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How to Find The Beat in Salsa Music


Do you love Salsa but you’re finding it difficult to find the beat in Salsa music ? Desperate to finally figure it all out? You are not alone!

If you want to get beyond a beginner’s level, this is a problem that needs urgent attention. After all, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been dancing, how many lessons you attend in a week or even how many fancy turn patterns you know- if you suffer from ‘rhythm deficiency disorder’ you will be one of the most avoided dancers in the club.Thankfully, it’s a problem that is pretty simple to fix.

Here’s how to find the beat in Salsa music.

You already have rhythm

Everyone has innate sense of rhythm. Yep, even you hiding over there. You may not even be aware of it but it’s there. Your body has gifted you with its own intricate rhythms and cycles. You have a perfect heart beat that has been drumming away for decades now. When you walk, you follow your own particular rhythm. Language is composed of rhythm. And even that bedside clock beside you is marking out a rhythm. The entire world is built on purest rhythm. So why do we find it hard to find the beat in Salsa music?

How Salsa music is built

Salsa music is more complex and built slightly differently to the music that we commonly listen to here in the West. It can challenge our ears and leave us feeling well and truly out of our comfort zone. And this discomfort distracts us. We over-think and become cerebral and confused instead of trusting our instinct.

Let’s break it down into some easy steps:

 Step 1: Salsa beat explained

Music has it’s own pulse, called beats. Beats like to hang out in little groups so people can pinpoint exactly where they live in the song. Beats usually prefer groups of 4- this is what we call a bar (think of 4 friendly Salsero Beats chilling at the bar buying a Mojito!)

Salsa music is created from two of these bars to make an 8 beat ‘measure’. 4+4= 8!!So if you can count to 8 and recognise this in Salsa music, you’ve almost got it cracked!

Salsa dance steps are also grouped into 8s- this is why it all works so perfectly. As a recap, in Salsa dance, we step on the 1 2 3 and 567 and either rest, tap or shift weight slowly on the 4 and 8. You’ll usually hear your Salsa teacher counting to 8 as they teach. No, they’re not slightly unhinged- this is why.

Step 2: Hearing the beat in any song

Let’s put this theory into practice, and start with a nice easy song. In fact, let’s not start with salsa at all. We’re going to take a look at the merengue track by Fulanito called ‘El Cepillo’.

I’ve chosen this track as it has a very strong beat- you should easily be able to find it. Give it a go! And I challenge you to not want to dance whilst you listen!!

How did you do? Did I spy that body moving??

Step 3: Onwards to Salsa!

Let’s try it now with some real life Salsa music. I’m going to spoil you rotten and offer you three options. Choose from a Colombian classic, a chilled Cuban, or a Mambo style tune depending on your tastes.

Your first task is to find the beat just like you did before and get counting to 8. When you’re feeling like a pro, go ahead and tap your foot or your fingers.

How was it for you?

Next,  have a go at identifying beats 1 and 5 in the music. You’ll find there’s a slight lilt or micro-pause after the 8. Don’t worry if it’s a bit too much at this stage, it’s not always so clear cut and sometimes it changes slightly. If you’re not yet 100% happy, duck over to this timing track or check out one of these fab timing cds.

Step 4: Get Dancing!

Right, up on your feet! Enough of all this talk, let’s dance. Listen for the beat, do a little basic step to warm up, and as you grow in confidence you can beef it up to whatever your fancy dictates! Again, concentrate on feeling the music, feeling that beat. Don’t overthink it!

If you really can’t get away with a spot of salsa right now, never fear. Simply close your eyes and imagine yourself dancing to that gorgeous track…
You’ve got it! Well done. Your Salsa popularity has just exploded!
There’s no limit to the number of times you can enjoy this simple and fun exercise. Give it another go if you like with a different style track or check out the SalsaHackers YouTube channel for more brilliant Salsa music inspiration.

Step 5: Keep it going

Now you’ve found the beat, and danced with  the beat, you’ll want it to stay your friend. The best way to do this is by counting. If you ever feel slightly bewildered by the track, get counting. And never be afraid to ask the person you’re dancing with for a little help if you’re lost. This is the time when a Salsa muse can help. Call on a trusted friend, musical person, dance teacher or fellow Salsero* to give you that positive feedback you deserve.

Don’t forget, you’ve always had rhythm you just didn’t know it.

 Step 6: Tell us all about it

How did you get on? Any wildly impressive success stories or need a little more guidance? What did you do in order to defeat the dancing demon? Let me know in the comments below.

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*Salsero=salsa-dancer, m.  (Salsera is the female version)


Image © Bryan Thompson

1 Comment on How to Find The Beat in Salsa Music

  1. Mr. Snuffles // November 16, 2014 at 8:03 pm // Reply

    Folks, this post is also helpful when learning how to dance to House. I’m a House dancer and we normally “jack” (combination of hip shaking and upper body shaking as well) to the 4-to-the-floor beat.

    So some Salsa is very helpful!

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