Archives for posts with tag: Percussion instrument

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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The basic prerequisite to accompany a contemporary dance class is to have a decent level of technical competence with ones chosen instrument (or instruments) and to be sensitive to the fellow protagonists i.e. the dance teacher and dancers taking the class.  An awareness of the space where the class is held is very important and it is essential to use the acoustic of the dance studio to regulate the dynamic and amount of musical sustain used for certain dance exercises.

As the musician is quite often in a corner of the studio, one should take care not to be playing louder than the teacher is talking. Equally, one does not want to be too quiet so that the dancers find it hard to feel the music. I use the word `feel` because sometimes music for class can have a lot of space to it.  For example, leaving gaps between musical phrases can really take the dancer deeper into feeling the movement, but this should be done only when the teacher and dancers have competence and confidence with the musicality of the exercise.  Otherwise,  everyone loses the beat and confuses the movement, looks over at the musician….occasionally funny, but usually not.

As far as instrumentation goes, a contemporary class may be played by an experienced accompanist on virtually any instrument ( and I of course include the voice in this category). Although, I do find that certain teachers have preferences towards certain instrumentation and style of music.

Instruments that give a choice of dynamic and sustain are very useful as it is necessary to play a range of styles from smooth (legato) to choppy (staccato) and at varying levels of volume (dynamics). A piano has an excellent range of choice, a guitar also. Within a collection of percussion instruments, there should be an instrument that can sound a sustained note. Likewise, a range of timbre i.e. some low sounds, some high sounds, some soft, some hard etc., are essential. One should also consider how to carry the instruments from class to class, studio to studio as time between classes may be limited. Whatever the choice of instrumentation, I recommend to add Indian ankle bells or something similar to help keep the beat `ticking along`.