Topic: improvisation, and musicians teaching us to dance (2)

Watching this post, here. As per usual, I’m not a musician, so my facts are not facts but made upness.

So if we think of this as a class exercise, and plan it accordingly.

  • At 2.34 all the sax do a synchronised bit.
  • 3.10 sax 1 does a solo for a phrase (4×8), and then the other 3 have a go each for a phrase.
  • And then they continue, each round taking less time for each solo (from 1 phrase to 2 x 8 to 1 x 8).
  • With finally everyone together again.

[ in class, we have students in groups of 4 take the role of each musician, taking turns to solo for decreasing lengths of time ]

As you watch, you can see:
[ in class, these are skills we are working on, but don’t need to point out explicitly to students. ie talk less, dance more – let them learn by doing]

  1. How the excitement builds through the structure (all together, then improvised, with less time for each, until TOGETHER: so together – solo – together is a structure that builds excitement and interest. It tells a story.
  2. How the solos within the phrase don’t have to stick to 8 or bar-long chunks. So the first sax in particular in his first solo plays across bars (8s), creating a phrase-long piece of rhythm/notes.
    -> I see this as one of the biggest weaknesses in modern lindy hop – people dance in sets of 8, rather than dancing through 8s, in one continuous block of rhythm
  3. How everyone can find the bar, the 8, the phrase (they’re all keeping time without counting numbers)
  4. Everyone comes in when they’re ready, and out when they’re done without being told (they keep their own time). So they are all paying attention and listening to each other.
  5. Individual musicians pick up an element of the solo before them, so it becomes a conversation, but the whole section holds together as a piece of music, not just as a lump of sound.
    -> this teaches students to listen to each other, to recognise the rhythms in each other’s dancing, and then to incorporate them into their own dancing.

Again, this is a common tap exercise.

Over all, students learn these basic skills:

  • keeping their own time
  • swinging the time
  • hearing and keeping bigger structures like phrases and bars
  • hearing and keeping a sense of a bigger, song-length structures – dynamics (loudness), energy, excitement, mood, etc
  • making up stuff on the spot (improvising)
  • they learn, in practice, that it’s easier to use simpler shapes and rhythms in this setting
  • how to engage with other dancers while they’re improvising (they always end up being really connected to each other, emotionally, supporting each other, when they do these games) -> ie lindy hop connection
  • they learn to watch and use their eyes to learn a rhythm or recognise a pattern
  • dealing with nerves or worry, by just going along with it and giving it a go with a group of supportive friends
  • they learn that making mistakes is less important than picking up the pieces and continuing on

All this stuff makes for great solo jazz, but it also makes for great lindy hop.
And as you can see, it’s not a matter of leads doing X and follows doing Y. It’s about learning about musical structure in a practical way (not as theory), and about learning to try and give things a go with your body.

Topic: improvisation, and musicians teaching us to dance (1)

I’ve just watched this video that Alice hooked up on fb. In this vid the musicians demonstrate how collective improvisation works in nola jazz.

Now, this is just one type of improvisation, in one type of jazz. But it’s a good example of how I think about lindy hop.
Both partners are equal participants in the band, but they have different roles. They share the same sense of time, the same beat. There’s a melody (because they are dancing a ‘standard’), and there’s a shared key, and they’ll be working in 4/4 time. The band leader sets the tempo.


they can do a lot of improvised stuff within that framework.
It’s a fun game to play ‘who’s the lead, who’s the follow?’ in this song. I like to think of the clarinet as the follower and the trumpeter as the leader. The leader is carrying the melody and setting the tone. The clarinet is improvising all around that.

And as the man in the video says: we are respecting the structure of phrases, of choruses, and of the build and flow of the song as a whole. So sometimes we might improvise like crazy arpeggios, and sometimes we are more subtle and find the harmony in single notes.

Anyhoo, this is how I think about jazz and how I think about lindy hop. So this is how I start all our beginners. Find the beat, keep time, learn the ‘time step’ (to borrow from tap – the basic step we use throughout this dance), then improvise. It’s ok for both people to improvise at once, it’s ok to take turns improvising it’s ok to just do it vanilla. Then of course, the way we improvise can vary, depending on the music and how we feel individually and as a team.