Chapter 3 – Downbeat and Upbeat

So you can’t dance? Not at all? Not even one step? How can you say that you’ve taken any trouble to live when you won’t even dance?
— German-Swiss Nobel Prize-winning  poet and novelist Hermann Hesse

I have a memory from childhood, from that old TV show Hee Haw, of a man dressed in overalls marking time to the music. He improvised a set of drums by alternating a stomp of his foot with a clap of his hands. Eight beats of music went like this: stomp clap, stomp clap, stomp clap, stomp clap. I now know that this guy was capturing the downbeat and upbeat, which is the natural pairing of beats that occurs in virtually all dance music. The stomp was the downbeat and the clap was the upbeat.

I believe the downbeat and upbeat are the secret to mastering the beat of the music. This is the pattern that got me to feel the beat, to bring it beyond my ears and into my body. When I hear it I know I’ve probably found the underlying beat (if I’m not sure I listen for sets of 8 to confirm that I’m on the beat). When I feel it, I believe it acts like an autopilot and keeps me on the beat….

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5 Replies to “Chapter 3 – Downbeat and Upbeat”

  1. I signed up for emails but didn’t get Chapter 3. I got Chapter 2… How can I get Chapter 3? Thanks. This is a great resource!!

  2. Hi,

    This is an incredibly useful and well put together explanation of understanding beats in music. I have natural rhythm and do all what you say innately. However, I’m just about to do an ETM course and need to actually understand the theory behind it.

    Great work – your an excellent teacher!

    1. Thanks for the kind words. It’s common for music and dance teachers to connect to the music innately, which I believe can make it difficult for them to relate to people, like me, who struggle with it. Teachers often articulate this stuff using music theory and talk about things like time signatures and quarter notes. That can confuse the average, non-musical person, like me, who just wants to learn social dance. Also complicating things is that music and dance theory sometimes differ, for example, the “& count” comes after the beat in music (1&), but it comes before the beat in dance (&1). Another difference is the terminology, for example, what dancers call the upbeat (counts 2, 4, 6 and 8), musicians often call the “backbeat.”

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