Doug and I had a great phone session a few days ago. I had almost given up on him, as we were both very busy near the holidays and progress was painfully slow since our kick-off e-mails.
One thing that is very clear to me, you can’t do some of this without some interactive sessions, either over the phone or in person. Doug is a very smart guy, but via e-mails I couldn’t tell if he was hearing the one in the right places. I suspect he thought he was right, I wasn't sure, and now we know it wasn’t right at points. I’m not clear if he knew he was wrong some of the time, but I know he was frustrated.
In five minutes over the phone, I realized he was being confused by the guitar groove in our example tune (“Lost Without U” by Robin Thicke, see the video below). The tune is a simple, slow bossa-nova feel, with a bass drum on the 1 and 5 count. That said, everybody hears with different ears, and initially the bass drum wasn’t clear to him. Within a few minutes of him listening to my count, and our discussions of the different sounds, he had an “ah-ha” moment and said something like “Oh… that is very clear now, I don’t know how I missed it.”
"Lost Without U" example tune by Robin Thicke
The reality is that is extremely normal. Just because you hear one aspect of a tune, it's amazing what others are not hearing or hearing differently. My focus can be totally different than yours. Even something very "obvious" to you is often unheard by someone else, especially at the beginning of the process. (If someone has any musical background, they are often miles ahead of the game.)
One of my challenges as an instructor is figuring out what you are hearing or not, because until you hear some of the instruments, combined with learning some "selective focus" techniques, it's not always easy. (I'll expand on "selective focus" in another article.)
After going over some counting fundamentals, we worked on getting the 1 and 5 aligned with the music and practiced counting out loud. We also practiced finding the count by stopping and restarting the tune in the middle, working toward being able to hear it no matter where we are in the song.
Our process includes learning the count to a slower, simpler tune before we start tackling salsa music. If someone can’t hear the time perfectly in simple music, and keep it consistently from beginning to end, they have little chance of getting it right with the complexities of most salsa music. Via e-mail we discussed clave and some other musical concepts, but at this point we are walking before running.
He is also learning Tango, and he asked if these concepts applied to that music. I'm clear that once he gets it with a few tunes, a whole new world will open up across a wide set of dance music.
Our next task is to outline the structure of the music, and fit his counting within the structure of the tunes. This will provide the framework for finding the time across all dance music, and I expect we'll start crossing that bridge in a few weeks or so.
Doug is also documenting our progress and I expect to see something in his blogs soon. I'll cross-post a link here when he goes public with his progress. I can say this process is easy for me in person, but the long distance aspects provide me with plenty to think about.
You'll see additional details later about our exact sessions, and we've made excellent progress so far. I’m now even more confident he’ll be great with the time in the near term. We still have lots of practice and exercises left, and I’ll provide more details as we progress.
When a habit begins to cost money, it's called a hobby.