Archives for posts with tag: Accompaniment

Paul Pavey ` wolf instruments`` Visual and Aural Counterpoint `. In Part 1, the previous blog, I covered my approach to commencing a dance improvisation class. This is the continuation where I will attempt to write about the use of counterpoint between what you see and what you hear.

Whereas in a technique class, the musical accompaniment  supports and follows the movement sequence, in an improvisation class the music may take on a compositional aspect. I always look for opportunities to play some `visual and aural counterpoint` which may increase the effect and experience of any given situation. For example; open atmospheric sounds against fast frenzied movement or happy and jolly musical themes against melancholy or aggressive movement.

Only using counterpoint may prove less effective than if it is used after a period where the music has followed either movement or a narrative. Counterpoint is neither easily understood by  children or inexperienced dancers/ performers and can lead to confusion. I would usually avoid it when playing for  those type of classes.

Here is a clip of Foofwa d’Imobilité interviewing Merce Cunningham discussing a point that music and dance do not always noticeably `fit` together and how and possibly why an audience is now accepting of that.

I think that aural and visual counterpoint increases the effect upon a third party/ audience providing it is used with purpose.  Definitely an effective tool in the creative box!


There may not be so much to play for the warm down of a dance class. If it is the first class working together with a teacher then  look for signs of how much or rather how little music there needs to be.  I would usually play this part of a class as calm as possible. It  depends upon how the class has gone and what mood  everyone is in ( as an accompanist, you need to have a sense of the general mood swings of your fellow protagonists). If the mood appears quite clinical with a simple stretching exercise, a straight forward calm piece of music will do fine. If  however, everyone in the class has just `given it their all` then it may be appropriate for the music to take a slightly emotive direction.

  Here are some instruments I use for accompanying a dance class.

Given  the underlying beat, phrasing and atmosphere have now been covered in previous blogs, the important aspect  to grasp playing for jumps and travel exercises is  Impulse.

While a clear downbeat needs to be played, very often it`s the upbeats that are the impulse for  jumps. Syncopated upbeats work well though not  played in a heavy manner.

It is very important when playing for jumps not to watch  or listen to the thuds  of the dancers ( sorry, did I say `thuds`.. I meant sounds..) otherwise keeping the tempo will be a struggle. I keep the meter buzzing in my head and in my body while playing, if  I`m still having difficulty holding on to the beat then I  sing to myself (occasionally to the entire class).

Travelling exercises (dancers moving across the floor) need to have a driving feel, not racing car style, just confident and  motivating. As in jumps, do not  play in a heavy manner but rather in a percussive style with  clear uncomplicated rhythms (what ever the instrument of choice). I do fall into the trap myself sometimes and forget that it`s not a percussion solo with unnecessary complex patterns. Getting a nice-`groove`(dance-feel) to the music makes all the difference. Do watch the dancers  in travel exercises and check that they are not `chasing the beat` or falling behind the music, keep a nice steady driving groove with nothing too decorative in the melody.

`Support` is a key word as far as  musical accompaniment goes, especially for the center exercises of a dance class. Here the dancer is building strength while working at both core stability and flexibility requiring  secure musical accompaniment.

Given that the  correct meter and underlying rhythm for the exercise is known (guidelines found in the previous blog), it is then important to gauge the amount of  lightness or heaviness that each exercise requires within the music. This may well be determined from the voice of the teacher as they show the exercise or deliver the introduction.  Here are a few rules of thumb (avoiding dance and music terminology where possible) that I generally apply when figuring out what to play for an exercise in the center.

exercises focusing on feet:  Music that is light and precise with clear rhythms. Avoid using too many notes or complicated cross-rhythms.

exercises with lunging movements:  Music that has a good strong downbeat with both lighter and driving recovery beats.

balancing exercises (legs in the air etc.):   Music with a steady and continuous  rhythmical  pattern.  A simple melody can help to `ease the dancers strain` over a full, rich harmonic progression (though not too heavy-handed).

floor rolling exercises:  Keep a clear beat to the music.  A drawn-out swing beat works well as it has both an underlying 2 and  3 within its  rhythm.  Not too loud and more harmonic than melodic in approach.

leg and body swing exercises:   Music that has both a driving upbeat feel and a strong downbeat. The upbeats can be slightly syncopated.

twist and tilt exercises:  Music that has a good clear beat and a supportive  continuous rhythmical pattern.

It is worth remembering that while music for a dance class exercise  is not a composition, it is  a piece of music that someone is both listening  and dancing to.  So, once you have figured out the underlying rhythm and tempo, the meter, the phrasing, the atmosphere and how many times the movement will repeat, enjoy it!

As a musician for dance, you must understand the need, purpose and function of a dance class. Here I am attempting to give the general environment that you may well experience from a contemporary class.

Essentially, a dancer takes a class in order  to develop the body and mind enabling them to perform incredible athletic feats or subtle movements while at the same time not becoming a broken wreck (over the last 30 years so much more care has gone into developing  dancers training, allowing  an increased work span and much less injury). A standard class usually has  warm up exercises, centering exercises which lead to small jumps, movement across the floor and more jumps. Other class exercises that a musician may play for include choreographic sequences, improvisation and a warm down (I will cover these elements singularly in due course). A class is usually around one and half hours.

A musician has to ‘work out’ what music suits a teacher best on the first few classes working together, attempting to build a relationship of mutual taste towards the music.You should be able to communicate with spoken word, occasionally it is necessary to judge from the body language of the teacher if they enjoy the music you play or not. There are three elements or protagonists within a class situation, Teacher, dancers and accompanist.  It`s the musician`s ( accompanist) job to give the rhythm and atmosphere that the teacher requires in order to communicate their lesson to the dancers. Usually, I find when that works the dancers enjoy the class and can give more focus to their bodies.

There are four main class based techniques ( contemporary dance) for which each require a completely different approach to the musical accompaniment style. That is not to say there are no other movement techniques that have  developed, but these really are the main four used to describe class style. Many teaches these days are combining ideas from different techniques and styles to suit their own work and doctrine towards a dancers health.

Graham Technique : a passionate, spiritual and physically strong technique based on the original method developed by Martha Graham ( see ).

Cunningham Technique : an architectural style of movement through space developed by Merce Cunningham ( see ).

Limon Technique : developed upon the work of Jose Limon this technique demands  the use of gravity, weight and energy ( see ).

Release Technique : uses breath and fluid movement to minimise muscle tension and many exercises associate with therapeutic movement research ( see a great British exponent of this work ).

The adjectives used above for the movement styles can also be applied to describe the musical style of accompaniment. I will go further into describing my thoughts and experience on playing for these different techniques in later blogs.

Paul Pavey with socks

Hello and Welcome

In this blog, I will talk    about my experiences  accompanying  modern and contemporary dance classes,  something I have done since 1984.  The first classes I played  were  held in Chichester College of Technology, Drama and Dance Department.  Over the years, I have travelled the world, playing classes for companies, schools and academies and various associations and have had the pleasure to work with some wonderful inspiring teachers and some absolutely stunning dancers.

I  also give workshops to musicians on `how to approach playing a contemporary dance class` and on occasion have been sponsored by the British Council to do so.  Here is a link to some of the schools and companies I have played for Class Accompaniment-pavey

I plan to make this blog less personally reflective but more as informative as possible and hope that this may be of interest to accompanists and any musicians who are preparing to play for a dance class.  It may well be of interest  to dance students and teachers also ! Please feel free to post comments and especially questions..