Archives for posts with tag: 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.

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Usually a dance class commences in a calm manner,  likewise the music should also. As  the musician watches the teacher `marking through` an exercise it`s important at this stage to determine if the underlying rhythm is a 2 or a 3, (regardless  of  the  movement phrasing which thus determines the overall musical phrasing). The smallest division of beats break down to either 2`s  or 3`s  or combinations thereof  (I only ever count in  very fast 1`s occasionally playing Eastern European music). There you have your underlying rhythm for the exercise.

Now give attention to the phrasing. Watching the dancers `mark through` an exercise while listening to the  teacher, helps an accompanist grasp the phrasing,  feel and atmosphere of the music.  It`s always worth watching the movement (just in case you get lost, which happens sometimes in long phrases), so you will know when the exercise has finished. Ideally, an accompanist  plans how many musical phrases one has to work within  to help create a rounded piece of music. Quite often, an exercise will repeat as  dancers take the movement to  the opposite side or  different positions and it is a good idea to develop the music slightly with each repeat.

In a modern/contemporary class, the teacher usually counts in (or down) the exercise (this is called an introduction). It helps when the spoken introduction  is in the correct tempo and rhythm and here, I also feel the general atmosphere for the music from the tone of  the teacher`s  voice. It does not always work out as clearly as one would like so a musician must be ready for subtle tempo changes when the exercise starts.  Like in many situations, it`s important to build a relationship with the people you work with to gain understanding and trust. If something is unclear, just communicate in simple terms until it becomes clear what music is needed. (I will make a list of basic dance terminology that a musician is going to hear in  class later).

Sustained melody and comfortable supportive rhythm is a good basis for approach to music in the warm-up and I would advise nothing too discordant in the harmony either. Providing a clear downbeat is essential, especially for younger dancers or if you are unfamiliar with the teacher. Work within the boundaries of each exercise and make music!

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..