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Improving musicality?


swanprincess
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Today at associates we recieved our reports, and I was quite surprised/disappointed that my mark for musicality wasn't very good. So- how do I improve?! What is meant by the term 'musicality' ? Is it the same thing as artistry & performance quality? Or is it about rhythm?

Thanks :)

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Here goes!!

 

I think at its most basic level musicality can be about rhythm and keeping in time etc.

 

But there is link with artistry and performance quality too in the sense that a dancer with musicality who is at the highest level is able to illuminate the music as it were......so that although you have heard a piece dozens of times somehow they can draw you in and you notice particular phrases perhaps not fully noticed before. Just as a good musician can do this via his instrument......piano or whatever.

 

Sometimes you can improve musicality by just having lots of experience of dancing ....and dancing certain roles......then the dancer themselves becomes more tuned in to a piece and can show this relationship in the way they articulate their dance.

 

For me part of the passion of dance is connected to a passion for music and I'm sure many dancers have this connection. This doesn't mean though that EVERY time you dance your innate musicality is actually expressed!! If only!!

 

Do you play an instrument SwanPrincess?

Sometimes this can help a lot but listening to music a lot too .....and perhaps trying to choreograph some music you really like a lot will help too.....because then you have to try to relate the passion you have for the music to the dance.

 

I hope this is a bit helpful anyway. Sometimes too very young dancers like yourself are having to battle with the mastery of technique and this can get in the way on occasions of your relationship with the music.

Have you had better reports on your musicality in the past?

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Thankyou Lin that's really helpful :) I was confused because my teacher at my local dance school said that I have excellent musicality (but that is in RAD exam work, having heard the music many times before and knowing the combination thoroughly), however when I started GCSE Dance at school I really struggled to hear the tempo in contemporary dance music- at first I couldn't hear any rhythm at all, but finally it made sense!!

 

I played piano for a few months, but had to stop- the teacher said she expected me to practice for at least half an hour a day, which wasn't really possible because of dance commitments, also I only had access to a piano at the weekends whilst I was staying with my dad!!!!

 

This was the first report I have had (my local dance school don't give much feedback, and I hadn't done any other associate schemes), each section of class was scored on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being poor, 5 being excellent. I only scored a 2 ('acceptable') for musicality and pointework, which were my lowest scores, so I definitely need to improve on those!

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swanprincess, are you having to contend with a lot of new technical challenges and a much wider variety of enchainements (I think that's what they're called)? If so, you may have been concentrating on perfecting the steps. I suggest that you try to listen to as much music as you can, particularly ballet music. A lot is available on YouTube. You can of course watch excerpts of ballets online as well. Rather than just concentrate on what the dancer is doing, try to 'feel' the music and think about what the music is saying to you. Can you spot the phrasing, climaxes, changes in mood etc? Like anything else, musicality can be developed.

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But there is link with artistry and performance quality too in the sense that a dancer with musicality who is at the highest level is able to illuminate the music as it were......so that although you have heard a piece dozens of times somehow they can draw you in and you notice particular phrases perhaps not fully noticed before. Just as a good musician can do this via his instrument......piano or whatever.

 

I find Lauren Cuthbertson a very good example of someone who can do that, so perhaps YouTube could help there?  

 

And I read only the other day that musicality can be learned, so I guess all is not lost, by any means :)

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Are you sure that the person who marked was not a tough marker? Also if other people have said that you have good musicality, then it is only the one persons oppinion that you are weaker on this area. A teacher can either make or break a student, be wise and go with what you believe.

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I found it to be very helpful to always use different music - even for the same enchainement. That made me (and my students) really listen to the music. I tried to avoid simple piano music that is so often used. I liked music from shows, orchestral music, classical, contemporary - music that had some ccmplexity to it. Sometimes when the music is repetitive and/or too familiar we tend to stop listening to it.

 

It also helps to listen to it without dancing - just sit still and really listen to it. What does it say to you?

 

You might think of it as wrapping it around you and you are dancing inside it - making it visible to other people.

 

I hope this helps.

