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How to choose Salsa dancing music: 5 Tips for Beginners plus Spotify playlists [Article]

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

You may be starting out on your journey into becoming a budding Salsero (Salsa Dancer), or you’ve been dancing Salsa for a little while now and you are starting to become more interested in Salsa music as a whole. But how do you choose the right Salsa music for dancing when you’re a beginner? In this post we give you some essential tips for choosing the right Salsa dancing music for your particular style of Salsa dancing and your level of proficiency.

1) Listen for the instruments

We talked about the structure of Salsa Music in Chapter 3 of our ‘Salsa Dance: A Guide to nearly everything you need to know about Salsa dancing’ and how the traditional Salsa band would have been arranged. While the Clave dictates the main rhythm of the music, the Cowbell, the Montuno rhythm and the Tumbao rhythm all play important supporting roles. Other instruments such as the bass, strings, and flute lead our ears towards certain beats in the music and so as dancers we need to tune our ears to listen for these.

The Cowbell is played on the 1, 3, 5, and 7, so being able to hear the cowbell will help you find those core beats. The Montuno rhythm is often played by the piano and loops over the whole 8 counts, so finding tracks with a piano can be helpful in leading you to the ‘1’ count which is when the piano loop is likely to restart. The Tumbao rhythm is played with the conga drums and has a distinctive “cu, cum.. pa… cu, cum… pa”. The most basic tumbao rhythm pattern is played on the beats 2,3,4, and 6,7,8 therefore those dancing ‘On2’ can find tracks with a strong tumbao rhythm most helpful for directing them to the ‘2’ and ‘6’ which are the breaks steps when dancing ‘On2’ or ‘contra-tiempo’.

It is important to remember that whilst any style of Salsa dance can technically be danced to any style of Son arrangement, tracks with particular instruments and rhythms that are dominant to the ear will sound more danceable to certain styles of Salsa dance.

2) Choose music according to your Salsa dance style

The Casino or Cuban Salsa dancer these days will most likely be listening out for a Timba track. Timba is a mix of Son, Guaguanco and R&B beats with a heavy bass line. Timba evolved from Cuban Son. It should not be confused with Salsaton which is a mix of Salsa and Reggaeton developed since about 2006.

The Nuyorican Salsero will likely feel most comfortable with a Mambo track. Nuyorican salsa has a predominantly Puerto Rican sound with a jazz structure and lengthy instrumental sections which lend themselves to the dancer’s shines. Artists such as Willie Colon, Eddie Palmeiri, The Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Jimmy Bosch are popular with Nuyorican Salseros.

The LA Salsa dancer will want something with a continuous steady beat that leads well to the ‘1’. You would also want to know if you are looking for a Classic, Dura or Romantica track at this point. Via by Al Delory was an extremely popular track with LA Style Salsa dancers

3) Find music that’s appropriate for your level

Finding Salsa music which is appropriate to your level of proficiency is also important. Since the Salsa music arrangements can be very complex it can be useful to find Salsa music for beginners when you first start learning to dance Salsa. Examples of this would be some of the more commercial Salsa music with simpler musical arrangements such as 537 Cuba or El Kilo by Orishas.

As your ears become more adept at listening out for the different instruments in the arrangements you can explore many different styles of Son or Salsa music. Here are a number of playlists we’ve specially prepared for you:

4) Listen for Salsa party music

The Salsa songs that a DJ chooses to play at a Salsa social evening are designed to keep a lively, party atmosphere, so these are not often slow and easy tracks for Beginners.

If you’re a Beginner, then listening to many types of Salsa songs can help, especially some of the top ‘floor fillers’ of the time. Don’t be shy to Shazam a song you like when you’re at a Salsa party or why not ask the DJ for a few example tracks?

5) Ask your Salsa teacher to provide you with music lists

Your Salsa teacher should also be guiding you with music lists that would be appropriate for the style of Salsa that you are learning. If you’re struggling to find the beats in Salsa music then you may want to practice your moves first with some Salsa timing tracks before listening to the proper Salsa tracks.

In case you’re really stuck for music, here’s a list of 100 Top salsa songs for dancing prepared by us: 100 Top Salsa Dance Tracks by The Dance Guru so grab your dance shoes, turn up the volume and get dancing!

Today's Actionable Takeaways:

1) Follow our Salsa playlists on Spotify here: The Dance Guru

2) Join the gang.. subscribe to our FREE Social Dancer Membership area on the website so you never miss another blog post update.

3) Download your ultimate guide to Salsa dance from our FREE Social Dancer Membership area

4) Download your Beginner's guide to LA Style Salsa from our FREE Social Dancer Membership area

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