dancing ballet teacher

#5: Dancer counts vs. musicians counts: Basic Music Theory for Ballet Teachers

adagio triple meter beats dancer counts duple meter duple metre galop grand waltz how do i count a 4 musician beats musician counts plies tendus what are dancer counts? what are musician counts? what is the difference between dancer counts and musician counts? Oct 30, 2019

Music: an Integral Part of a Dancer's Life

For years as a dance student, you listened to music; you heard it, you felt it, and you danced to it. Now, you’re a teacher and you'd like to use it but you’re unsure/uncertain/scared about the counts vs the beats that musicians use.

Let me jump in here!


Triple Meter

Dancer Counts

Dancer counts are based on the feeling of the pulse in the music, or the accent, depending on how strong the music is! If a piece of music has a lot of notes, then you feel a pulse in it and that strong pulse is your dancer count.

In between your dancer counts is filler that is either counted as an “&”, or “& a”.

When you choreograph, you choreograph in sets of eight dancer counts plus the filler between them.

Let’s look at a waltz, for example (a standard 3/4, check out this blog post here for more waltz-y info!). You, as a ballet teacher, would hear 1 & a, 2 & a, 3 & a, 4 & a, etc. Your exercise would go until count 8 and then begin again at count 1. This pattern would carry-on until your exercise was complete.

Musician Beats

Now let's look at the musician beats for the same music, or the same triple meter as I fondly like to name all music based on 3.

You as a dance teacher have dancer counts followed by '&' and 'a', right? We. the musicians, acknowledge those same moments of time in the music, but we call them beats!

1 2 3 | 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 | etc.

There is much music for pianists that isn't remotely 'square', or based on sets of 8 dancer counts. However, once we’re playing for a dance class, we pivot our thinking from “hmm, this is a nice waltz” to, “perfect, it’s 32 bars long, it’s square. That should work! I’m just going to double check the phrasing in it.. yup, phrases of 8 bars, this will work for class."

The beautiful thing is, as you can see below, in a classic 3/4 piece of music, the dancer counts match the measures (or bars) of music! That's pretty brilliant if you're working with a musician, right?!

Just total the number of counts, and you've got the bars they need! 

*Unfortunately, this doesn't apply to ALL triple meter music, just to the waltzes and some adagios. To learn more about how to handle the 6/8s, the minuets, the mazurkas, the polonaises, etc, I recommend taking The Official Music Training Course for Ballet Teachers where I dig into each one of them in depth!

Duple Meter

Now let’s all take a look at the harder one, the duple meter music. This is music based on 2. So, 4/4s and 2/4s.

Dancer Counts

When you as a ballet teacher use a piece of music that is duple meter, you count it, 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7 & 8 &.

This could be a march, allegro, tendus, plies, pique turns, etc. There are all kinds of exercises that work with duple meter music since, like the triple meter category, there is a whole range of music and tempos to pick from. Technically, this music seems really easy to count, though, as mentioned in this blog post , counting a slow duple meter can be the death of some of us! (Shhh, don't tell anyone... even me, 20 years ago! lol

Musician Beats

The musician has something completely different depending on the speed. If they are using a slow piece of music for adage or pliés, they count the music (a 4/4), 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | etc.

For quicker duple exercises (allegro, frappe, degage/jete), your counting is the same, 1 & 2 & , etc. Our musician counting is different because the measures are shorter. Our music is phrased in 2 beat measures/bars 1 2 ,1 2 ,1 2 ,1 2 ,etc.

That shorter music structure supports shorter phrases in the music, and, ultimately for you, music phrases that match your dancer phrases of movement (for example: Jete, jete, jete temps leve) that are generally shorter during quick movements. Let's see what that looks like, musically!

So there's a saying, there's an exception to every rule, and that is definitely the case with the 2/4! The 2/4 depicted above is an allegro 2/4. It is NOT a galop (say what? galop? No! I want a coda for that! BLOG Post for that!).. which we all know and love for pique turns and fouettes!


In conclusion, there’s obviously much more on this topic that we can discuss but that’s all I'm going to talk about today! If you have enjoyed this short lesson and know that more music training would definitely appreciate your teaching skills faster than trial and error, then make sure you register for The Official Music Training Course for Ballet Teachers! If it's not open, then jump on that wait list!


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