How to find the 1? The question that almost every dancer had to deal with. It is the famous downbeat that all Salsa steps start from.
Finding “the 1” is one important skill that dancers should focus on when they start to dance. It’s where the music patterns start each bar, and therefore it is musically fitting to start dance patterns on the same beat. More than that if both the follower and the leader are dancing on the same beat, it gives us a mutual ground on which we can easily “communicate” and dance harmoniously on.
Finding “the 1” can be a challenge. Salsa has a relatively complex structure, and unless you grew up listening to it, chances are that your ears are not trained to easily recognize the patterns. Most students take between 3 to 8 months, of conscious training before they start to feel comfortable with finding “the 1”. But there are often people that get it faster, or slower. It’s all good, in the end, if you put your mind to it, with the right guidance and effort you will get there.
Below are a few recommendations if you want to speed up the process:
Practice Practice Practice…and do it consciously
I have tried to teach finding the 1 to many students, and most of my sophisticated methods of teaching usually fell short of the simple method of simple practice. You want to find the 1? there’s no magic about it – practice practice practice.
Finding the 1 is a skill that for the most part comes from a feeling rather than any theoretical knowledge. Choose a song and practice your favorite patterns. Do it a lot, and when that song becomes easy, choose a new song. If you get used to enough songs, you will start developing a general sense of finding “the 1” in Salsa.
One important tip – train consciously. What do I mean by that? Don’t ignore the music – the beat and “the 1”. When you practice, try to do it with music, and start anew every time you are not on the right beat.
Don’t be afraid to count. Count when you practice, count when in class, count when dancing in the club (silently, in your heart). It will help you a lot, and eventually, the need to count will disappear.
Hear the music…and do it consciously.
Our mind is an incredible machine, it is incredibly good at recognizing patterns intuitively if it encounters them enough times. It is not any different when it comes to music. If you listen to enough songs, your ear will get used to typical patterns of that genera. So if you want to find “the 1”, make yourself a list and listen to it many, many times. Put it when you take a shower, put it as your alarm clock, put it when you are stuck in traffic, put it everywhere – and you will see a difference.
While our lovely brain will analyze the Salsa patterns even unconsciously, a conscious practice will make a shorter work of it. So when you hear the songs, try to actively count or find “the 1”.
Go to classes
This might be obvious to some, but if you “learn on the dancefloor” you don’t receive professional feedback. A good teacher should be able to give you feedback, direct you and activate your mind to finding the 1 and how it relates to different patterns and figures.
So find a good teacher, and go to classes.
Some simple music theory won’t hurt
In my experience, deep music theory classes won’t help most students finding “the 1”. Music theory is extremely useful for higher levels when you already have a sense of the music, but not so much for developing a sense of the downbeat.
There is one tip that I can give without going into deep details – the confirmation method. It can help you practice and confirm with yourself if you were right or wrong.
- Find the beat – Start by finding the beat. For most people, the beat is intuitive, and you immediately start to tap with your feet on the beat when you hear the music.
- Take a guess – One of these beats – is “the 1”. Great, but which of those? Well, go for the one the feels right.
- Confirmation – Now, keep on counting, if you count the 1 about 16 times and it feels alright – you were probably right. If at one point it feels like you counted 1 too early or too late to correspond to a major note or change in the music, you were probably wrong…try again 🙂
Take a private class
If nothing else works, take a private class. In a private class, you can receive custom-tailored help for your problems – it can do magic for you. If you are having a hard time, I highly recommend taking the private with a highly experienced teacher. The art of musical sense development teaching is actually quite complex, and highly experienced methodological teachers can have the input and methods of teaching that can create miracles.
Tools that can help
Some tools can be of great help.
One of my favorite tools is the Salsa beat Machine. You can play around with different patterns, guess where is the one, and then activate the “Instructor” to confirm if you match his count. It’s also a great tool to get to know typical musical Salsa patterns.
Some YouTubers upload songs that include counting. Here is one example of a famous (if overplayed) song:
There is much more to be said, but these are the main tools I could recommend, that work according to my teaching experience.
Happy counting 🙂
The owner of La Candela. A Dancer and a certified teacher for Cuban dances for over 10 years. Studied under many Cuban teachers, including with Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba for a longer period of time.