One of my subscribers, Mo, recently asked me this question:
“You see people dancing or watch videos of them dancing. You can clearly see that there are different types of dancers. One is technically perfect, but it’s not very fun to watch them. There are guys who are not technically as good, but they’re really on beat. How can you train this musicality? How can you become a better dancer?
Wow, that’s a really deep question.
And a really tough question as well.
And in fact, a really tough question.
Because there is no true way on how you can approach musicality. There’s no step-by-step guide that anyone can produce (even from the best in the world) that can help you master musicality.
Dance is dance because there are multiple ways to interpret the music.
So much so that I struggled with my own answer to Mo. I took about 2 weeks to mull, ponder and go through my own experience of the dance so that I could provide an answer that made sense to myself, to Mo and to you who are reading this post.
Nevertheless, I tried my best to answer his question. It may not be a perfect answer but it’s my best possible one given my experience.
You can watch it here:
Honestly, as compared to other bboys who are much more musically-attuned, I am not that good with the music.
In fact, I found it really tough to try to follow the beat. As a bboy, I’m much better at understanding technical moves than the music.
For me, it took a lot of effort to even catch the smallest beats and to understand music structure.
But I understand that ultimately, breaking is still a dance. And a dance means you have to do your moves to the music.
Learning Musicality Is No Different From Attending School
Here’s my tip to you:
Musicality is like studying.
And if we imagine students in school studying for an exam, there are 2 main types of students.
Student #1 is the crammer. This is the person that crams and memorizes everything. He or she may not understand fully, but they remember everything.
And then there’s Student #2.
Student #2 is the passionate student. He or she understands, appreciates, likes and knows the subject and what it means. He or she may not be the best student in the school, but boy do they have the fire in their belly.
They completely understand the subject.
Guess which student am I?
Yes, I am student #1. This is my primary methodology of studying and understanding musicality.
I study really hard. I memorize the music, and know all of the usual and popular music played at jams. I constantly update my music library and keep chasing for new songs and sounds. I listen to songs hundreds and hundreds of times.
Essentially, I study so hard that I know when the beat is coming for each song.
Then I plan my moves and mini-combos to the music and its structure and play along with it. I use my forte — which is executing highly technical moves — and memorize the music. So I would always know when the next beat is coming, when the next trumpet is coming — and I plan my moves accordingly.
This is how I do it.
Alternatively, you can be like Student #2.
You appreciate the music and understand the music structure. You learn how many layers of the music there is, the types of instruments being played, how many counts of 8 the song runs, the breaks, the bridge, the chorus and so on until you know what happens at when in the music.
After which, you have to learn and understand your movements.
What do I mean by understanding your movements?
Essentially, it is YOU assessing your current repertoire of moves, and finding out which of the moves you have, for example, can be used for a drag of the trumpet or a scratch of the DJ.
This is when you will begin to intuitively understand which of your movement can be used when for the music. Once you begin to become more attuned with the music and your moves, you begin to sync with the music.
Feel the music.
I know this is generic advice given by almost every single bboy but…
What About Beat Camping?
Some bboys do this.
Essentially, beat camping is bboys hitting moves (or big moves) on the ONE.
Watch James Brown talk about the ONE here:
The ONE is usually the big beat that comes on for most breaks, like 5,6,7,8 ONE.
This is where bboys tend to use their big blowups and hit them.
While I wouldn’t say that it is perfectly okay to do this (as you want to be natural with the music), it is okay to begin learning about musicality by doing this.
So if you know the music structure, and know the counts, a “cheat” way to look musical is to use the ONE.
However, do not capitalize it so much as it will lose its effect.
How do you know which kind of student you can be?
When to be Student 1: If you’re really struggling with musicality and staying on beat, you can approach learning the music this way – the cramming, technical method. The method where you internalize the big ONE.
When to be Student 2: If you do understand the ONE, and want to take musicality further… Approach musicality with a more open appreciating and understanding of the music and music structure.
Learn to dance WITH the entire music. Not just ON one part of music (i.e. the ONE).
Learn how to dance with the music.