Friday, November 2, 2007

Finding "One" Over the Wires: Nov 2 update

In case you are new to this blog, Doug Fox (of "Dancing into the Future" fame) and I are working on a project where I'm teaching him to find "one" in the music, without ever meeting face-to-face. For details on how this got started, check out my Finding "One" over the Wires article.

November 2nd Update:
Doug was assigned his first tune to purchase, download and start the listening process.

He downloaded it and started listening to the intro and sent me an e-mail saying:

A question: Am I supposed to be listening to it to isolate the different instruments?

It seems difficult to do that because I'm not introduced to the sounds separately. They just get layered on top of each other so it's very difficult to separate them out?

Hope this doesn't sound like I'm complaining off the bat. But I'm curious how I should proceed?

I immediately realized I'm usually listening face-to-face with someone and I hadn't provided a reasonable starting point for him. I originally wanted him to download the song, and burn it to CD/MP3 player so he had the track available. Without detailed instructions, I think he was feeling overwhelmed listening to the complete tune because it turns into the traditional, dense salsa tune. In the vast majority of salsa tunes -including this one- hearing the individual parts is difficult without enough experience.

I love the introduction of this tune for ear training, but the body of the tune is like trying to teach someone complex turn patterns and styling, when they are still struggling with basic and a cross body lead. Most people build up their dance complexity, and doing the same thing makes sense with the music.

For those of you who want to follow along in this exercise, here is part of my e-mail response to Doug, providing additional context and detail. Feel free to try it yourself, and let me know how it works for you.

To clarify; The first exercise is as follows:

Listen to the introduction as many times as possible, shooting for 100 or more listens over the first week or so. The intro is almost exactly 1 minute long, so we are talking about around 15 minutes per day max.

The first few times:
Just listen to whatever you find interesting, to get a feel for the tune. See what instruments you can identify, but don't stress about details yet. Nobody hears all the parts in the beginning, so if you actually can hear them all, you would fit into the "abnormal" category.

After you have heard the intro a half dozen times, then listen to the vocalist, trying to figure out what instrument he is introducing. He names them in Spanish as they join the mix.

Here is the start:

  • Clave
  • Bongos
  • Tumbodoras (Congas in English - See for
    a photo)
  • Timbales (Timbalaros)
  • Bass (I don't know the Spanish word, but I know the sound)

It continues as instruments are added; see if you can get any of the others, but don't worry if they are not obvious, that is part of the process we will go over. Nobody knows them all at the beginning--otherwise we wouldn't be working on this.

See if you can hear the first 3 or 4 as they are added, all others are optional at this point.

Note that during the rest of the song there are sections where it is tough to
hear some of the instruments, so it's normal that you can't hear them all during
later parts of the tune.

At this point we are only interested in the intro, and starting your ear training. This song is too dense in later sections. (Depending on which computer I'm using and the speakers, I can't even hear the clave in some sections.)
In an earlier discussion, I mentioned to him that when doing face-to-face lessons, the average person takes two to six months to get it all together from a music and timing point of view. Depending on your background, some people will take more or less time.

Doug has had this assignment a few days and I expect a progress report from him over the weekend. I'll let you know how we are doing after his next report. I'll be interested to see if he is listening to the intro for 15 minutes per day.

Most people grossly underestimate how many times they should listen to a tune when they are figuring it all out. Check out my previous article titled "Listening to Music: 100 Times or More" for additional details.
It's a funny thing: the more I practice, the luckier I get.
-Arnold Palmer


  1. Maybe the reason will become evident soon, but what is your ultimate purpose in having him hear each of the instruments? No doubt repeated listening ad nauseum of a single song will get you hearing all the components better, but I'm wondering if there is a more specific aim.

  2. Maria,

    A couple things: There is some very interesting things people start hearing after extensive listening. Some things become obvious only after listening to a tune over and over.

    Your mind will process and continue to work on the tune after we transition to other exercises. When we return to it in a few weeks, your mind will have sorted out things that aren't obvious when you are first exposed to a song.

    Sort of like you find yourself humming some tune you heard a few days ago (or more) and you "can't get it out of your head."

    The real purpose of the exercise is to lay a foundation for future lessons and our focus is primarily on the introduction.

    I'll write more in another article. Keep those questions and comments coming!


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero