Aspects of Standard Ballroom Music, Part 4, Bars or Measures – by Chris Bruce

Chris and his wife Monika at a Dancesport competition.

Aspects of Standard Ballroom Music, Part 4, Bars or Measures


DK Ballroom Instructor Chris Bruce


In this series to date we’ve looked at Beat (the rhythmical pulse in music) and Tempo (the speed at which music is played, focusing on measuring Tempo in Beats per minute).

We listened to some soundbites in the last post which demonstrated the range of Tempos used in Standard ballroom, but those soundbites consisted of a monotonous series of drumbeats. We could march to this. Possibly we could dance to it. But where would we start? Where would we finish? Would we dance a Waltz or a Foxtrot?

Most western music, and certainly music used for Ballroom Dancing, is divided into rhythmic groupings of notes with a fixed number of Beats, which we call Bars or Measures.

For our Standard Ballroom Dancing, the music may have bars with 4, 3 or (occasionally) 2 beats.

The first beat of each bar is accented (or emphasised) and is known as the downbeat (if the music were being played by an orchestra, the conductor would swing his arm down for this beat).

If we have 4 beats per bar, we might visualise it like this:

Now let’s examine how it might sound. Listen to the following recording. We’re returning to our 90bpm drumbeat, but now it is broken into 3 beat measures, with beat 1 accented with a cymbal clash.

We're starting to see some structure to our music. We can go some way to working out what we can dance by counting how many beats we have in a bar. And we know where to start dancing – on the accented beat at the beginning of a bar.