Dancing and songwriting

April 7, 2009 | 3 Comments

Salsa Dancing in Houston courtesy of Stuck in Customs

Photo courtesy of Stuck In Customs

April 7th, 2009 – Last week, CreateDigitalMusic had a post about Nintendo’s presentation at the Game Developers Conference and one thing in particular struck me. A game developer for Nintendo, Tsunku, taught his team rhythm concepts for a new dancing game by making them take dance class. “The quickest way to learn rhythm, [Tsunku] believes, is to dance”. While dance lessons for those charged with creating a dancing game seems logical, it got me thinking about how important physical movement is to music in general.

At its core, music is about communication. Animals sing or beat rhythms to each other and we, evolved as we are, have moved up to getting our funk shoes on with James Brown, or pumping our fists to Justice. If music is not for others, then it is to communicate things to ourselves that we may not understand until we get it out. If our music is for others, for them to “get” and understand us, then we must respect our audience enough to consider how they might best receive our message.

Why do you listen to music? For me, certain types of music serve different purposes. I might feel in a melancholy mood and want to listen to some down-tempo music, or I might be driving my favorite mountain road and want something high energy. A listener enjoys a song because something about it connects personally with that person. At that moment, the feeling is shared between the listener and creator.

Whether it is a slight bob of the head or a full on robot-emulating dance off, music that moves us emotionally, moves us physically. When is the last time you went to a concert and everyone sat perfectly still? I’m guessing that unless you are actively trying to look uninterested, you’ll be naturally moving to the music. Music that connects with us makes us move. Forget all the crap about looking cool, or that you don’t look cool enough to dance, let yourself go and, as a listener, your experience will be that much better with dance.

Dance doesn’t have to be all out breakdancing (or line dancing), it can be as subtle as a sway here, a bob there. There’s nothing quite like the energy of a whole crowd of people synched together. It’s mass communication, and it’s basic humanity; it’s real. Now, as a creator of music that you want to be enjoyed by others, think about what moves you, and you will have a better understanding how to move others. This is not to say that writing your music should be an intellectual exercise meant to garner you the most fans as possible (although if you are a professional hit maker, this may be your goal), but keeping in mind that the relationship between the artist and the fan is a give and take relationship, will help you make better decisions.

This is true for all sorts of music. Of course, dance music or hip hop with their rhythm heavy hooks are easy examples, but you can apply this to any music. I’ve talked before about music serving dance, but keeping in mind this connection will help you to write better songs as well. This is important for all types of music, not just those sitting in the Top 40. Good music evokes strong feelings, and strong feelings create physical reactions. Try keeping that in mind next time you work on a song and see if it works for you.

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  1. James Lewin says: April 8, 2009

    Great post!

  2. Jeff says: April 8, 2009

    So true… it’s funny, because I was recently playing a song I’m working on for some friends, and the song reached the solo where the time shifts to 7/4, and one of the listeners shouted, “What’s this?” I hit pause, and asked what she meant, and she said, “You can’t dance to this.” Her reaction had a big impact on me, and I’ve since instructed the drummer to record two versions — one with a 4/4 beat under the solo and one with 7/4 — so that I can have a slightly weird version of the song and a danceable one, too!


  3. Sean says: April 8, 2009

    @James Lewin : Thanks!

    @Jeff : Great idea to record multiple versions. In fact, many do it for vocal mixes when delivering to an artist, but doing two different solos is pretty nifty. Sometimes though, I find myself liking music that throws me off…but the enjoyment is more an intellectual exercise (ie. Dream Theater). It really depends on the type of audience you’re looking for too. More sophisticated listeners will want more sophisticated music, and sometimes that includes “weird” time signatures. If someone just wants to get down and boogie…it’s gonna have to be 4/4 or maybe a waltzy 3/4.


  1. Do you have groove? (hint: you do)

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