Monday, March 10, 2008

Baarns Musiciality Principles (BMP) Part 1

In 1968, Sly and the Family Stone soulfully and infectiously begged us to "Dance to the Music." Forty years later, the tune still grooves, and for many of us, dancing to the music is still much easier said than done.

Dance to the Music: Sly and the Family Stone


“Musicality” is a term thrown around as people improve in their dancing, but learning about the music is often not discussed. It's tough to dance "to the music" if you don't know about “the music.”

When we step back and take an analytical approach, that song raises two important questions:

  • Do we know enough about the music to “dance to it?”
  • After understanding music, what are the appropriate movements that compliment the songs?

To answer these questions, (and the many others that they raise), I'm excited to begin a new series that will focus on knowing the music through my “Baarns Musicality Principles” (BMP).

I'll lay out some principles because awareness is the first step to understanding. If I don't know I don't know, I never fill in the knowledge gap. Once you understand the framework of the music, however, fitting the pieces together is much easier, although it does take some practice.

We’ll discuss the foundational principles and provide exercises where possible. Some will require video/audio support, meaning it’s easier to learn when music is playing. I am taping some video examples and will upload them as time permits.

The stronger dancers almost consider themselves another member of the band, providing the visual components to the music, both complimenting and completing the art. Many know the instruments, the words, and can play air piano, bass, timbales, or bongos with the best of them. That requires extensive practice to get it right, and you can’t play air piano if you’re not hearing what the musicians are playing.

Now, there are a minority of people who learn to “dance to the music” but know very little theory or background about the music. If you grew up in a household with dancers and/or musicians, you can soak up a ton of stuff without formal training. But if you're an adult and learning dance and/or music, having a conceptual framework dramatically shortens the learning curve.

In the abstract, dancing musically is simple: You and your partner create a visual dance reflecting some aspects of the music. Easier said than done, but it’s still a simple concept. For example, when the music is calm, your dance is calmer. When the music is intense, your dance intensifies. When the music stops, you stop. Your dance movement mirrors or contrasts the emotion in the music, creating a visual which fits with the music.

I have a set of principles I teach dancers when learning about the music and I'll share them with you here.

Baarns Musicality Principles (BMP)

  • Music has Structure! (Music Ain’t Random)
  • Time is Foundational to Music
  • Listening With Specific Objectives Improves Your Understanding
  • Music has Shape: It’s Always Going Someplace
  • Contrast Creates Emotion
  • Over Time You Feel The Music, Without Having to Analyze Every Detail
  • Knowing the Music Does NOT Make You A Great Dancer

We’ll discuss these principles one at a time in future articles and point to past articles which outlined some of the principles. Because it's such an overwhelming subject, I expect to write all the articles, then probably rewrite/re-organize them over time. During the writing, I’m also producing a set of video clips to enhance the concepts, illustrating the most important points.

Because this is primarily a project of love, it takes more time than I'd like. I have all the raw materials from 30 years of musical background, now it's getting it out of my head and into a form others can use.

Your feedback is always welcomed. Send me mail directly and/or add comments.

Disclaimer: Music and dancing have hundreds of years of history. College music majors spend a couple years or more learning “Music Theory” and “Music History,” so this subject is vast and deep. Ear training exercises run for a couple years at most schools, which include teaching musicians to hear different sounds and how they relate to each other (intervals, chords, scales, melodies, rhythms, etc.) For our purposes, we will simply focus on the topics relevant to most dancers.

I look better, feel better, make love better, and I'll tell you something else...
I never lied better.
-George Burns

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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero