August 2014 | 2 Music Tips for Dance Teachers | Interpreting Accents


Interpreting Accents

By Nina Pinzarrone

Tip 1
An accent is an emphasis on a note or chord. There are four kinds of accents in music.

  1. Metric accents are determined by the time signature and occur naturally on the downbeat or first beat of the
    bar. They are also influenced by the changing of harmonies (i.e., the chords) within each bar.
  2. A dynamic accent is an emphasis created when notes or chords are louder than the surrounding ones.
  3. A tonic accent is caused by the playing of a higher pitch, usually resulting from a leap in the melodic line (in choreographic terms, e.g., a grand jeté).
  4. An agogic accent is produced when one note is held longer than the others, either by placing a fermata sign above the note or by default (the longer duration of a melody note in relation to its surrounding notes). Reference a series of bourrées followed by a pose in arabesque.

Tip 2
Dancers’ counts for a ballet class depend on the metric accents. Dancers count differently from musicians, which can make playing for ballet class confusing for the pianist. Dance teachers usually organize a class exercise into groups of 8 counts for each movement phrase.

As a general rule, the slower the tempo (speed) of the music, the more dancers’ counts there will be in each bar of music; the faster the tempo, the fewer the counts in a bar. For example, in a bar of 3/4 meter, there are three musicians’ counts or beats; if it is a moderato to adagio tempo, it might be three dancers’ counts, but if it’s allegro, there could be only one dancers’ count.


Nina Pinzarrone, pianist at San Francisco Ballet since 1992, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Illinois and has recorded seven CDs for ballet class.