the one

When dancing to swing music it is often useful not only to be able to listen for and dance on the beat, but also to hear and start dancing on the infamous “1” in the music.

Musicians organize their music into groups of notes called measures, with every measure in the song having the same fixed number of beats. Swing music usually has 4 beats to the measure. The first beat of the measure or “1” is often emphasized in the music, although the type of emphasis varies from song to song, and even within a song. If you’re dancing 8-counts patterns like the 8-count Lindy Hop swingout, it feels very intuitive to start dancing the swingout on the 1 in the music, because after  two complete 4-beat measures, you’ll end up starting your next swingout on another emphasized 1 beat. It will Just Feel Good, trust me.

One way students can learn to hear the “1” is for teachers to spend time in class just listening to music with students.  The teacher can identify the “1” for various pieces of music, and then have the students try to find the “1” on their own. After some repetition of the exercise with a mix of songs, most students begin to hear it intuitively. However,  some dancers never develop this skill, much to the chagrin of their dance partners and teachers.

After a little brainstorming with students last weekend, we came up with a way for students to practice listening for the “1” on their own using a set of YouTube videos to train their ears. After a few minutes of training, a student who had been struggling for months, was finally able to recognize the “1” in the music… and even went on to correctly identify the “1” in songs he had never heard before.

Here are the YouTube videos….

And here’s how it works.

For each YouTube clip in the playlist, the audio track consists of a popular swing dance tune, while the video track flashes the numbers 1 through 8 on screen, in time with the correct beats of the audio track. I’ve posted 5 tracks to begin with, and will add a few more to cover a wide range of representative music styles.

Step 1: Listen to the audio track along with the video for a while

Step 2: Still watching & listening, count the beats out loud as the numbers change on screen. Tap your feet or hands on the beat if it helps. When you say “1”, say it louder than the other counts, to emphasize it.

Step 3: Stop listening actively, and restart the track, but look away from it this time. Listen to the beats and see if you can re-identify the 1, and count the beats out loud again.

Step 4: Look back to the screen again and check whether you’re counting along with the video track. If so, great! If not, try the exercise again with the same song…or try a different song in the playlist!

That’s it! Good luck! Have fun!

Special thanks to Hemant Sikaria who was my eager guinea pig for this exercise.


Where is the One?