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Yes Aileen I see what you mean- the enchainements at Associates are quite a lot more complex than those at my local classes (I suppose that's the bad thing about RAD syllabus work; doing the same combinations every class means that I struggle to pick up new enchainements quickly). Thankyou for the suggestion of watching YouTube videos of ballets, that's a good idea :)

Tulip I'm not sure wether it was just the person marking being tough- it confused me a bit because at Associates I have always been told that my barrework is very strong but my centre work needs to improve- yet I got the same mark for barre and centre?! :S

That's a nice way of interpreting the music, Anjuli, thinking of dancing inside it.... But what when the music is unfamiliar, a piece that I haven't heard before? Am I supposed to know when the accents/ significant points in the movement are, and use the music to highlight those points? (Does that make any sense at all?! ;) )

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That's a nice way of interpreting the music, Anjuli, thinking of dancing inside it.... But what when the music is unfamiliar, a piece that I haven't heard before? Am I supposed to know when the accents/ significant points in the movement are, and use the music to highlight those points? (Does that make any sense at all?! ;) )

 

When you get used to doing it with music with which you are familiar you will then begin to hear these nuances in new music.  It takes time and thought.

 

And I agree with you - one of the problems with syllabus work is that picking up new  dance sequences quickly is a problem.  "Free work" helps - but its not enough.

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Hi Swanprincess I think others have touched on the question I was going to ask now. It was about the GCSE dance work. This is probably very different from doing RAD classes and ballet in general so as you say new types of music and different dance styles etc quite a lot to get used to at once!! I just wondered whether you think this may have affected your "score"

 

There is also more than one way of interpreting and even timing a piece of dance to the music.

 

I remember in the grade 5 BBO syllabus which I was doing a couple of years ago there were two pieces one adage and one petit allegro piece in which I disagreed with the written out timing supplied to teachers. Especially the petit allegro piece as if you stuck rigidly to the written timing you always ended up late so you had to sort of start almost before the music as it were to not be late!!

With the adage I just thought there was another way of counting the music which emphasised the main "meat" of it so to speak rather than keeping it all even.

I'm not saying my counting or interpretation was correct but it's how I felt it should be done to be satisfying to do!!

 

When there is an "official " line in interpreting the timing in courses like RAD and BBO I think this has to be adhered to I suppose because of pupils taking exams and maybe some timings would be marked down if not "done to the book" as it were.

 

So the advice about taking free classes outside exam classes........if you have any spare time at the moment that is!........is good because you can be free to interpret the music how you want to and get used to having to learn combinations to different music quite quickly.......and this should help your musicality to develop further.

 

Perhaps you weren't the only one to get lower marks for musicality this term anyway!!

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It's also worth listening to different styles of music - and finding things in different time signatures etc so that you learn to feel the music. I like Anjuli's idea of dancing from within. I used to use it almost as a relaxation technique, listening to classic fm etc with my eyes shut 'seeing' dance or imagining myself dancing - what sort of movements would naturally form in my mind when I was relaxed enough,

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I was also going to suggest just listening to as much music as possible - and not just well known classical ballet music. I don't have a huge amount of musical knowledge, and never listened to much classical music when I was younger, but having one DD, and to instrument playing sons, I now listen to a great deal of music, mainly different types of classical music, but a variety of other genres too. I have learned lots over the last 5 or 6 years, just from listening, and a big of background reading. I always have classic FM on in the car and often scribble notes to myself about a new (to me!) piece or composer that I have heard, and then try and find out more later. Knowing something about when and why a piece was written often helps me hear different things in it. I am beginning to appreciate music much more for it's own sake, but as I have come to it via an interest in dance, my notes do frequently include comments like "would be good for a ballet trio/greek solo" etc etc, and like Dr Dance, I can see potential choreography in my minds eye. (except it's not me dancing in my case!". If someone as untalented in this field as I am can do this, I am certain you can swanprincess. Relax, don't try to hard, and just let the music "talk" to you.

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Yes, relax, swanprincess. I think that the important thing to remember is that when you are dancing there is a partnership between the music and the dance. The music is not just there as background noise or as an accompaniment to the dance. Obviously, only the lucky few dancers dance to a live orchestra and I have seen comments by some of them to the effect that dancing with a live orchestra greatly enhances the experience on performing on stage. I have also seen comments by dancers about how important the music is to them.

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Thankyou for the suggestions, it's given me a lot to consider!!! :) I like the idea of listening to different pieces of music and trying to hear the rhythm/counts, but how do I know if I'm hearing the right rhythm?! (For example, listening to music on Classic.fm, how would I know 'this piece is in 3/4 time, therefore the rhythm is One-two-three, Two-two-three, Three-two-three, Four-two-three' etc?) I sometimes feel as if I can hear the rhythm/beat of a piece of music, but then also think 'what if that's not the rhythm at all, and I'm just counting at a continuous pace regardless of what the music is doing?!' I can visualise the potential choreography, but don't know if it's on the beat...

