Music is about many things, pitch, dynamics, texture, mood etc. but most important for the dancer are the rhythms. I say rhythms because the percussive dancer is interested in the complexity of rhythmic ideas to be found within a piece of music, this is what makes it attractive to dance to, these rhythms can set a tune within a specific genre and within a particular tradition.
Generations of musicians and dancers have used tunes to explore ways of expressing themselves, by experimenting with new ideas and sifting the best time-tested ideas from the past, to develop exciting personal styles. The immediate attraction of Old Timey and Bluegrass music is the toe tapping infectious beat so let me start with that. .
The most basic beats in Old Timey and Bluegrass music are the ON and OFF beats...
Start by tapping a toe, clapping the beat and walking to the music, get the feel of it and move one foot after the other, keep it simple.
Sam Sherry (wonderful English Clog stepper) once accused me of making life difficult for myself and helped by saying,
"You've only got two feet, when you've used one, use the other!"
Clogging relies on the ON beats of the music for its basic structure - the loudest/stressed beats, are the ones that are most easily clapped the most natural to tap a toe or walk to, the beat the bass plays. Clap the beat and move to it.
When you are happy with the ON beat, find the OFF beat.
This is the lighter beat directly between the ON beats described:
&1&2&3&4&5&6&7&8&1 - this gives a regular sound of running or skipping.
The ON and OFF beats together sounds like a clock ticking:
-tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock
&1&2&3&4&5&6&7&8 - all even beats but twice as fast as before.
Try keeping up this steady rhythm - drop onto the right foot with a heavy sound tock then onto the left with a lighter sound tick - keep it going then have a go starting with the heavy beat on the left and the lighter beat in the right, keep low and enjoy the feel of getting in to the music and relaxing the knees. Use this step to dance in different directions, turn and really move to the music - like bopping.
Skipping is another good way to practice the rhythm, step on the ON beat tock, hop on the OFF beat tick. You will notice that the pattern can start with a light beat tick try this too, hopping first on a tick and stepping on a tock.
Walking on the ON beat and clicking the fingers on the OFF beat can be a good way to start getting the feel of a tune.