you do this, or some variation of it, you are marking every beat.

    When people say 8 count usually they are referring to the number of beats that it takes to complete a pattern. There are various numbers of steps you can take over the course of those 8 beats.

    “I’d never even thought about whether Lindy is made up of eight-count and six-count steps, which it is. It’s not that you decide how many counts a step should be. Some steps are just naturally one or the other.” - Frankie Manning”…

    Keep in mind, too, that you can "start" a 6 beat pattern on the rock step, or the side step.
    flying_backwards likes this.
  9. oldtangoguy

    oldtangoguy Active Member

    Yes! I find it much easier to teach students who have ever had musical training - any instrument, especially drums, but even being in a H.S. chorus - using 8-count patterns because they often listen to the music, not just the beat, and are confused by the fact that 6-count patterns don't align with the phrasing except occasionally. I generally teach simple 8-count Lindy through swingout, then a few Charleston steps (including side-by-side and Charleston swingout - I don't know if that is the usual name), and then Balboa. Only at that point do I introduce 6-count patterns as ways to create flexibility in musical interpretation.
  10. AirColor

    AirColor Member

    Start listening to swing (and any other music) every day, and think about its structure while listening. To be honest swing is probably harder to grasp musically due to elaborate use of syncopations than pop songs or some classical, so blues may be a good alternative or supplement. First, listen to the most basic component - the 4 beats in a measure. Just count out 1 of each measure. Then move on to 8 beats (2 measures) and count in 8. This is used more in dancing. Finally you can add the "swing" syncopations, which are the 1&2, 3&4 counts - you can ask your instructor about this part, because most students have trouble with the swing feel.

    After a while when you're more comfortable you'll notice that earlier swing songs have definite patterns, divided up into 4 eight count phrases (like 12345678, 22345678... called 32-bar, AABA form). From then on you'll be able to work on more advanced musicality.

    Some terminology stuff:
    Downbeat - 1,2,3,4
    Upbeat - 1&2&3&4& - this is different in swing compared to normal songs
    Backbeat - 1,2,3,4
    Syncopation - notes that are not on the downbeat, quirks in rhythm

    Also a quick point on swing feel because might as well. To create "swing" rhythm, count slowly 1,2,3,4 (it might be easy to use an online metronome). Then divide each notes into 3 parts. 1 becomes 1-e-a. So the count becomes 1-e-a,2-e-a,3-e-a... and then you accent the a part and eliminate the middle e. Then you get the swing feel. 1--a, 2--a, 3--a, 4--a... the a is going to be the upbeat.

    If you play this feel continuously, it becomes a "shuffle" song.
    If you sporadically add the upbeats, it becomes a "swing" song.
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2017
  11. AirColor

    AirColor Member

    Charleston is a fun dance for beginners, especially when danced to electro swing where the songs have strong downbeat accent instead of swing feel.
  12. DWise1

    DWise1 Well-Known Member

    I used to be in the same place as you, I think.

    I was a listener. I also switched from rock (when I felt that it was running out of steam in the early 70's) to "classical". I would listen to all those different musical voices playing with and against each other.

    When I tried to dance and was only told to follow the music, I had no idea which voice to follow. I would try to follow the voice (the instrument) that I was supposed to follow, but then a melody would lead me away and I'd lose it.

    In practical albeit still abstract terms, first you need to strip away and ignore all those other voices. Then when you are secure in listening to the basic beat you can start to add those other voices in, because that is where the really interesting musicality flairs happen (but that is far more advanced than you can imagine at this point).

    In all, it took me about 18 months. When I was making my breakthrough, I was also taking piano lessons which I think helped, not that I'm necessarily recommending that, but it got me thinking of music in terms of the counting.

    My very first lessons were salsa, but then it was West Coast Swing where I finally started learning (at the same time I was learning piano). In salsa, the teacher would give us the count and I was totally dependent on that count. Same thing in WCS, but that teacher was also talking about phrasing.

    Phrasing. A phrase in dancing is basically two bars of music: each bar is four beats, so a phrase being two bars amounts to a count of 8. Of course, with East Coast Swing being strictly 6-count moves that throws phrasing straight out the window, but both Lindy and WCS are tied to those 8-count phrasings. And salsa is also 8-count, as is Night Club Two-Step and other dances. There is a list of dancing advice attributed to famous jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie (who shocked even Kermit the Frog with how much his cheeks would puff out) which I have reposted at http://dwise1.net/trivia/dizzys.html. The last one, #25, is "Strive to hear the one." In every sequence of 8 counts, there is always that one count which starts off those 8 counts. It takes time and practice to hear it, but once you have heard it it could not possibly sound more clear. Now in all dances, I cannot start until I hear the one -- even in privates with my ballroom instructor, he wanted to start but I said, no, it's not the one yet.

    Of course, listening to music and counting it off helps, immensely. One night after WCS as I was driving to my piano class, the radio was playing the Rolling Stones song, Angie, and I started counting it off. What would help you even more is for your teacher to count off for you. Even better, have him count it off for your practice music, and then listen to that same practice music on your own and count it off yourself. This may not work that well for East Coast Swing (ECS) which is all 6-count and therefore is constantly and consistently out of phrase, so maybe some 8-count counting exercises. That would help to start to clue you in on the One, even though it has virtually no use in ECS, but does in Lindy and WCS.

    Even after I had finally started to get it, to be able to hear the count in the music, it would often be difficult for me to hear it in a specific piece of music being played. At this point, the context was Lindy. One of the steps we learned in Lindy is the Lindy Charleston (not the "official" name for it, but it is different from the 1920's Charleston, though derived from it and every Lindy Hopper knows it). So in order to try to figure out a particular song, I would solo-Charleston to it and it would come to me. I'm sure that that would also work if you're doing 20's Charleston.

    Here is a YouTube video of that step:
    . Basically it's rock-step, kick, step, forward and back step. Watch the video.

    For that matter, learn that Charleston step and the associated counts; ask your teacher to teach it to you. Then as you are listening to the music, Charleston to it. My ex-wife was/is an early-childhood teacher. One of their ideas is "multiple intelligences". Some people learn best by watching, others by hearing, others by feeling, others by doing, etc. Present the lesson on as many of those fronts as possible. Approaching your learning of dancing from as many fronts and through as many of your own intelligences as possible can only serve to help.

    As I said, I've been there myself. My ex-wife who had danced all her life did not understand my position -- she was the one whose entire dancing course was telling me to simply do what the music told me and since that didn't work she branded me as unteachable. Somebody who has done something all their life cannot understand the beginner. For a quarter of a century she kept hitting me over the head how I had no sense of rhythm and could never possibly learn how to dance. After a few years, many of my dance partners were complimenting me for my "natural sense of rhythm".

    You can do it too. Stick with it, keep learning. After all, if even I can learn it, then anybody can!
    j_alexandra likes this.

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