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Blog #51 Music Through the Ages: Can I use any music with my dancers?

Classical Music and Circle K

Did you know that convenience stores often play classical music outside their entrance to discourage people from hanging around? Why? Why do you think classical music would have that kind of power?

I would speculate that the layers of rhythm, harmonies, structure, etc in classical music is just too much information for untrained (music-wise) minds to really appreciate; it's noise rather than music to them. They would likely simply say they don't like it, but my guess is that they don't like it because it's an overwhelm of information for them (and likely a little too happy as well! lol)

Now if classical music is a deterrent for some, it's obviously got some power to it, right? We experience that power every day in the studio! Your dancers jump, bend, stretch and plie as they respond to the melodies, harmonies and rhythms that they hear.

The challenge is, is all music, all ages appropriate? Does it matter what music you use with your different aged dancers?

Let's chat music selection in dance class, shall we?!

Children at different ages appreciate different music. That becomes extremely apparent if you've got a toddler who wants to listen to cute music and your 7 year old is yelling at you to turn it off! lol.  Or your 8 year old enjoys musicals but your 15 year old wants to listen to rock.  You may subconsciously already operate under that mindset, but there are teachers who don't necessarily consider it so I feel like it's worth discussing.

SIDE NOTE: First off, if you're using orchestral music for choreography (keep in mind few families listen to classical music anymore), be prepared to sit your dancers down and spend some time listening to it and clapping the beats, clapping the bars.. listening to the structure of it and guiding your dancers to hear and understand it!

The qualities of music to consider are:

  • key signature (major or minor, happy or sad generally)
  • rhythm
  • tempo, and
  • meter

Now, let's talk age groups with this in mind!

Young Children (ages 3-5 ish)

  • Key Signatures: These sweet little ones are EXTREMELY susceptible to emotional manipulation from what they hear. If you play music in a minor key, especially slower tempos, they'll feel sad, the 3 year olds might even cry, and it's TOTALLY the music. Keep it major if the music is slow, if it's quicker, you can go minor sometimes but honestly, major is highly recommended. :D
  • Music Types: 2/4s, 6/8s and 4/4s. You can use 3/4s with them, but you'll notice that you need to really explain the musicality of using the time between the dancer counts otherwise they won't really utilize it and you might as well stick with duple meter. 6/8s for skips and galops from the corner are perfect, but, be sure to use music with an anacrusis otherwise they'll be behind the music over and over again and you won't know why (no anacrusis in the music, means no trigger for the hop!).

Children (Ages 6-11)

  • Key Signatures: I still recommend using primarily major key signatures.
  • Music Types: 3/4, 6/8 adagios, polka, polonaise, mazurka, rag, tango, minuet, Spanish 3/4s, 9/8s,  hornpipes, galops, marches, sarabands, gavottes, bossa novas, jotas, jazz, tarantellas, Viennese waltzes, Lyrical waltzes, 12/8s adagios, etc.  If you're thinking, WHAT!?! I could never use those with my dancers, then I challenge you to open your mind to the possibilities available to you! Each one of these music types are a treasure in their own way. Each one of them supports movement and qualities that you are training in your dancers!

Dancers age 12+

  • Key Signatures: Major, minor, blues major and minor, atonal, pentatonic, etc.
  • Music Types: All of the above, PLUS blues (I only use the blues with older dancers because I believe the message and harmonic depth in the blues requires more depth of emotion than a child would typically be aware of, the same as I would NEVER use a tango with 4 year olds, it's just not age/experience appropriate), 5s, and 7s. Basically anything you can think of, they should be able to handle, BUT AGAIN, like I mentioned above.. be ready to spend time listening, counting and clapping some of it. Knowledge is power and will help you build musically intelligent dancers!


Classical music can be powerful, orchestral classical music is the cream of the crop, BUT, you've got to know when and how to use it. Simpler music for younger minds with less music training is key.  Complex rhythms or harmonies in the music you use with your young dancers serves no purpose; they won't understand it or be able to count it.. thereby, they definitely won't be able to dance effectively to it. I see dancers taking class who are totally off the music.. it's possible they're not really listening, but it's also very possible that they don't understand it. Understanding the rhythms, the meter, the dancer counts, etc is so incredibly important! 

If you've read this and are thinking "wow, I don't even know how to count or use some of that music..", then maybe it's time for you to grab your own musical training so that you're empowered to pass on the knowledge clearly!

I've created a course just for you called The Official Music Training Course for Ballet Teachers (The OMTC)! Registration is open currently and due to it's self-study set up, you can jump in immediately after you register. If you've already registered but haven't worked on it lately, then consider this your gentle kick in the backside to keep working on it!

Love, Joy and Music to you! Lorel

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