Exploring Movement and Music

We’ll start simply by exploring your natural bodily responses to music. Though we call them “natural,” they are a combination of innate characteristics of your body and mind with habits and patterns you’ve learned from the people and cultures that surround you.

As we explore your natural bodily responses to music, we’ll also think about predictability, since this is a priority of the system of time signatures.

You’ll likely find that some music doesn’t invite much movement. Often, this is because it’s hard to predict what will happen next and/or exactly when it will happen. Some of this music may be written or imagined with time signatures, but in a way that’s difficult to perceive. Some of it may be created without reference to a time signature at all. Figuring out how to describe this music with time signatures may be impossible or inadvisable, or require a lot of work (“I decided where to put all the downbeats, but the time signatures are constantly changing”), or atypical uses of the system (“I wrote it out in 4/4 for convenience, but don’t pay attention to the downbeats because they don’t seem emphasized in the music”).

A lot of music, however, invites movement through a certain amount of predictability: we have a sense of when important events are likely to happen in the music, so we can move our bodies to align with these. When this is the case, the time signature system prioritizes regular/consistent motion that aligns with important events (long notes, chord changes, bass notes, etc.) in the music as often as possible.

Regularity/consistency is particularly important here, so we encourage you to use bodily motions that are easy to keep at a consistent speed. Large-muscle motions are usually best because it’s fairly obvious when we start accidentally doing them at a different speed; these motions include swinging your whole arm, swaying your body, nodding your head, and even tapping your toes. If you use small-muscle actions like tapping your fingers, clapping your hands, or using a vocal syllable, you may find yourself accidentally tracking different speeds at different times (that is, following what some people call the “rhythm” rather than the “meter.”)

Activity: Explore music and movement

Goal: Explore how you naturally move to music


  1. Listen to the following songs. For each, allow your body to move to the music in some way. Which body part(s) are you moving? Are your motions repetitive (head nods, body sways, toe taps) or more interpretive (playing an “air instrument” or moving continuously through space)? How fast are you moving? Can you specify what in the music you are responding to?
  2. If you weren’t engaging in repeated, consistent movements, try to find something you can do over and over to the music at a basically consistent speed. If you can do this, what are you aligning with in the music? Optionally, use a metronome or metronome app’s tap function to determine the speed of your repetition in beats per minute.
  3. If step 2 worked for you, try to find a slower way to move to the music. How is this different? Is it easier or harder? Then try to find a faster way to move to the music. How is this different? Is it easier or harder?


Suggest a song for this playlist!


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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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