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I wouldn't worry so much about the time signature of the piece. Time signatures often change anyway in a complex piece of music. Irregular time signatures such as 5/4 and 7/8 don't have a very obvious beat; they are more like a ticking clock. Musicality is more than following the 'beat' of the music? Why not start by watching some variations on YouTube? Some dancers are more musical than others, as you will see.

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I very much agree with the advice above though SP you may find it helpful to do some reading around music theory(but don't get too bogged down!)- there are various things online which may help to give you the confidence that you have the underlying knowledge.

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Rhythm/ pulse is just one aspect, but if you think you'd benefit from some help with this, here's a few resources that I use with students (I teach a musical instrument and music theory)... for feeling the pulse/ beat (whether it's in 2,3 or 4 time), if you have an ipod/ipad there's a helpful app from one of the music exam boards - http://gb.abrsm.org/en/exam-support/practice-tools-and-applications/aural-trainer/ - the free version has some practice exercises on this - basically it plays some music and you have to tap the screen on the main beat then stroke it on the other beats (so for something in 3/4 time you would go "tap-stroke-stroke"). It gives you examples so you can see how it works, and then when you try it yourself it shows you how close you were to the beat. As a broad rule, in most music there tends to be an emphasis on the first beat of the bar. (The other exercises in the app which test things like singing back a phrase of music might not be quite so useful!)

 

If you don't have an ipod/pad then this video shows a similar thing -

 

Rhythm is different from the beat/ pulse - where the pulse is the steady beat through the music, the rhythm is the actual pattern that the instruments play - this is easier to explain practically than in writing, this video

shows someone teaching the difference.

 

This site - http://www.soundjunction.org - is also good for exploring how music works.

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Swanprincess, could you ask your Associates teacher for specific improvements, in order to improve your mark next time? It shows commitment and proactivity on your part if you ask them if they would have a few minutes to help you to understand the report. If you ask what you could work on at home in order to improve for next term, it should help.

 

All the advice given here is excellent, but our interpretation of musicality could be quite different from your teacher's. It could be something as straightforward as "dance more" as opposed to doing a series of steps, but the point is you won't know that particular teacher's interpretation of musicality unless you ask. :-)

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Musicality for a dancer doesn't mean to always dance on the beat.  A dancer can dance on the beat, through it, slightly ahead and/or slightly behind - anticipate or even ignore, emphasize or de-emphasize, syncopate or dance it squarely.  The dancer doesn't just "show" the music but interprets it - shows the "inside" of it.

 

For instance if you have a enchainement of (all going to the right):  piqué arabesque on your rt ft, failii with your left ft through first to 4th position, glissade, and a big assemblé porté.  

 

That's four distinct steps - but you wouldn't give each step the same "value" - give each the same amount of time or emphasis.  You have to think about what you want to show your audience.  

 

I'd want them to see the arabesque, not so much the failli or the glissade, and I'd really want them to see the big assemblé porté.  So, I'd linger an eyelash longer on the arabesque, go quickly through the failli and glissade and then spend all the time I could in the air in the assemblé porté.

 

So, you might ask yourself when you are learnng a new dance sequence - what do I want the audience to see?  Usually the connecting steps like glissade, pas de bourrée, are given less value.  While the big jumps, the arabesques, etc., are given more time.  

 

A very good example of using the same music in different ways is the famous scene where Juliet runs to Friar Lawrence to tell him what's happening.  She's desperate and she needs his help.  In studying for this role Fonteyn watched a film clip of Galena Ulanova do this famous run.  She realized there was something very different in how Ulanova did it.  Finally, after watching it many times, she realized Galena wasn't running AWAY from her problem but TOWARD someone she thought could help her.

 

It's an interesting exercise to take that music and use it to show you are running away from something and then use the same music to show  you are running toward something.  

 

If I were working on that I would start with by "running away" - with my arms slightly behind me, my head down, a slight protective curve in my back and slightly behind the music.  Then when I did it by "running toward" my head would be up, eyes looking ahead, chest leading my body and arms forward, feet in front of me. 

 

That's a whole different picture isn't it?

 

I hope I've said something here which helps.

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Ooh thanks Red, those resources are really useful, and ive downloaded the app, which looks good :)

 

I asked the Associates teacher what she meant by musicality... She explained that although it is about rhythm and beat, music visualisation is important too- so that if a deaf person watched a dance, they would be able to tell what the music was like based upon the movement quality.

