how to learn to find the beat in a waltz
February 17, 2015 6:44 PM   Subscribe

I just started learning to waltz (yay!) and my biggest problem is finding the beat. So far, I can only stay on beat for songs like this Shostakovich waltz no. 2 where there is a dedicated instrument playing all three beats. Give me something like the first minute of this Waltz of the Flowers and I'm totally lost. How does one learn to stay on beat when waltzing?
posted by d. z. wang to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The first minute of the Waltz of the Flowers includes a massive harp cadenza. So, the whole orchestra is moving around the soloist, letting him or her do what they want at that point. So, there's no real steady beat at that point. Score here! As long as you can find the beat *after* that first minute, when the whole orchestra starts playing in tempo together, I wouldn't worry too much!
posted by damayanti at 7:04 PM on February 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm an elementary school general music teacher and this is a big struggle for many people! I am lucky to have kids starting in pre-school (3 or 4) and my main goal for them is to start feeling comfortable with what I call "beat competency".

The Waltz of the Flowers example is tricky, because it's a lot slower. But listen how even though there isn't the "boom-chuck-chuck" like in the Shostakovich, there is some instrument playing on almost every beat. Turn the music up and practice moving to the beat in some way - tapping with two fingers on your hand, lap, or chest works great and is a good way to internalize it.

Even though you are specifically learning to waltz, I would practice finding the beat with other types of music as well (most music is in 4/4 time, unlike waltzes which are in 3/4).
posted by rossination at 7:07 PM on February 17, 2015

Are you asked to dance to things like the first minute of the Tchaikovsky? It has several measures in a row where it doesn't have any "waltz beat" even though the meter may be the same. You'd have to infer the beat if you were dancing, which is difficult (and I think would be a little silly looking, like dancing in silence?). The only way to be sure is to have the piece memorized. (Practice!)

Waltzes always have the same meter (3/4 time), meaning you have a count of 3 notes (quarter notes) per measure: characteristically the "boom-chuck-chuck" like rossination said. If you can find the first occurrence, you could play the beat in your head and keep going with it.

Or just assume that it's "boom-chuck-chuck" from the first note, which it often is. That might be more practical when you're in the middle of dance class.
posted by zennie at 7:22 PM on February 17, 2015

Came in here to say what damayanti said. The reason you can't hear a beat during the harp part in the Waltz of the Flowers is because there isn't one to hear. The cadenza is taken out of time.
posted by slkinsey at 7:24 PM on February 17, 2015

I would suggest sticking with waltzes that are meant to be easy to dance to, such as C&W, Czech, Tejano or even Klezmer...
posted by jim in austin at 7:30 PM on February 17, 2015

Waltz of the Flowers was written for a ballet, not for actually waltzing to...I wouldn't worry about learning that. The ballerinas aren't waltzing.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:16 PM on February 17, 2015

This is the sort of music I'd probably be waltzing to: Ashokan Farewell, Lover's Waltz, Star of the County Down (I just posted the other stuff because, well, I prefer to listen to that, and if I'm going to practice...)
posted by d. z. wang at 8:47 PM on February 17, 2015

The reason you're having trouble with the beginning of Ashokan Farewell (at the beginning) is that it is a very slow 3 (about three seconds per measure, plus or minus), and he's seriously changing the tempo constantly.

It wouldn't really be possible to dance to it.

When the guitar comes in, that's a big hint. Every time she hits bass note, that's the beginning of a measure.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:46 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ok, well I listened to your link for Ashokan Farewell, and it kinda starts with the same problem as Waltz of the Flowers where there's a soloist doing their own thing and the rhythm is flexible. I'd be surprised if anyone was dancing to that part.

But after everyone comes in, listen to the guitarist: they're playing a more repetitive set of notes that often sounds like "low note – strum – strum, low note – strum – strum". That's the 1 – 2 – 3 beat right there. Later on in the song the guitarist has a solo, but now the two violins (I think?) are playing backup: they hold a steady note through the measure, and only change on the downbeat. Pretty much any music for dancing has at least some instrument keeping rhythm with something more distinctly repetitive, so try to listen for whichever voice that is and take your cues from them.

(On preview, great minds think alike!)
posted by traveler_ at 9:48 PM on February 17, 2015

Yeah, the beginning of ashokan farewell is so rubato that a true waltz to it would be impossible. The Lover's Waltz is a little rubato, and the triple time is fractured a bit by the fact that the piano part has some hemiola type activity in it that makes it feel like it's more in 6/8.
posted by KathrynT at 9:54 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

dang it! if I hadn't been delayed by completely spacing on the word 'hemiola' I would have been first
posted by KathrynT at 9:54 PM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

As Chocolate Pickle says, the intro to that Ashokan Farewell has so much rubato that it's not recognizably in 3/4 for most of it, if that's any consolation. He's clearly playing it in a solo style, which is why the others have to sit on their thumbs until he finishes it. The rest of it is straightforward, so I'd guess you will get it with practice. Beat deafness is a thing, but I was completely, painfully ignorant of the beat until after high school and still managed to pick it up when I started playing percussion with a local concert band.

I would watch music that has a conductor, with the caveat that professional orchestras lag way behind the beat, so you're actually better watching a high school band. The low point of the stick (or hand) as it moves straight down is beat 1, then a diagonal outward stroke for beat 2, and finally the beginning of the swing up toward the initial position is 3. You may also see faster waltzes conducted "in 1" where only the downbeat is given. I'm only half joking that you should hang out with a concert band or orchestra and watch the conductor.
posted by wnissen at 10:11 PM on February 17, 2015

For me, I just kept dancing and slowly got better at hearing the beat. One thing I would do was to try to count it out in my head- oom bah bah and just keep that going as a metronome. Not very musical, but it will keep your feet moving approximately in time. See if you can hear a sort of slow pulse. The pulse goes down on the one, rises up on two and (maybe, probably) begins to fall a little bit on three. That's your waltz beat. If you can just hear the down... down... down... you can put the two and three inbetween. If you had to rock a baby to sleep to the music, or wave a lighter at a concert, you would want to follow the same pulse- left... right... left... in time with the down. You can try to sing the beat out loud as you dance- that can be super helpful. Or hum it. oom pa pa

If there's no pulse then it's probably only marginally a waltz, and you'll have to provide the pulse yourself in your head.

The first minute of the Waltz of the Flowers is unwaltzable other than by internal metronome. This is hard. Later on, the beat starts up and I'd recognize it as a waltz and be able to dance to it if I wanted. Star of the County Down would be very hard. The beat is in the guitar and it's not very audible for me. If I were dancing to it, I would have to do it mostly by internal metronome.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:01 PM on February 17, 2015

Where are you located? If there's a regular contra dance in your area, especially one advertised as having a beginner/teaching session at the start, go to a couple of those, because there's a huge difference between music to which it may be possible to waltz and music being played by a live dance band for people who are waltzing in front of them. (There will probably only be one or two waltzes at any given contra dance, but they'll most likely be played as dance music, unlike most of your examples.) Something more like this.
posted by hades at 11:45 PM on February 17, 2015

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