Education of the Ear
Basics: Practicing the Invisible
Music and Basic Steps
Before we have a look at basics of Bachata music, let us focus on general concepts in music and dancing.
Usual entertaining music is based on four pillars:
text, voice, harmony and rhythm.
Consequently, all of them should also play a role for dancing.
However, interpreting music gets more complex when going from
rhythm to harmony to voice to text.
Here, we will only deal with the basics: rhythmic concepts.
In most songs in modern Pop culture, music is built on a foundation consisting of a rhythmic structure in 4 beat pattern (sometimes in a 3 beat pattern, e.g. Waltz).
In Pop songs, a heavy synthetic kick sound marks these beats (here in red).
Multiple of these 4 beats form a block of uniform content.
For instance, 4x4 beats often form a harmonic unit as well as 4x4x4 beats form units like refrain or chorus etc (where a singer's text changes the "block" also), separated by breaks and variations. In well composed songs, these transitions from one block to another are also marked with instrument / effect variations, e.g. Bongo rolls, fades etc.
Normally, a song consists of repeating blocks
(except Intro and Outro, self-explanatory)
Intro / Refrain / Chorus / Break / Bridge / Refrain / Chorus Variation / Outro.
Each of these parts have connections within the four pillars of music.
You can even see this basic structure in the integral waveform of a song.
Using a basic step in dancing then in principle gives you different possibilities to match that 4 beat pattern:
vertical movement: left-right with up / down movement of feet and hip (Merengue),
lateral movement: left-close (Kizomba) + mirrored,
lateral movement:left-right-left-close / right-left-right-close (Bachata) + mirrored
horizontal movement: left-right-left-close / right-left-right-close (Salsa) + mirrored
You already notice that several styles use different subdivisions of music for dancing which have strong consequences on the ability of musical interpretation and complexity of execution.
An ideal "free" Latin dance due to its simplicity is Merengue where with only an alternating foot movement restriction, figures can easily be practiced without timing issues in "slow motion" (but still matching to the song's speed) - followed by Kizomba which is predestined for easy interpretation of music with only one more restriction: a mirror plane.
For Bachata, complexity increases by a count that exceeds the 4 beat pattern with the need of mirroring over 4 more beats which is also true for Salsa.
At first sight, this seems a pure disadvantage because now you are restricted to 8 beats instead of 4 or 2. However, in the same manner as compositoral quality increases when a melody theme becomes longer, this is also true for dancing patterns.
Now, people are defining 1 and 5 instead of 1 and 1' because technically for dancing, it does not matter if you start at 1, 5 or even in between counts.
However, as you know, music is patterned in multiples of 4.
For 8-count dances like Bachata and Salsa, it makes sense to start either with 1 or 1' to match a dance loop to a beat unit of lets say 64 beats.
By convention, leaders start to the right and followers to the left which is the "real 1".
How to distinguish 1 and 5 (or 1') in music? What's the difference anyway?
Actually, that question is more complicated to explain.
One explanation for musicians: in many cases it is the change to the tonic in regular repetition cycles that defines the 1 but this "rule" also has to be taken with caution. Especially well composed music does not go with that rule and can change 1 and 5 in between tracks with odd multiples e.g. 1x4.
For non-musicians, I can only give hints.
One hint is to go for the first beat when the bigger beat blocks 4x4x4 are changing, e.g.: from strophe to chorus after a Bongo roll, the "big 1" starts or after the introduction. Of course, you cannot count through the whole song to match for instance a 65th beat. If you lose the "big 1" in between, you can orient on these changes.
In theory, it should not matter which direction you lead (meaning on 1 or on 5) because it is only a mirrored movement but in most cases (especially in Bachata Sensual), you will only learn one mirrored position and find the other one very odd and uncomfortable where nobody else dances on. Thus, you will probably feel the need to stick to the "big 1".
Master dancers can in principle use both mirrored positions and also use different timings instead of 1 and 5 but I have not met a master yet :)
Bachata on2 is still to be invented. Question stays if it makes sense to invent it...
Real Bachata music generally consists of an ensemble of instruments:
Rhythm Guitar, Singer, Lead Guitar, Bongos, Guira, Bass Guitar
All instruments (except the voice) play a "polyrhythm" which means that they connect their specific rhythmic patterns to form a single unified rhythm.
Three different unified rhythms are generally used: caminando, majao and mambo.
They can be understood as equivalents of a strophe, chorus and chorus variation.
With each change of these unified rhythms from one to another, all other instruments adapt the polyrhythm. This sounds pretty complicated but it is not
and the outcome sounds pretty harmonic for the ear.
Before we can identify rhythms, we need to be able to hear different instruments in a song. I demonstrate single Bachata instruments by playing it to a German Pop song that should match the idea of conformity between
--- strophe ---- --- chorus --- and --- chorus variation --- to
--- caminando ---, ---majao --- and --- mambo (majao variation) ---.
I made it easier for you to listen a single instrument by amplifying the sound of a specific instrument which I play. Try to identify instruments in that song by listening and check with what I play.
Can you identify the difference between rhythm guitar and lead guitar?
In this remix, I only used Caminando and Majao since there is no chorus variation.
Most modern Bachata music also only concentrates on the two different rhythms of Caminando and Majao (where Mambo is very similar to Merengue). Unfortunately, many modern remixes do not deal with this differentiation at all and only use Caminando or Majao throughout the song.
What is the major difference between the three polyrhythms?
Let us have a look at the Guira which practically resembles a metronome for Bachata:
"Caminando" is used as the standard basic rhythm for Bachata. As the notion itself "walking" already indicates, it is the part where the song goes forward, the strophe.
Emotionally, this is a medium level of excitement to expect.
When it turns to "Majao", only half of the beats are stronger hit by the Guira.
Emotionally, this resembles a peak of the song, maybe originating from majar "crush".
"Mambo" is the ampliflication of "Majao" where additional 1/32 hits mark the living character of this strong emotional outcome. This rhythm corresponds to the basic Merengue Guira rhythm.
As mentioned, all other instruments work in a similar way to this one.
Advanced Listening Comprehension
If you hear all instruments and have a feeling for how their rhythmic patterns sound like, this is the first step to really learn how to dance Bachata.
If you want to know more about this central topic of dancing, grab your stuff and join one of my classes :) I will be happy to teach you!
"people feel differently -
that's why they dance differently"
- what existed first? Chicken or Egg? Dancer, DJ or Music?
People first hear differently, then dance differently!
Merenge Basic Step Count
Kizomba Basic Step Count
Modern Bachata Basic Step Count
Salsa Basic Step Count
The most common four pillars of Music:
Text, Voice, Harmony, Rhythm
1 or 5?
Listening Comprehension of Bachata Instruments
in a German Remix
Closed Dance Position in Bachata Sensual: Women left or right? No Mirror Positions
My first Festival as a DJ- growing and growing :)
Count of the vast Majority of Songs
The Guira as a Metronome in Bachata