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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Music: Do Dancers hear music differently


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My Class accompanist told me this recently. I'm sure he is right, but am wondering how the non-dancers hear music. Do we listen more for the rhythm and patterns? Baroque drives me crazy since there is no intro and no pattern, IMHO.

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Claude_Catastrophique

Mmmh, I don't know. I play the piano too and I always thought I would hear the music as a dancer (since I play the piano not on professional level, just for fun but I have a lot of experience playing it since over 15 years...my God, I am that old...). Then I realized when we had music lessons in my teacher course that I hear it like a pianist and not like a dancer. I count like a pianist, I hear it like a pianist and I use it like a pianist. The others all are dancers and teachers and they hear it differently. I cannot tell how they do it but some did a little strange things that seemed funny to me to do with music. Some did not even know how to count. I mean, they manage to count it somehow going with the rhythme but not how I would do it (and how the pianist who does music lessons with us would do it). I had many teachers who counted very strange and I had problems with. Then I was told that I would be very unmusical but for me it was more that they were confusing me with counting music in a strange way (one modern teacher never finished phrases where there would HAVE been phrases in the music. She counted more steps and movements instead of finishing musical phrases. This was so awkward. She claimed I could not count and I would be unmusical. For me it was just a different way of doing it and she kept confusing me by counting different). So, yes, she went more for pattern and rythme.

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Intriguing! Can we get a bit more specific? I would like to know some examples, if possible.

 

Perhaps we can find a piece of music which we can "discuss", to see how we count it - or not?

 

Claude, I sympathise with you and your experience with your one-time modern teacher. -sigh- It happens all the time, I think, to dancers who also play instruments. (my DDs play violin/piano/viola, so they have also had similar experiences)

 

-d-

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Intriguing...I never thought about this, but it makes sense that different people would perceive and organize music patterns differently depending on their background and other variables. I also played piano and other instruments since childhood and I also count music like a pianist or an orchestra member. in fact, it was orchestra that taught me how to keep counts strictly but without having to concentrate on it 100%; sometimes I would be counting literally 82 measures of "rest" (non-playing time) until my part came in again :)

 

I definitely hear music in terms of rhythm and time signature (4/4, 3/4, 6/8, etc) and count phrasing like "1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4. 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4 for a 4/4 piece), but I also take for granted that I can hear the downbeats and hear the beginnings and endings of phrases, which I realize is a BIG help for dance. I also really like to focus on the countermelody or some strains in the music that are nonmelody, as I played instruments that often took those parts. Whenever there is a chance to dance the countermelody, I jump on it! :)

 

I can see where it would be VERY confusing for people new to music or when working with someone who hears music differently.

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Momof3darlings

I am interested more in what he meant by this also. If he/she meant that dancers interpret music differently then I could easily see where this might come into play. But simply saying "hearing" music differently could be a host of things to debate or agree with. Especially if you throw into the loop a dancer who is also a musician like DD.

 

The reason I key on the word "interpret" is because music is written with cues to what the composers intent was for phrasing and emphasis. So the musician knows what the composer wanted done with certain phrases. In dance, the choreographer/teacher (unless they create from a score) determines what to do with those phrases by hearing them and sometimes their vision is against the music so to speak. Possibly what he is seeing is that in class, you use the music differently than written.

 

An example of interpretation that drives my husband (the musician) batty is how musical crescendos are used in dance. If the height of a leap occurs at the height of the crescendo he is happy. But if the leap is started or landed on the height of the crescendo by design, he feels the choreographer has missed the boat and not heard the music. Same for pirouettes.

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Victoria Leigh

Believe it or not, there are some teachers who are not very musical. :( But I think that most, especially those who are professional dancers and/or who have studied music, will hear the music as written. What happens though, is that they will often count some music differently than a musician might. For instance, the music played on the CD or by the pianist may have 16 measures of 4/4 but the teacher or choreographer will be putting two steps on each measure, counting that measure 1 and 2, and therefore counting 32. A very slow adagio in 6/8 might be counted using the 1 2 3 of the measure for the retiré and the 4 5 6 for the dévelopé, thereby counting it like a 3/4. Does that make sense?

 

Not using the phrasing, or the crescendos, correctly is another thing altogether. That, to me, would certainly be considered unmusical. :(

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Oh yes, that's the problem with teaching a pianist to accompany classes. Our timing goes almost against the grain for the pianists, because normally we need "square" phrases for an exercise. The pianist might start playing some music, which has an extra little phrase in the music and that means we start the exercise on the other side or reverse it in the middle of a music section and then there is music over at the end of the exercise! If I know before hand I can add in an extra ports de bras as a filler, but when it comes as a surprise, I literally grit my teeth, because it doesn't seem right to me.

 

I don't know about dancers hearing it differently in an abstract way, but I do remember when I was about 7 or 8 and we had music appreciation lessons at school. We were told to listen to a piece of music and then write down what it said to us. All my class mates wrote about something like the tidal movement of the sea or animals after their prey. I composed a whole ballet to it with fairies and elves and a changeling child and heaven only knows what else. I still do that - ie listen to a piece and consider its dance-ability!!!

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I have a piece for us to count-

SPF variation:

It's the Royal Ballet version

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I have a perfect example!!!

 

I recently had this conversation with one of my students.... She plays clarinet in the high school band, and has the Nutcracker score at home to play (in her spare time?!). Her role in Nutcracker is a Candy Cane in the Mother Ginger Variation. The Candy Canes have tambourines, and do pique turns around each other while hitting the tambourine as the foot hits retire/passe. Each girl hit the tambourine at a different point, while still doing the turns almost at the same time... it was driving me nuts (excuse the pun), so I finally had them NOT turn, and just hit the tambourine - True to form, the dancer playing the clarinet hit the tambourine in what I would consider OFF the music...

 

So, if you listen to the song, do you start counting from the first note? If you do, what happens when the strings start playing? If you listen to it over and over.... the strings start playing on "7 & a," not quite 8. Well, she counts her 8's starting on the strings.... whereas I count my 8's starting from the first note. This means that when then music phrase ends, I end with a 7. However, when she counts it, the phrase always ends with an 8!!!

 

All of my years dancing, rehearsing, and performing Nutcracker, I've never heard the music this way - nor have I felt like the pieces were choreographed this way (though it is possible that they were, and I did not realize it). I did not choreograph the dance that they are doing, so I do not know the official intentions of the choreographer. I do know that I wanted the two dancers to hit the tambourine at the same time, so her partner was willing to hit the tambourine "against" the music - even though it still drives me insane! Since I do not read music, I cannot confirm if she is correct (or not), nor do I feel like it is worth being "right" over; I know that next year she will not be doing this role, so the argument of who hears the music correctly will not be there :innocent:.

 

How does everyone else hear it?

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Momof3darlings

Clara76--that example is played musically in 4/4 time. The tempos changed within, but the time signature stayed the same throughout. The choreography however, used every count between 1 & 4 including all the ands, ahs, e's, as in 1 e and a 2 but so did the other instrumentalists. The choreography switched focus as different melodies (instruments) would enter. As an example, the footwork was following the melody of the bells until the clarinets took over the melody at which time the choregraphy switched to that melody. The time signature though still remained at 4/4 time. From watching that though, and remembering how DD learned the variation as a student, counts that are in fact in the music might have been dropped in counting it for the dancer. However, they truly are really still there. As an example, the little runs on pointe (sorry don't know the correct terminology), could be counted 1and2and3 without mentioning count 4 which is silent with the instruments using 4 and 1 as pick ups for the next phrase, but count 4 is still actually there. It didn't go away because it wasn't given an count by the teacher.

 

I think where we may lose the discussion is in the example GTLS explained. What he explained though was that simply because there are 4 beats (or any amount of beats) to a measure doesn't mean there aren't notes played (quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, etc) played in between the main beats. And it doesn't mean there isn't syncopation which there is in that example which is playing on the weak beat. For dance it would be emphasizing the 2 instead of the 1. Where dancers differ is that they may count phrasing of movement and think they are counting the music. What they are doing most times is counting the melodic line when it stops and starts. But in music a melodic line doesn't have to start on count 1 because it can be "picked up" mid stream. So as dancers/choreographers it may not be the music that is being counted but the melody which is not all that there is to the music.

 

The question I'm seeing in this two examples is not that dancers "hear" the music differently but that they count it differently which is why I asked my original question for clarity and that they may count different melodic portions of the music while the musician has to count the rhythm first and foremost. I would agree that dancers count differently, but hearing differently would mean that a musician only hears one of the instruments when they hear music and that is not the case. They do hear it, they just concentrate on their own musical voice.

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Clara76, I also count that sugar-plum one in fours - but like to follow the melodies, too. I am unfortunately not a musician.

 

GTLS, hmmm, I am having a bit of trouble counting that music in any way where I would come out with "7 and a" ?

Do you mean counting right from the beginning of the introduction? As in "! and a, 2 and a, 3 and a, 4 and a"? Or something else??

Sorry for being so dense. :o

 

Anyway, even if we do often count things differently, at least we generally come up with good compromises to help the dancers to be together.

:)

 

-d-

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Diane, I added the "a" because I feel like there is an "&," but not an "8." What I mean by this is, if you are to start counting at the string melody, it does not start after a full 8 count (it starts a hair before). When I hear this music, I count from the very first down beat - "1 & 2 & 3 & 4... " and I keep going (not acknowledging the string melody). I had never considered the string melody until this issue came up; when I did, my student ended up being more 'correct' in her phrasing then I was.

 

I know that all of that is very confusing, but it literally took 20 minutes to figure out - with each person doing their own version of the choreography to the music.

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The trouble with counting based only on listening to a piece of music is that although in many cases you could make a pretty good guess, most of the time you just plain don't know for sure how to count it unless you look at a score. The music might not start on the first beat of the measure, to take one example. However, that doesn't always matter if you are dancing to it (sometimes it does). The Sugarplum Fairy's variation is choreographed to the melody we hear, but what about choreography by Balanchine or Tudor, who were both accomplished musicians and who would create ballets that reflected or at least responded to the musical structure of a piece? This is why I think dancers need to be at least competent musicians, who can read a score and really understand the music.

 

That said, in a practical sense it is sometimes more useful to dancers to pay attention to the melody they can hear or to count in phrases rather than measures. When you are performing choreography, it doesn't really matter that the melody begins on the last beat of the measure--it matters that you start doing the steps when the melody begins (if the piece is choreographed that way). Similarly, because there is rarely a step for every musical beat (especially at fast tempi) it can be more helpful in terms of remembering choreography if you count in phrases than in measures.

 

As far as whether there is an intro or a pattern, I'm not sure why that matters. Many dances also do not have preparatory movements or patterns (discernible to the audience or otherwise).

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SPF I started counting on the first note, the horns and strings provide the melody. The Mother Ginger I waited until the horns started, once again the melody.

 

A Friend is a concert pianist, I'll have to ask her.

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I am interested more in what he meant by this also. If he/she meant that dancers interpret music differently then I could easily see where this might come into play. But simply saying "hearing" music differently could be a host of things to debate or agree with. Especially if you throw into the loop a dancer who is also a musician like DD.

 

Bill said dancers "hear" music differently.

 

 

The reason I key on the word "interpret" is because music is written with cues to what the composers intent was for phrasing and emphasis. So the musician knows what the composer wanted done with certain phrases. In dance, the choreographer/teacher (unless they create from a score) determines what to do with those phrases by hearing them and sometimes their vision is against the music so to speak. Possibly what he is seeing is that in class, you use the music differently than written.

 

An example of interpretation that drives my husband (the musician) batty is how musical crescendos are used in dance. If the height of a leap occurs at the height of the crescendo he is happy. But if the leap is started or landed on the height of the crescendo by design, he feels the choreographer has missed the boat and not heard the music. Same for pirouettes.

 

I love dancing that way! Especially in Grande Allegro. Final piro you add an extra turn so you finish on the last note.

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