As one of the mistakes that I used to make regularly in my ballroom dancing was dancing off the beat, I have spent a lot of time learning how to find the beat and in particular recognizing the first beat of a song.
The ability to find the first beat of a song is important when learning how to keep time to music in ballroom dancing. It is a fundamental skill when we learn how to dance. This is because we begin our dance at the beginning beat of the music. As a couple we need to start together in time with the music. And it is the man’s responsibility to begin with the first step of the dance.
What are the differences between beat, rhythm and tempo?
- a beat is the basic time unit of a piece of music.
- the rhythm of a song is made up of a sequence of beats.
- the tempo is the speed at which the beats occur.
How to find the first beat?
I have learned three ways for picking out the first beat:
- Listen for when the singer begins to sing. Singers tend to sing on the first beat of any new sequence of music.
- Listen for the beat that has a greater intensity or volume than the others. This is often the first beat.
- Listen for the bass line in the drums or bass guitar. The first beat of a bar has slightly more emphasis and can be clearly heard in the bass.
How to master finding the beat?
In the same way as knowing what dance to do to the music, I have found that finding the first beat takes practice. It requires listening to a variety of music regularly and listening for the different intensity of the beats. The first beat may or may not be louder than others, but it does have a presence. I have come to know it when I hear it.
For me it is not easy; it is challenging. But as soon as I am able to consistently pick out the beat of a particular song, I find that my ability to keep time to music improves measurably. Over time and with practice, I have found that I can feel where the first beat is in a favourite piece of ballroom music.
There even comes a point where I don’t have to rely on hearing that first beat to find the beat of a favourite song. I can just feel it as I am dancing the dance steps.
I find that it helps me to learn to dance by using all of my senses in the dance classes and practice sessions.
Finding the beat exercise
Now it is time to put into practice what you have just learned.
1) Watch and listen to this Finding the Salsa Beat video:
3) Now find the beat in the following video of Sex Bomb by Tom Jones (listen for ‘1-2-3-cha-cha’ and ‘slow – quick-quick – slow':