Thursday, February 14, 2008

Finding "One" Over the Wires: Feb 14 Update

This is part of a series on assisting someone to hear the time in the music, check out the links at the bottom of this article to see the previous articles in the series.

Doug and I had a great session today.

One week after we had a phone conversation where we worked through a set of simple exercises, he is consistently getting the 1 & 5 right in simple music, and now we are now expanding into a couple different tunes and he's still getting it right! Our new tunes included "Heard It Though the Grapevine", the Michael McDonald remake version, and the Motown Remix version, with Gladys Knight and the Pips.)

Michael McDonald: "Heard It Though the Grapevine"

I know some of the my salsa guru friends are shaking their heads right now, because I take a totally different approach to teaching the music and timing. Rather than start with clave, and the other Latin percussion instruments, we start with simple music and build a foundation that applies to all dance music, salsa or otherwise. (We do focus on instruments in the rhythm section, including clave, but that is later in my system.)

My approach starts with a simple concept of understanding the right music structures, and the goal is to get people to realize how easy it is to hear the time. This assumes they have the right foundation and we build it from the ground up. It isn't based on hearing one instrument, but it all starts with my first rule in the "Baarns Musicality Principles" (BMP)

BMP Rule Number 1:
Music Has Structure! (and the corollary: Music Ain't Random!)

I have an article in draft form behind the scenes which expands on the principles and the first rule above. I expect to have it live within a week. It revolves around the concept that if you can get a handle on the basic structures (8 counts, phrases, sections), and can hear the structures in simple music, you can build on that to hear the time in nearly all dance tunes.

At this point Doug is making great progress and hopefully he'll write about it in his blog. I'm extremely proud of the quick progress we are making. He paid me the ultimate instructor compliment today when he said something like, "Gee, this all seems pretty easy..." I doubt he was saying or thinking that in the past. I suspect it all seemed like a big cloud or bowl of soup to him. Now he's almost bored with how easy it is and he naturally wants to move on.

I cautioned him that it's critical to get the first steps right, and practice it more than you might enjoy, because once you add a partner you need to already have these concepts running on autopilot.

I wish I had recorded his original stab at counting the time in simple tunes, because he's doing it so convincingly today few will believe he struggled with it previously. We were both having a great time because he's having those "ah-ha" moments where it's all starting to fit together for him.

Once the foundation is in place, combined with regular practice, anybody can hear the time in the music.

Doug and I are continuing our building block approach and in the next couple weeks will will start moving into more complex commercial music, then start our transition into simple salsa tunes.

One thing that is important for you. The process we are taking reflects our starting point, factoring in Doug's previous experience. Everybody has different ears and I used to be surprised how different people are. Some people will take twice the time Doug took to get where he is, some may take less. That really doesn't matter, because once you get it, you own it for life. So what if it takes you an extra few weeks? Some guys have spent years dancing off the time, and they don't even know it.

It's an amazing individual process because I can't "show" someone what to hear. In a dance class, you can show me a move, and we get instant feedback via the mirror and/or video camera. Where I'm missing something, it's easy for you to point it out and show me what it should look like. That same approach doesn't work with music, because it's all in our heads.

I'll provide more details on my "Baarns Musicality Principles", and I'll get you additional updates on Doug's progress as we go.

Comments and feedback are always welcomed.

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 helping him to find "one" in the music, without ever meeting face-to-face. For details on how this got started, check out the following articles:
Finding "One" over the Wires
Nov 2nd Update
Feb 10 update

Modesty: The gentle art of enhanceing your charm by pretending
not to be aware of it.
-Oliver Herford


  1. A great idea - Thank you for sharing. It seems to me very clear,that this works!
    Inspired by the bossa I found in youtube another bossa nova:

    heartful greetings
    birgit marita

  2. Ah... that is nice. I didn't think of posting another bossa nova so because of your excellent suggestion, this evening I'll put up the one that is most famous around the world.

    Thanks for sharing this one with us!


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero