First Dance Lesson

Find the Beat


Your First Dance Starts With…

The music! Have no worries if you have “no rhythm,” this video will help you understand how to identify the beat of your first dance song. 

The reality is that everyone has a sense of rhythm. It’s just that most people, unless they have a background in music and/or dance have never been trained on how to identify the beat in a particular song.

Rhythm is a part of our daily existence from the very beginning of our lives. Our mother's heartbeat gave us a consistent rhythm in the womb, and right now, if you’re living and breathing, your heart and lungs keep a consistent beat. We hear rhythm and steady beats all around us every day, from the sound of our heals on the pavement when we walk to the siren of a fire truck, to the clicking of the furnace when it turns on.  

The beat in a song is no different than all of these “natural” rhythms we hear around us every day. Think of it as the constant ticking of a clock in the background of the song amid a whole menagerie of other instruments.

It goes without saying that the ability to pick out the beat is important when trying to keep time with your first dance song. All it takes to learn this skill is practice (dancing is about getting the “muscle memory”). So don’t get frustrated if you don’t first succeed. Try and try again.

So What Exactly are Beats, Rhythm and Tempo?

A “beat” is the time unit of a song.

And a sequence of beats is the “rhythm” of a song.

The speed at which one beat follows another is the “tempo” of a song. If the space between beats is long, the tempo is slow. If the beats are quick, the tempo is fast.

So How do You Find the Beat of a Song?

Most often, music has by both strong (or stressed) and weak (or unstressed) beats. What we should do first is find the “strong” beats in the song.

With a lot of pop music you’ll hear four beats with the first beat seeming louder or more pronounced than the other three beats(4/4 timing). If you’d like an easy song to find the beats to, play Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” With this song, we can count the beats in a series from one through eight. To simplify it, we’re just going to count the beat in fours.

Play the song and look at the following set of beats and try to match the ONE with the “stressed” beat in the song.

ONE, two, three, four
ONE, two, three, four

Once you’ve done that, clap your hands to the stronger, louder “stressed” one beat and stomping your feet to the next three weaker, “unstressed” beats. If you’ve got it right, you will be clapping once and stomping three times. Do you have it? If so, you’ve got the beat!

The pattern varies from song-to-song.

You may also often hear one “stressed” beat alternating with one “unstressed” beat, one after the other:

ONE, two, THREE, four

ONE, two, THREE, four

Listen to Foster the People’s, “Pumped Up Kicks” for and example of 2/4 timing.

It’s also common to hear one “stressed” beat with two “unstressed” beat:

ONE, two, three

ONE, two, three

Listen to Ray LaMontagne’s “Let it Be Me” for an example of 3/4 timing.

Still Having Trouble?

Start with a song that has a strong drum beat component (like the Michael Jackson song above if you haven’t already listened to that). Keep in mind that some songs, like acoustic versions of pop songs, don't have drums at all, which makes the whole process of finding the beat really challenging. If your first dance song is an acoustic version and you can’t hear the beat, we’d love to schedule a short Skype lesson to help you with the rhythm.

The last note is to try to ignore other components of the music, like the vocals and instruments other than the drums. Oftentimes, the singer and other instruments are on a different rhythm entirely (and/or changing their rhythm throughout the song). Stick with the drums and you’ll be set.

Good luck!