Tag Archives: musicality

Musicality and Creativity Are Best Buddies

I just finished re-reading Rebecca Brightly’s post, Musicality Is Overrated, started to respond with a comment, and decided to write a post instead.  I recently wrote a bit about what I mean when I discuss musicality in Musicality: Macro and Micro, so my thoughts on the issue are fresh.


I think there are some strong comment responses because of the strong oppositional statements against musicality (“sucks”) and driving toward a new paradigm of creativity.

I don’t quite agree with the premises:

Ambiguity of Definition

I think this is easily combatted by thought, discussion, and definition of personal terms.  I mentioned how I use micro- and macro-musicality, but I could have used rhythmic- and expressive-musicality (Darn, those might be better terms since they imply their definitions).

Is it a problem that other people have different definitions for the same or similar phrases?  Not as long as we all know each others’ definitions.  What I think of as macro-musicality seems to closely align with Rebecca’s expression of creativity.  I think it might come close to a linguistic difference.

Impossibility of Teaching

I’ve used the exact same creativity exercise referenced in the original post, packaged as a musicality exercise.  I’ve gone through the process of walking through different variations and points in music where rhythm changes match up to the variation.  It doesn’t feel that difficult to me.  It does require more time, effort, and students ready to be receptive to the ideas (learning where best to apply existing knowledge as opposed to learning new material doesn’t feel like a good value to some people).

Intuitively Difficult to Understand

I think this probably flows from lack of definitions.  If I can define a thing more clearly, it’s able to be understood by other people more clearly.

Doesn’t Go Far Enough

I think this flows from a lack of definitions but might also come from a mental model of musicality that is limiting rather than embracing of new things.

Best Buddies

If, to this point, I sound like I don’t like what Rebecca Brightly wrote, I apologize.  I think I disagree with the framing, but we probably think about musicality differently and have different existing paradigms in our heads, which lead to different expression of ideas (Actually, that’s a great parallel for expressiveness in dancing).


Ultimately, I think that musicality and creativity go hand in hand.  If Rebecca Brightly says “creative expression” and I say “musical expression” and we mean about the same thing, is that so terrible?  I don’t think so.  Do I think it has to mean the exact same thing?  Probably not.  Creativity could cover a large number of meanings, as could musicality.  There could be musical parts of dancing that minimize creativity and creative things which aren’t musical.  So no, there isn’t 100% overlap.  At the end of the day, when I read about this phrase “creative vision” as applied to Lindy Hop, I think to myself, “Those are my words for an aspect of musicality.”


It’s apparent that another source of stimulation for Rebecca Brightly is the presence of sources for stimulating the creative process.  I really love this too, and am checking out a number of the sources she references.  I’m obsessed with process.  I’m convinced that a big difference between dancers who improve and dancers who don’t improve is the processes they use (if any).  The pedagogy of teaching musicality is a subject that’s rich for mining, I think.  I’d looove to have that discussion!


One of the main reasons that I started writing about how I think about dancing was to get contrasting views, and for this reason alone, I loved reading the post.  I got some pointers to cool resources and got a peek inside someone else’s thought process.

Musicality: Macro and Micro

I thought I’d just briefly write something down about how I discuss musicality.  If you think about it in different ways, I’d love to hear about it.  In broad terms, I think of musicality as coming in two flavors, macro and micro.


To me, macro-musicality is the general feeling and atmosphere inspired by a song or a section within a song.  I think I first awakened to the idea during a class by Sean and Tonya Morris during the first Inspiration Weekend (2008?).  They played Savoy Blues (Kid Ory), and asked us to react to the eight eight-counts, then feel how the following section and various solos created different feelings.  “Holy crap, they totally do,” I thought.  It hadn’t penetrated my mind that if I listened closely to the music, I could really be conscious of how it made me feel or that I could reflect those feelings in my dancing.

The opening to Savoy Blues is pretty staccato and upbeat.  The next section has more two-beat draws, which feels more like movement should be drawn out or legs should be swept around or something like that (the last part of this is in the Amazon sample).  The early part of the next section has long trombone draws with a quick clarinet counterpoint, transitioning into solo clarinet with long held notes and trill/vibrato (the first part of this is in the Amazon sample).  Then the trumpets break in for a really brassy, higher-energy solo… etc, etc, etc.  If one dances the same way to each of these sections, one’s not really listening to the music.  They have different energies which can be reflected in posture, energy, even facial expression.


Micro means small, right?  I think of micro-musicality as the matching footwork rhythms to rhythms in the music.  If there’s a beat that’s slightly different from the standard triple rhythm, can I match it?  If there’s a draw, can I do that instead of my 7-8?

How about a visual example?  Sure!  I think Nick Williams and Nikki Marvin accomplish both types of musicality here, but I especially like watching the footwork and how the moves get modified in relation to the music.

Nick Williams and Nikki Marvin – US Open Swing Dance Championships 2010 Strictly Lindy Winners


The whole thing is a clinic in micro-musicality.


Lots of fun, lots of ideas.  Did you catch this moment at 1:08?  Pure awesome.  The entire dance is full of moments like that, but I hate gushing.  Hate it.




How do you think about musicality?  Do you have a different paradigm that you fit things into?  Contrasting definitions of the same words?  More precision?  I’d really like to know how other people think about this.