Understanding 6-counts with the Music

At its heart, there’s nothing like a good Swing Out, and the Swing Out is the perfect 8-count move. The Frankie Phrase (Swing Out from Closed, Swing Out, Swing Out, Circle) perfectly fits a phrase of most swing music.

However, 6-counts mixed in with your regular 8-counts make the dance more interesting. In fact, with some 6-counts mixed in for variety, those great 8-counts feel even more juicy than if you just danced 8-counts all night.

Understanding the Music

Most swing music is structured with 4 8-counts making up a phrase of music. That all adds up to 32 beats in total to make up the entire phrase (4 X 8 = 32). This is true of most standard swing songs like I’m Beginning to see the Light (example below), T’Aint What You Do, Shiny Stockings, My Baby Just Cares for Me, etc. Just be aware that some songs like Kansas City are 12-bar blues, which means 6 8-counts to a phrase, and take longer to get to the end of the phrase.

When visualizing this, it helps to look at each phrase of the music using a chart. Here’s a chart that shows the standard 32 beat structure and I’ve put in the lyrics to show where they fit into the phrase. Each group of 4 8-counts makes up one phrase of the music, with four rectangles on each line. When you put 4 of these phrases together, it makes a full chorus. I’m Beginning to See the Light is a nice example. In a chart it looks like this:

I never cared much for moonlit skies I never wink back at fireflies But now that the stars are in your eyes  I’m beginning to see the light
 I never went in for afterglow  Or candlelight on the mistletoe But now when you turn the lamp down low I’m beginning to see the light
Used to ramble through the park Shadowboxing in the dark Then you came and caused a spark That’s a four-alarm fire now
I never made love by lantern-shine I never saw rainbows in my wine But now that your lips are burning mine  I’m beginning to see the light

By the way, musicians don’t talk about 8-counts, they talk about bars. There are 4 beats in a bar so from their perspective, instead of 4 8-counts in the phrase, there are 8 bars in the phrase. Same counting, different language.

Most standard swing songs are 32 beats to the phrase. Some quick examples include All That Meat and No Potatoes (Beginner Warm Up), I’m Beginning to see the Light (above), T’Aint What You Do, Shiny Stockings, Stompin’ at the Savoy, etc. Just be aware that not every song uses this structure, just most of them. Some songs like Kansas City are 12-bar blues, which means 6 8-counts to a phrase, and take longer to get to the end of the phrase.

You can mix up your moves in different ways to fit into those 32 beats, but it’s always nice to pay attention to the end of the phrase, especially in the parts of the song where there’s a marked break in the music.

6-Count Basics

The thing about 6-counts is that they don’t immediately seem like they fit the music, and you certainly don’t want to ignore the musical phrasing. When you start to think about 6-counts, it’s important to understand where you are within the musical phrase, because periodically, it’s nice to start on the “1” of the music again.

That’s why it’s nice to group your 6-counts in groups of 4, because that will put you back on the “1” of the music. This is especially important when you’re first learning. You can do 4 6-counts in the same amount of time that it takes to do 3 8-counts. It works very nicely to do 4 6-counts and then 1 8-count to mark the phrase. (Later on, you can mix it up a bit more.) 4 6-counts followed by 1 8-count will perfectly fit a phrase of most swing songs.

Like with the Frankie Phrase, it’s nice to have a basic default combination for 6-counts. Since we already have a phrase dedicated to Frankie Manning, I like to call my go-to 6-count sequence in Lindy Hop the Norma Phrase, in honour of Norma Miller. The Norma Phrase is an Under the Arch, Change of Places, Open Pass, Open Pass, and an 8-count Circle. You can see it contrasted here with a Frankie Phrase first, all in 8-counts, and then the Norma Phrase right afterwards.

Here’s a (fuzzy) video dancing with my dear friend Kevin Miller… No relation to Norma Miller. 🙂 We start with the Norma Phrase and then move on to other 6-count material:

The Frankie 6-Count Sequence

In our workshop on Sunday, we taught 2 variations of my favourite Frankie Manning 6-count sequence. In the first variation, we did 4 6-counts, and then we finished the phrase with with an 8-count circle. This works perfectly because 4 6-counts takes up the same amount of time musically as 3 8-counts, so when you start your circle you’re on 1 in the music. It fits one phrase of the music perfectly.

In the second variation, we added another 6-count so there were actually 5 6-counts in a row. That left 2 beats at the end of the phrase, which we punctuated with a little rhythm.

Here’s a visual chart of how it fits in with the music. I’ve put a Frankie Phrase first so that you can see the 4 8-counts together first, and because it’s always nice to start with a Frankie Phrase. Then you’ll see the two versions of the 6-count phrases afterward, followed by the quintessential Frankie combination with the Windmill and the Point & Curls.

Here’s a video of the 6-count sequence, first with the 4 6-counts and a circle, and then with the 5 6-counts and a rhythm.

Posted by Jim Yokota on Monday, May 22, 2017

How do you know it’s a 6-count?

When followers (naturally) wonder about how to tell the difference between a 6-count and an 8-count, it generally comes down to a sense of urgency. The more that leaders can give their 6-counts a “zippy” sense of urgency, the easier it is for us to respond with the back to back triple steps in a 6-count.

It also helps that with practice and familiarity, certain shapes just start to feel better with certain counts. The straight and stretchy feeling of a Swing Out is generally associated with an 8-count, with a redirection in the middle of the move. Rounder shapes like tuck turns feel better as 6-counts, unless you’re doing a double turn. Various types of passes, which are sort of straight but also feel nice with an arc shape to the line of travel, usually move in one direction without a redirection and they also feel good as 6-counts because the two back to back triple steps help to get you where you’re going.

All this takes practice, and that’s what foot fudging is for! When things don’t quite work out, your feet will fudge their way back to where they need to go. Don’t sweat it too much. Leaders will become more clear in their leading with practice, and followers will get better and better at rolling with the punches and adapting to the moves and counts without having to think about what count it is.

More Fun with 6-Counts

Looking for some more 6-count material? Here are some fun 6-count moves with my great pal, Zhenya Demchenko:

If you have questions about 6-counts, don’t hesitate to ask!

1 thought on “Understanding 6-counts with the Music

  1. This chart system makes it very clear how to fit my dancing to the music in a better way. The combination of various 6 count, 8 count and rhythm moves put together in patterns to fit the music gives me a much better understanding and new way of looking at things. I now feel I can improve at a better and more understandable pace. Thank you so much for clarifying……I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop……

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