Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mastering Music: NOT on the Dance Floor

Don't expect to master the music on the dance floor!
(Sorry--don't shoot the messenger.)

Let's be clear: I don't consider dancing the same as focused listening time. It's hard to have a great relationship with the music without some private time. You can do it with your "significant other" (S.O.) around, but I don't recommend it if they are the jealous type.

If you hear a tune enough on the floor you may remember some elements of the tune, like a few of the breaks and the melody, but I consider that a bonus. Experienced ears can also predict many of the breaks and will hear the section changes, because music isn't random.

While dancing, your focus includes the music, but your partner comes first, then the music and then your own moves and patterns. Don't expect to have enough attention to master the music when you have an attractive partner in front of you, especially if you are newer to the listening relationship game.

If you are also a newer dancer, then you are already multi-tasking up a storm. Critical listening is extremely difficult when your plate is already full with a partner, lights, and a large set of variables on the dance floor. Simply too much going on at once.

Focused listening requires you to repeat sections, and yelling to the DJ to repeat the introduction or the percussion solo isn't workable at most clubs. Live bands like that even less.

If you are new to focused listening, you should spend some quality alone time with just the music and you, along with the rewind/repeat buttons. As you grow your "ears", you can do 60 to 80% of your listening while doing things that don't require your full attention. For most, that includes driving, eating, showering, exercising, and other recurring tasks you do regularly.

Some focused listening requires alone time, with few distractions. You can do those sessions in five and ten minute chunks (quickies) around the rest of your life, with an occasional longer listening.

When driving for to a club for 30 to 60 minutes I've set my iPod to repeat one song the whole time, while sometimes using the reverse button to review a snippet 20 times or more. I may be listening to the vocals, a horn part, one or more percussionists or something else I find interesting.

Sometimes I may be bouncing between instruments and sections and/or counting parts of the tune to clarify the song structure. I've often listened to the same song on the way home, but focusing on different sections. It's amazing what you hear after extended reviews.

The more mature your ears become, the more you hear while multi-tasking, including being on the dance floor. Ultimately that's the pay-off.

You may not tell your S.O. about your music relationships, and we'll just keep that to ourselves. When they dance with you'll they'll quickly realize you have an intimate relationship with the music, and they'll love you for it.
When choosing between two evils, I always like to take the one I've never tried before.
--Mae West

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Related Articles:
Listening to Music 100 Times or More
The Irony of Teaching Music

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This article was originally published Nov 2008. I've done some minor revisions before this republish.


  1. I would just like to say I have read a bunch of your articles and have found them very educational and entertaining.

    However everything in this article is very true. When I started East Coast Swing as a beginner, keeping on time was probably the biggest hurdle I had to clear. But after listening to Swing music for hours on end I started to pick up on basic patterns/breaks/et cetera. It is a process I am still learning from and I think will never stop.

  2. Arcadianeye,

    You have that right... I have a simple tune I heard in a dance class. There was something about the time that didn't feel right to me, so I purchased a copy. I played it for a musician friend of mine and he counts it differently. The more I listen to it, the more I can hear it both ways. (Different people hear the 1 and 5 inverted.)

    It's rare to have a tune that very experienced musicians will hear differently, but this is one of those.

    Just like you, I'm still learning and find it fascinating that it never stops. Great music and dance offer almost endless possibilities for growth.

  3. Great tips about understanding the music. When i teach classes i tend to play the same set of songs over and over again so the students can understand the songs and when we play the same songs in socials everybody feels comfortable with them.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero