Musicality is a dancer’s sensitivity to and/or knowledge of music.
See Related Article: The Ultimate Guide To Musicality For Beginner Dancers
At its core, dancing is showing your musicality in physical form.
It is a nonverbal way of telling people “this is what I hear in this song.”
See Related Article: How To Dance Better By Understanding Body Awareness
Musicality in Choreography
Choreography is a thought out and planned form of showcasing your musicality.
It’s like writing a research paper or doing homework.
You take your time to prep to really understand the material and research it (by listening to the song repeatedly and exploring movements), and process the information you’ve gathered to create a final, cohesive piece.
See Related Article: How To Choreograph Your First Piece In 6 Simple Steps
Musicality In Freestyle
Freestyling is like taking a test.
You’ve done your homework and did a bunch of practice problems (familiarizing yourself with songs/rhythms and drilling movements/technique), and then you apply what you’ve learned from the different songs on the fly.
See Related Article: 5 Dance Tips To Begin Your Freestyle Foundation
Now let’s train your musicality so you can become better at both choreographing and freestyling!
Step 1: Understand The Different Elements Of The Song
A song is like a puzzle.
You want to break it down and understand each part of the piece.
Listen to the song several times and break down and isolate a different instrument or voice that’s contributing to the song.
Some are blaringly obvious, like the vocals or the basic four-on-the-floor drum beat, but what makes the songs really interesting are the things that are harder to catch.
For example, syncopated rhythms are really fun to listen to, but they’re pretty complicated to understand.
When I get to a syncopated rhythm, sometimes I have to stop and really pick it apart to be able to just be able to sing it back. And even then, I still struggle with being able to count a syncopated rhythm.
See Related Article: How To Dance Quickly To Slow Songs with Paul Ross (Cookies)
We also tend to focus on more of the obvious, so some sounds will be tucked in the song, but when you discover that dope, new sound in a song, it’s like finding gold.
We’ve all had that “AH-HAH” moment in class where we FINALLY hear what the choreographer was trying to hit.
See Related Article: 24 Pleasures Only Dancers Would Know
As you start to understand the song better, you can start fitting the pieces together and see how they relate to one another.
This allows you to pick and choose what you want to show through your dancing.
Step 2: Understand How Each Instruments Sound
Now that you’ve isolated the elements in a song, you want to understand how they sound.
Each layer of a song has different ways of being expressed.
If you have a musical background, this may come easier for you since you understand that there are markings in the music that tells you exactly how to play the notes.
When it comes to developing musicality, you’re doing the opposite. You’re extracting the quality of the sound out of what’s being played.
A clear example of this is when you listen to the lyrics of the song.
See Related Article: How To Make Your Moves Match Vocals, with Markus Pe Benito (GRV)
Some syllables will be short and quick, and some will be dragged out longer.
Sometimes, the pitch will be higher or lower and alternate in between.
As a dancer, you want your movement to emulate the sound.
Short quick syllables can be translated to sharp, quick motions.
Lower pitches may make you want to hit a lower level.
A more nuanced example is being able to hear the qualities of drum instruments.
A snare is not always a quick, sharp sound – there is a space that the reverb fills afterwards.
So a snare could be interpreted as a stick, rebound, or release depending on how you hear it.
This goes for pretty much all instruments.
The closer you listen, the more it will make sense.
As you listen to music, your mind/body will create an image of the song to what you’re listening to through your ability to execute and dance vocabulary.
See Related Article: The Ultimate Guide To Execution Of Movement For Beginner Dancers
Step 3: Understand How You (Or Others) Perceive The Music
Each dancer has their own unique understanding of music.
Now that you’ve picked apart the music and understand how the different voices in the song sound, you can pick and choose what you want to display.
I tend to choreograph to mostly lyrics because I imagine myself being in the mind of the musician, but I also mix and match between beats and rhythm, too.
And the best part about perception, is what you find interesting in a song will be completely different from what another dancer finds interesting in a song (try comparing different choreo to the same song).
Even when doing the same exact piece, you’ll see differences in how dancers perceive music.
Though the timing and the frame of movements will be the same, the way they hit certain moves, soften some out more, or sit in others longer makes them who they are as a dancer.
Try thinking of ways to alter your understanding of a song.
Maybe you always focus on the lyrics but there’s some dope beats going on in the back.
Maybe instead of making a move for every single syllable, you can choose to move slowly and controlled through some lyrics instead.
Another great way to develop your own musicality is to study that of others.
The greatest dancers out there have SUCH ridiculous and unique musicality.
Study how a choreographer or dancer what he hears and try to understand how they hear it, then try to incorporate what you learn into your own repertoire.
It’s awesome watching dope dancers in class during groups and thinking, “Whoa I did not hear the song like that at ALL”.
As you train your musicality, you can begin to train the way in which you approach a song when you choreograph or freestyle to it, and make a song your own.
It will eventually become second nature.
It will become ingrained into who you are as a dancer, and with the skills and execution to match, you can showcase who you are as a dancer more definitively.
Remember, without a deep understanding of music, you’re just doing moves.
Add layers, add complexity, and add your character!
Do you have little tricks of the trade to build your musicality? Share it with us by commenting below!
Get to know great choreographers’ musicality in a STEEZY Studio class. They break down each sound and move so you can get really learn how they hear/dance a song.
This article was originally published on July 3, 2014.