For those of us who weren’t exposed to tropical Latin music from a very early age, how to hear the beat in salsa, or finding the beat, that illusive “1” beat can be something of a nightmare. Regardless of how well you have mastered your flashy dance moves, unless you can hear the beat, the dynamic between you and your dance partner will be out of sync. This will inevitably lead to feeling unnatural and cause you not ‘get’ the feeling of a good Salsa dance.
If you’ve struggled with this, I’d like to offer some quick and easy ways in which you can pin-point that dreaded “1”. Once you can hear the ‘1,’ the rest of the challenge of finding the time in the music becomes much easier. When it comes to listening to music, and we are talking about really listening to music, there are several fundamental rules that always apply.
– Pay attention to nothing else but the music and understand what you are listening for
– Try closing your eyes to keep out the perpetual visual noise
– Listen, listen and listen some more.
With these basics in mind, here are several tricks you can use to help you hear the beat in Salsa.
So then, how can I hear the beat in Latin music?
This is much easier said than done, although it is the one thing that every Salsa dancer does subconsciously. We are all always trying to hear that beat when we first start dancing. One way to do this is to try and focus your ears towards identifying that distinct sound; that cue that lets you know you just heard the beat. In the case of dancing ‘on2’ (our focus for this article), it helps to listen to the ‘Tumbao‘ which helps us hear the counts of ‘2’ and ‘6.’ For reference, check out the following video and start to hear a pronounced rhythm we accent when we dance ‘on2.’
As you can see, it’s a repeated rhythm that very constant in songs that ‘feel’ better when dancing Salsa ‘on2.’In order to hear the beginning of the phrase, the ‘1,’ it’s often helpful to listen for a simple and most prominent repeating sound. For beginners, this would be something like the base, horns.
This means shutting down everything. Stop thinking about how good you look in your dance gear; stop imagining your partners moves; stop thinking about all the eyes on you, just listen to the music and focus on hearing the beat. Once you are listening, listen closer and latch on to a specific sound.
Repetition, repetition and repetition
It doesn’t get better than this. There is a reason why most people who have grown up with Salsa music are better at identifying the beat than those who haven’t; they have heard it their entire lives. This is also a major contributing factor to someone being referred to as a ‘natural’. The more salsa you listen to the better you become at identifying and hearing that illusive beat. When I first started dancing, I lived, breathed and dreamt Salsa. You have to borderline let it take over your life. Once you learn how to think in Salsa, you can more easily identify the beat. It takes a lot of commitment but once you have ingrained it into your brain, you will always be able to hear the beat whenever Salsa music is playing anywhere near you. And it is not just about being better at dancing, it is about enjoying the music better. You get a much more refined sense of satisfaction when you can hear the different components that go into making that wonderful sound. You also start to get more in tune with the music and express yourself on the fly.
Learn the music
This is the much more complicated, yet more comprehensive way of finding that one beat. Once you learn how Salsa music is created, you can easily identify the “1” beat. Here are the basics:
Salsa is basically a combination of Claves and Congas. The claves are struck together in a 2/3 or a 3/2 rhythm. If you can hear the claves and the congas then you can tell when to start dancing. You do however, require a little knowledge on how Salsa is actually danced. We know that we move to 2 measures of four (4) beats when dancing Salsa. This makes a total of 8 beats. Of these 8, we transfer our weight (step) to only 6 (that will be 1,2,3…..5,6,7….). Therefore when listening to claves, you need to know that: with the 3/2, the first sound of the 1st three beats is your “1” count. With the 2/3, the first sound of the 1st two beats is your “2” and the third sound of the three beats is your “8”, which means you should start dancing immediately after that sound.
Hopefully that makes sense and you can begin to develop a more natural sense for hearing the beat. The following video is one I found particularly helpful when looking for a different way to explain music. Often times, students learn visually and this video explains timing and rhythm in a way that is easy understandable.
Of course, the easiest way to learn how to pick out that illusive “1” count is to practice, practice and practice some more. Practice until you become a natural. It will make a dramatic impact on your dancing and allow you to enjoy yourself beyond a mere surface level.
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To your dancing…