Archives for posts with tag: Phrase (music)

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!

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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`.