How to Find the 1!

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KeanuReevesMatrixNeoNo – I am not talking about your soul-mate or if Neo in the matrix is actually the 1 (though I must admit that both of these would make for interesting posts), I am actually talking about how to find the 1 in music. Though you have to admit, sometimes when you are dancing, you realise that for some people finding the 1 can be just about as elusive as finding a soul-mate.

So let’s touch on some pointers and see if we can help some people out there to start dancing on the beat.

As a beginner and even sometimes for an even more seasoned dancer, finding the beat can be one of the hardest parts of learning to dance and is an aspect where a lot of people struggle. I personally was very lucky that coming from a dance background, hearing the music while dancing was never really an issue for me. However it took me a while before I could actually listen to the Music and dance. (Note: Hearing and Listening are 2 different things. Hearing implies simply being able to follow the structure of the song (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8), while Listening implies actually being present in the song, noticing the the different instruments and how the song ebbs and flows. Listening exists at a much higher plane than hearing and you should aspire to Listen to the Music as opposed to only hearing it.)

Now if you are having a problem finding the beat in the music, then this article is for you. Sometimes you will get people who talk crazy and say things like; ‘it does not matter which beat you are dancing on or even if you are dancing to a beat at all, just as long as you are having fun’. If you subscribe to this theory, please leave this post immediately! Dance is making Music into movement. Without the music there is no Dance.

If you can hear the music, good for you. If not, I believe you need to put in the time and learn to find the beat whatever that beat might be e.g. On1 or On2  and for those people that are willing to put in the time, let’s get to it….

Many people who are new to Salsa are able to do the basic step and basic turn patterns without much trouble. What proves to be more challenging though is doing those turn patterns on the beat, which for most Men is the hardest part about learning to dance.

How then can you learn to dance on time to the music? It turns out that there are a couple of tricks one can learn to help them figure out where the 1 starts.  After you have learned some of these simple tricks, you should then be able to start building your own dance beat intuition.

Listen to the Music
listening-music-640x628Listen to the music and eventually it will sink in. Even if you can already find the beat, hearing the music a lot will improve your listening as you learn to interpret the music & and start to develop a whole new level of appreciation for musicality.

Find the Bass Beat. The bass beat is the easiest beat to find as this is the beat that you would tap  along with on your steering wheel or that you would clap along too at a concert. However, note that 1 Bass beat = 2 salsa beats.

Listen to the different instruments; the claves, cowbells, timbales, conga, trumpets, trombones, bass guitar & piano. Changes in the music or the introduction of an instrument will usually occur on the ONE. As an example, normally you can hear the cowbell on the bass beat mentioned above.

Listen to the Melody. As you listen to the the music you will start to develop the intuition to predict changes in the melody. Listen for where the music is the loudest with a higher tone since most of the musical instruments come together at that beat which is the 1 just after a climax or low tone (Sometimes this is a dramatic noticeable change in the melody towards the end of the 8 count followed by a short silence on the 8 count which is also known as a break).

Listen to the Lead Singer
The lead singer is one of the easiest ways to find the 1st beat. Usually the Lead singer, and/or the chorus will start to sing on the “1” beat. Key word here is – Usually not Always.

Vocalize the music
Start being aware of the tempo (the speed at which to count the 8 beats) when listening to music. Then learn to vocalize either out loud or in your head each count – meaning 1,2,3,4, 5,6,7,8.

When you are dancing on “the 1″(or for that matter vocalizing 1,2,3..5,6,7…), you should feel a connection to the melody.

If you want some help on how to learn to count a Tempo, there is this really useful website;

Set the speed to 144 bpm for a slow salsa tempo song and speed it up to 192 bpm and play with a few in-between.

Listen to the other Beats
After you get good at picking up the 1, you should then start to pick up the other 7 beats. The best way to do this is with a Clap Drill.

clapPick a number from the beat, let’s say 5. Every time you hear the 5 beat just clap your hands together & keep doing this on the 5 until you can “feel” the 5 beat coming. Then go to another beat, let’s say 3 and clap your hands together to the 3. Keep clapping your hands on the 3 beat until you can “feel” the 3 beat coming.

By doing this every time you listen to  music, you will notice that you can pick up any beat, and keep your timing throughout the entire song.

Listen and dance & listen and dance & listen and dance and eventually it will sink in.
Practice makes perfect. So practice! You can also find someone else in the class who wants to practice and work on it together.

If all else fails:
1. There are popular songs available where a person counts out the 8 beats as the song plays and may even explain the instruments as they are introduced. Find some of these songs, listen to them and pick up patterns and and pauses in the music and how everything comes in on the 1.

Download the onto your PC or mobile phone. You can also download Pocket Salsa (from addicted2salsa) and play around with the rhythm section. (Thanks to Tomm for reminding me about this)

2. When you have time to kill in front of the computer watch salsa dance videos and try to see if you can see how the people match the rhythm and play with the music. This is only useful if you know what style the dancers dance on. Warning: Sometimes the sound is out of sync with the video.

3. When you get onto the dance floor, look at someone who you know has perfect timing and then copy when they hit the 1. (This should be a last resort because sometimes you may be the first person on the dance floor or that other person may be dancing on a different count. ;) )

Do you have any other pointers that may have helped you to find the 1? Leave a comment and lets get everyone dancing to the Music.


  • Tomm says:

    Great post…. I agree with most but…

    2. When you have time to kill in front of the computer watch salsa dance videos and try to see if you can see how the feet match the rhythm.

    I dont agree with that one….
    The problem is, some Videos have slightly shifted sound, so the Video and the Sound are not in sync, even some milliseconds can be an issue…
    Some even use completly different music then the original Video had…
    Some dancers in the Video might be offbeat themselfs, and if you cannot find the beat you probably would not recognize that…
    A lot of advanced dancers do variations of the basic, which make it hard to figure out the count….. is also worth mentioning…

    • Thanks for the comment Tomm. You are totally right, this is a very risky course of action to take because plenty can go wrong. However when writing this article and doing my research, I spoke to someone who learnt how to play with the music based on watching people like Oliver Pineda and Terry. Only after seeing them musically interpret the music did he finally get how to groove. So I included it for those kind of individuals. I have now added into the article. Thanks for the reminding me about that one.

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