How to Hear the Beat in the Music

How to Hear the Beat in the Music

 Learning to hear the different beats in music is like learning a new language. When you first start to learn a foreign language, it seems as if all the words run together into one long sentence. However,after you get familiar with the words, and get used to listening to the foreign language, each word becomes clear and easy to identify.

Music is a language; a very easy language to learn. It basically hasfour main words. One; Two; Three; Four.

One or First Beat, is the strongest sounding beat in each measure of music.

Two or Second Beat, is a light sounding beat following the strong First Beat.

Three or Third Beat, is a strong beat but not as strong as the First Beat.

Four or Fourth Beat, is the lightest beat in the measure or bar of music.

Waltz music is the exception to the rule with only three beats of music.

The first beat is heavily accentuated and it is followed by two light beats. The rhythm is – heavy, light, light – heavy, light, light.


 The first step in dancing to the music is to identify whether the style of the music has an American flavor, or a Latin flavor.

American Style songs, like Swings or Foxtrots (e.g. Frank Sinatra style), are easy to identify. The music has a heavy base drum sound on the First Beat that makes you want to tap your foot down. A good exercise, while standing or sitting, is to practice tapping the foot on the First Beat and the Third beat of music – leave the heel on the floor and lift the front of the foot on the second and fourth beat. After getting comfortable hearing and tapping on the First and Third beats, start stepping on those beats instead of tapping.

Dances in the Latin Style tend to have a Latin flavor to all of them. However, they can have many rhythmic variations within the style. Slow melodious Latin songs, like Rumba, are the easiest to dance and identify. Rather than a feeling of tapping with the foot the First beat on the Rumba makes you want to move.

American bands, playing Latin music, play easier to hear beats than Latin bands because they use drummers. Since most Latin Bands do not have drummers, many times you feel more like a “tempo” or a “pulse” – a wave that carries you, rather than hearing a clear beat (e.g. like feeling a pulse in someone’s wrist). Some dances like Cha-Cha have a strong staccato feeling while others, like Samba, have more of a bouncy feeling. The best exercise for Latin Music is to listen to a lot of Latin songs. Do not try to hear the beats, or dance to them. Just listen to the music and let your body respond to it when it wants to. After a while all four beats of the music will become very obvious.

Like any foreign language, learning to hear the beats in the music requires practice. Listen to dance music and let the music move you as you concentrate on other things. There will be two benefits to this practice; the beats will become very obvious to you, and you will develop a very strong sense of rhythm.