Over the years the same questions arise about how to choreograph and how to know when to do what in the music. There is a basic formula I would love to share that I hope will aid in opening your musical ear that my students really respond well to, so I hope it resonates well with you too.
The first thing to do is to break down each phrase with each instrument falling into one of the following categories:
1. Base line: This is what keeps the tempo of the piece and often in Middle Eastern music will showcase the rhythm.
2. Melody: It can be sung by a vocalist or expressed by an instrument and is the main theme of the song.
3. Accents: These are in my opinion where the dancer can show her personality even more. These are typically short musical bursts or a one beat sound at times that add flair to the piece.
4. Supporting Line(s): These are any additional lines of music that run throughout the piece and support the base or melodic lines.
5. Silence: Gorgeous moments where the entire orchestra or sound stops in its entirety giving a sense of completion in a phrase, drama, or pause in the music.
As we continue to grow in our musical journey, it will become easier and easier to hear all of the various lines of music in a composition and name the instrument used. In songs where an orchestra is playing, it is not uncommon to hear up to 20 different instruments, at times each with its own moment or part in the composition. Trust me I would know, I played in an orchestra for 10 years with anywhere from 30-120 band members.
So how do we make choreography out of this? Simple…once you know the rhythm of the piece this will tell you the vibe/style you are going for. A saidi beat is going to call for a very earthy, “doum” heavy feel, while a lighter rhythm such as maqsoum for example will lend itself well to a more lifted “Tak” heavy feel. If it is beledi then soultry, gooey, and a more lax approach will be needed to match the 2 heavy doum’s in the beginning and so on a so forth.
Once you know this, make sure to highlight it at least once or twice in your choreography to show your respect for the rhythm(s) used in the piece.
From there, once you know what “feel” to give to your movement, then you must find the melodic line. This is typically in the chorus and is repeated one if not more times in the song. It is the part that is often most memorable. Think of Oulm Kathoum’s songs, you remember her singing, not the base line right?
Typically dancers will get stuck with melody and ignore 3 and 4, but don’t make that mistake.
Oh How I love these! In songs such as yearning by Raul Ferrando you can hear these in the one beat cymbal crashes, the violin answers to the melodic line and etc…
Do not go overboard and do every accent though. Like every line we have discussed, reference it a couple of times or in a balanced manner and show your personality.
Supporting lines can be the most difficult to decipher. There can often be 1 if not over 10 depending on the piece. These typically run through multiple phrases, and can bolster the melody or boost the base line. As dancers, bringing these lines out in your piece will give much needed variation to your choreography.
Finally we have the beauty of silence. In music silence is a quantifiable object with various notations that tell the performer when and for how long to pause. For a dancer silence is golden! It is a moment to hold a pose, create drama with a stare/facial expression, or hold a move in suspension…all ways of adding major brownie points to your piece.
My advice is to listen to a song over and over and over until you have written down what all these lines are for each music phrase, instrument for each, and from there pick and choose. You may find a certain supporting line only happens once in the entire song…bring it out then! Or perhaps the wonderful tremolo sound accenting the end of the chorus happens all 4 times it is repeated in the song. In that case ignore it once, highlight it once, and see if you want to bring out a supporting line the 3rd or 4th.
Have fun, and let me know if you dug this blog in the comments below :).