Choreography Creation: Song Mapping

Mariza performing "Andah Aleik"

Step 2: Song Mapping

I’m going to blog along as I work on a choreography to “Andah Aleik” for my duo, io. Feel free to leave a comment with your process–I’m curious to know how people approach choreography. I’m going to take it step by step! Except sometimes I don’t always follow these steps. Whatevs. I hope it will be useful to you as you work on your own choreographies…or I hope you find it vaguely amusing. 🙂

Truth time: I don’t always do the FULL SONG MAP EXPERIENCE(tm). A lot of section description/energy level stuff is just sort of in my brain and I don’t always write it out. But now I’ve got a blog to update, so… 😉

TL;DR:

  1. Section out the song based on musical changes
  2. Write down the counts and timestamps of each section
  3. Name or briefly describe each section
  4. Give each section an energy level out of 10

Every time I start a choreography I think to myself, “this is it. This is the song I won’t be able to crack. It’s an IMPENETRABLE MUSICAL FORTRESS.” Usually this feeling goes away sometime during the song mapping process, where I start to understand the structure of the song a little better. It does feel like I have a map to navigate the world of the song. A lot of how I do this is thanks to Ruby Beh.

Sections and Counts

Since you’ve listened to the song 100 times, it should be pretty easy to section the song out by musical changes. Usually a new section is indicated by instrumental and/or rhythmic changes–these are a little easier to find in the “classic” songs. Pop songs often have little musical variation but fall into a verse/bridge/chorus structure.

Once I have the sections, I go one by one and tally the counts–I track the number of 8-count phrases (assuming the song is 4/4). I just sit there and make tally marks as the song plays, then add it all up later.

One benefit to writing these out is that you can be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to planning movements (cutting down on those “oh crap, I missed that phrase” situations). Writing them out also makes patterns in the songs more apparent, which can help you decide where to mirror motifs in your choreography (if you like).

I find it really useful to write down timestamps for each section. This comes in handy when you are cutting the song into your practice sections or if you are listening to the full song and want to skip to a particular part.

How many sections do you need? This is up to your whims and desires. I like shorter sections because it’s less overwhelming for me to choreograph short portions at a time, so I get a little section-happy. What I did with Andah was note the primary “big” sections, and then create sub-sections. And then sub-sub-sections. This is all based on how I think I want to choreograph the chunks. The song map is for your reference, so there really isn’t a “wrong” way to do it.

Descriptions

Characterizing each section helps me start making choices about movement, style, and emotion. Writing it out also makes it more apparent if there is a story emerging. That said, don’t force a narrative if you don’t feel one.

I sort of bounce between describing the story I feel in a section and describing what kind of movements I think I will want. Ruby recommends naming each section with something short and evocative. As I recall, Lisa Zahiya also has a “notes” section in her song maps for feelings, movements, etc. There are many ways to approach this. Whatever works for and inspires you!

Actual section names from song maps I’ve done:

  • Meow part
  • Sad swoops
  • Food baby / “I told you”
  • Round guitar
  • Crunchy guitar
  • Promcoming dance section

Energy Levels

Assigning an energy level to each section also helps narrow down what kind of movement to go for. Low energy doesn’t necessarily mean you are lying on the floor, just that you might not be moving as much as a high energy section. Another way to think of this is expansion vs. contraction: a high energy section will probably have a lot of traveling around the stage (expansion), and low energy may be more stationary and focus on internal movements (contraction).

But there’s more…the energy levels are relative to themselves in a song and may call for different treatments. For example: a lot of drum solos don’t really call for a lot of traveling (to my ear, anyway). A “drum solo 10” might be about fast isolations, whereas an “Andah 10” might be more about fast travel about the stage. You’ll notice in my map that I didn’t find any 10s in Andah–you don’t have to use the whole range.

Andah Aleik Song Map–First Pass

Here’s my first pass of the song map. As you can see, there is a “Floor Map” section in my table–that’s going to be in the next post. I had more to say about floor patterns than I thought. 😛 Keep in mind that a first pass is just that! I will probably make a lot of adjustments as I go along (energy levels in particular seem to change once I get in there).

SectionTimestampCountsFloor MapName/DescriptionEnergy Level
10:00-0:43n/a
Calling for you 3
2A0:44-1:028cts x 4
Here I am! 6
2B1:03-1:428cts x 16
Getting to know each other4
2B1:43-1:518cts x 4
Chase me8
2C1:52-2:118cts x 8
Building a partnership4
2C2:12-2:228cts x 4
Follow me8
3A2:23-2:548cts x 8
U Mad? / The future we could share 3
3B2:55-3:178cts x 6
I still have CONCERNS7
3B3:18-3:328cts x 4
Time apart but inevitably drawn back together3 (ramps up at end)
3C3:33-3:568cts x 6
OK, I’m into it7
3C3:57-4:128cts x 4
Whispering Wall2
3D4:13-4:278cts x 4
Winding roads 3
3D4:27-4:518cts x 6
Driving with the top down7
4A4:52-5:356cts x 20
Ups & Downs6
4B5:36-6:036cts x 12
Grounded–circular 2
4C6:04-6:306cts x 12
Ups & Downs–in passing6
4D6:31-6:586cts x 12
Grounded–circular2
4E6:59-7:206cts x 10+4ct transition
Ups & Downs–breath taken away6
57:21-8:168cts x 12+sparkles
Happily Ever After5

2 thoughts on “Choreography Creation: Song Mapping

  1. I’m really enjoying this series, and looking forward to seeing how your choreography comes out.
    I just wanted to add that when I’m song mapping, I sometimes draw little doodly, squiggly lines, to represent the melody or the musical emphasis, graphically. That might be something that helps people who are more visually orientated to identify the different sections.
    I’m in the middle of choreographing two class pieces right now, so this is really helping me to Focus!

    1. That’s awesome! Yes! I can totally see (…no pun intended) how it would help to have a graphical representation of the melody. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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