 

Thankyou Anjuli, what you mentioned about the 'value' of each movement is interesting- I'll look at some YouTube dance videos, and see if I can find any of Fonteyn & Ulanova.

 

I'm really grateful for all the incredibly helpful suggestions and advice, thankyou very much! :)

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I asked the Associates teacher what she meant by musicality... She explained that although it is about rhythm and beat, music visualisation is important too- so that if a deaf person watched a dance, they would be able to tell what the music was like based upon the movement quality.

 

 

 

 

Exactly!  I once taught a profoundly deaf student and that's exactly what she did.

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All the suggestions are very useful food for thought. For me, I think that the key word which I would link with musicality is interpretation. Just as an interpreter might use different words in another language to relay what is being communicated by another, a dancer uses their body to communicate the essence of a story or emotion. It's something which inherently must come from within.

Reflecting upon this caused me to think about some of the dancers and students whom I would consider highly musical. It's almost as if they dance within the music rather than with the music. I guess most dancers will be able to relay how they could perform a very simple exercise such as plies in so many different ways based upon what they might be feeling at the time. For me, there is something about connecting with the music on an emotional level which is key as opposed to just being able to hear the rhythm although this is also interlinked.

It is not so common in classical ballet training now but there was a time in one syllabus style when v young dancers would be played a piece of music not known to them and asked to improvise.

You could try experimenting with this and also looking at how you could take a very simple set of steps and perform them in different ways to communicate an emotion and interpret a range of different styles of music. It's like you and the music have to become one rather than two separate entities.

I guess the word musicality can mean so many different things. Watching contemporary dancers perform pieces without music perhaps broadens the definition a bit further as I would still say that these pieces have the essence of musicality but it is communicated by the essence of the movement and a host of other things such as connection with other dancers, the audience and emotion from within.

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After the end-of-course show at BTUK summer school, my mum remarked that my timing wasn't good, and (yet again!) hinted that I should stop aiming to get in to vocational school because "you either naturally have good rhythm or you don't, and without it you won't get far in dance" :( so, although I am learning to hear the beat in the music, I find that when I am dancing, I focus more on the steps, and what step is coming next, as opposed to focussing on the rhythm. Should I be counting the rhythm of the music as I dance? Any tips on how to remember the enchainements whilst also paying close attention to the music? I'm sorry, I must seem so stupid asking all of this, it seems that an understanding of musicality is something dancers are supposed to just have...

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My dd never seemed to have a 'feel' for rhythm when she was younger, and tended to get lower marks for musicality in her ballet exams - until she started tap classes and after a while, things started to fall into place in her mind. It seems to be something she has learned to do, and she is fine now.

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swanprincess, if you are concerned about your technique and remembering enchainments, (both perfectly normal things to be concerned about) then I don't think that it is completely surprising that you end up behind, or ahead of the music. Why not try and do a couple of classes where you just try and enjoy the dance and the music and see what happens ? When you're marking through or learning a new exercise how about 'singing' the steps in your head with the dynamics and rhythm required ? Remember that the whole point of mastering technique is to be able to express yourself artistically. Don't panic :) xxx

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The steps and the music should be learned together.  When the teacher was showing the sequence I would be saying it in my mind in a sing-song fashion such as:

 

if the series of steps were.....

 

Tombé, pas de bourrée, glissade, assemblé

 

I would sing-song the words in my mind as:

 

Tom, pas de bourrée, glissade, assemblé   

 

(I see Elle who is typing as I was typing has the same idea - yea!!)

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One of my youngest pupils has the most amazing musical ear, but can never remember the steps, bless her ! And she gets so frustrated (which upsets me too !) So for the end of year performance I actually made up a song for her to sing (in her head !) with all the steps and directions whilst she was dancing. What a difference !

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I found it analogous to when as very young children and we were learning to read.  We read a sentence one word at a time with a flat tone in our voice as we concentrated on the letters which made up each word.  But, then the teacher wanted us to "read with expression."  Dance is no different.

 

At first it was:

 

Jack.......and.....Jill.......went......up.......the........hill

 

which, after we had learned the separate words, we began to see as a whole sentence .....and so we added a rhythm:

 

Jack and Jill went up the hill.

 

 

I remember contributing to a thread which discussed various techniques for remembering dance sequences.  If anyone is interested i will re-post.  It was not, however, particularly about musicality.  Musicality was inferred rather than specifically addressed (as I recall).

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