Sunday, October 5, 2014
Musicality Praxis: The Bass Drummer
Today's focus on musicality starts with a visual. The video clip below is produced by Leandro Díaz and Mauro Mauceri, musicians who teach dancers to be musical in their dance. In another clip, they explain their mission. They noticed, as most musicians do, a wide gap between what dancers are doing and what the music is saying; so they began their work trying break it down for dancers. Tango is the most wonderful dance there is for tandem improvisational dancing. Tango promotes dancing exactly to the music more than any other dance because there is in fact no true "basic step." Leandro and Mauro's observation is rather startling! How could tango not follow the music when that is essentially what tango is?
For now, just enjoy this milonga video clip, and notice the wonderful mix of rhythmic precision and melodic softness in the middle section of the song. We will come back for a second look, where I hope you will notice even more.
Let me introduce the concept of anticipating the next beat. When I was a very young musician in 8th grade, the director told the orchestra about my role as I was playing bass drum. He said, "The Chicago Symphony Orchestra could not find a percussionist who could play bass drum well. The orchestra finally found the right man for the job and payed him one of the top salaries." It took me a long while to understand why this was. A great bassist or bass drummer senses how a low tone will hit the audience at the same time the 1st violin's note does. So in watching the couple again, I hope you will notice how much they are moving before the actual beat.
The rol masculino (RM) is somewhat like the bass drummer, but in slow motion. In order to get the violin, the rol femenino (FM), to be on the beat, one's intention with the body and lastly one's leg must be ahead of the beat before landing perfectly on the beat. I noticed lately that many are behind the beat because (a) the RM is feeling the beat mentally but by the time he is hitting the floor he is delayed, and (b) the if the RF is listening too much to his body, and is even more delayed, then a chain reaction of lateness ensues. When this happens, the music is not the leader and both are no longer honoring the precision element of musicality.
For the rol femenino: If you do not take your responsibility of listening to the true leader (the music), your partner (the "navigating-listener") is handicapped with having to dance really far ahead of the beat in order for you to be on the beat. If you are listening to him rather than the music, it is as if he were in the orchestra and you have made yourself the "audience," merely following along! Be an active listener, what I call the "dual-listener," listening to the leader (the music) and the body language of your partner. If you are not listening and reacting to the music, every nuance, such as a scada, will be harder for your partner. Your partner needs your precision because sacadas are created by the listener-navigator on the upbeat eighth or even sixteenth notes. In the above clip, you will notice this phenomenon during the part where guitar continues with the milonga rhythm, but the couple are following the melody. At the 1:19 and 1:25 his feet are on the beat for the sacadas but precisely a sixteenth note* ahead is when his leg meets her inner thigh. If you are behind the beat from not listening to the music, he has to lose the music to find you.
So if you haven't already, please now return to watch the video clip above. Notice how he is moving forward of the beat in order for her to land on the beat. If he is moving slowly to the next beat she will intuit how much time she has to play between notes. 90% of what is going to happen next is predicted by listening to the music when the navigator is dancing to the music.
This video demonstrates well these two wonderful aspects of dancing musically, the balance of rhythmic precision, with melodic freedom to stretch the time. You do this concept everyday probably. Most people know that in order to arrive on time at work, one must leave home ahead of time. Dancing musically is very much the same. You don't have to learn how to play the bass drum well to understand this! :-)
*A "sixteenth note" is four beats per tap of your foot to the music. If that is hard to conceptualize, think a"microsecond" before his foot hits the ground on the beat.