Mastering 8- and 6-count Moves in Lindy Hop

Why Do We Mix Up the Counts in Lindy Hop?

How well do you understand the concept of mixing together 6-count and 8-count moves in Lindy Hop?

⭐Before reading this blog post, it’s important to first understand the way that the music is structured. Please read our blog post, Understanding Music Structure for Lindy Hop. Once you’ve understood that, you’ll be ready to actually put moves together to fit the musical phrases.

Both Leaders and Followers are equally responsible for understanding how to listen and dance to the music.

Followers, feeling pretty good about your relationship to the music? Interested in testing yourself? If you really want to challenge how present you are to the music, work through our Trading 8s course with your partner and see how you do.

Some thoughts from Jo on this:

“Since 2017, when Kevin and I started teaching Trading 8s, the importance of phrasing became even clearer to me.

As a longtime dancer, I thought I understood how the music worked, but when I changed my mindset and was leading/guiding the dance, I relied heavily on phrasing to help me make better and interesting musical choices.”

More from Jo on that in a bit…

Why Mix Counts?

Now if you’re new to the dance, or even if you’ve been dancing for a little while, you may have wondered why there are moves in Lindy Hop that take a different number of counts.

When you get a hold of how 6- and 8-count steps can work together in the music, you’ll be able to piece those steps together fluidly.

We should also mention that this isn’t just 6- and 8-count moves either. There can be 4-count or 10-count moves or more! In fact, if you were to really break things down, most moves are compiled of combinations of 2-count concepts:

  • step step or rock step
  • triple step
  • hold step

Those are each two count building blocks. For the purpose of this article, we’ll set hold steps aside but the same concept applies to the way Charleston and Jig types of patterns are organized (kick step is a type of hold step).

It’s All About the Music

As always, the music comes first. Musicians play and work together within a structure and it behooves us as dancers to do the same. This will enable you to be more musical and to better communicate with your partner through the music. Again, before going any further, please make sure you’ve ready our blog post: Understanding Music Structure for Lindy Hop.

Get the PDF for Understanding Jazz Music for Lindy Hop👈
Get the PDF for Mixing 6-Count & 8-Count Moves👈

First let’s look at 8-counts.

As an example of 4 X 8-counts to fit a standard 32-beat musical phrase.

One of the best ways to start to fit a standard phrase of music is to use what many people call the Frankie Phrase. It makes a great default combination to most swing songs:

  1. Swing Out from Closed
  2. Swing Out
  3. Swing Out
  4. Circle

It’s a perfect little musical and danceable package (and often seen in competitions)!

But getting back to the idea of 6-counts, if the music is structured in groups of 4-bars or 8-counts, then why the heck do we do ever do 6-counts?

Well to begin with, if all we ever did were 8-counts, to be honest it would feel a little obvious and, quite frankly, boring! 8-counts are the foundation of the dance and they fit the music wonderfully, but it can start to feel repetitive if all you’re dancing are 8-counts.

In addition to adding some contrast to your dancing, 6-count moves has a wonderful way of making the dance feel more active. Peppy even. They take up less time while allowing you to maintain a good amount of movement.

Just think of the way that a 6-count move has two back-to-back triple steps. Those two triple steps are usually used for movement and traveling and add an important dynamic to the dance. If you’re always breaking up your triple steps with “step steps” in between like we do with 8-count moves, you can lose the feelings of agility and variety.

But don’t lose the love for your eight-count moves either! If all you ever did was 6-counts, you would never feel musical. You really need both for a dynamic, balanced, and interesting dance.

So how do they work together?

Loving Fractions — For Real!

Whether you liked math in school or not, this is a fractions game. But don’t let that scare you, let it liberate you!

A musical phrase can be split up in a number of ways. In the same amount of time that you do 4 8-count moves, you could also do 4 6-count moves and one 8-count phrase ender.

Here’s a visual comparison of an 8-count phrase and a 6-count phrase.

This is the most common 6-count phrase, because it feels so nice with the music.

Here’s another option:

Remember, when you do a 6-count move, it’s going to offset where you are in the music so that the next move no longer starts on 1. You don’t ever want to forget about the music so having an awareness of where you are in the song is something you should always keep in mind. That way you’ll be ready to react and take advantage of the punctuation at the end of the musical phrase.

32-Bar Jazz

Once again, please make sure you’ve read our blog post about Understanding the Structure of Jazz Music before moving on.

For a standard 32-Bar song (AABA, ABAB, or similar), there are two primary ways to fit your moves into each phrase of the music.

  • 4 X 8-counts in a row for each phrase
  • 4 X 6-counts in a row + 1 X 8-count

The math:

  • 4 X 8 = 32 beats
  • 4 X 6 + 8 = 32 beats

Here’s that visual comparison again:

It takes 4 6-count moves before you get back on the 1 in the music. Those 6 count moves don’t have to be all in a row. But it usually feels pretty good to put them all together and when you’re new at dancing, make sure to get a good handle on doing 4 together before getting into too much crazier combining. Otherwise, it can be really easy to lose your place! Remember, the music comes first.

When Jo first started Trading 8s, she really found this idea helpful. These are a few of her thoughts about it:

“What I enjoyed about the simplicity of those two mathematical formulas is that it made me feel like I could dance at a higher intellectual level, despite my fairly new leading skills,” said Jo. To help her gain confidence in her decision-making skills sooner, she would “practice leading” an imaginary partner in order to hone her musicality skills.

We’ve noted a some more phrase combinations here that start to get a bit unusual but still technically work:

*Note: These are individual phrase examples, not a chorus!

Here’s another helpful visual that compares 4-count bars, which musicians use, to 8-counts and 6-counts… and even 4-count moves can come in handy.

12-Bar Blues Structure

When dancing to a 12-bar blues, you could actually just do nothing but 6 counts and you’d be back on 1 of the music at the beginning and the middle of every phrase. This fits nicely, but don’t forget how great it feels to do 8-counts in your Lindy Hop too!

There are less obvious ways to mix 6-counts in with your 8-counts. Here are some visual examples:

Positioning Your Moves in All the Right Places

Macro to Micro

In a standard 32-bar song, it’s nice to use your extra cool moves as a big punctuation at the end of the chorus, which is the culmination of 4 phrases. That’s true of both AABA and ABAB songs. (Again, make sure you’ve read our blog about Music Structure.)

One of the best ways to start to add contrast into your dancing is to position your 6-count sequences during the part of the music that feels the most different. That’s often the bridge of the song.

Then there are the places that feel really good for moves that “break” or are extra cool. Based on how swing music is played, the end of the phrase does tend to be the ideal place to put a cool and flashy moves, as that’s usually when the song is feeling the most climactic. However, you don’t always have to just stop and break at the end of every phrase. That might feel really good fairly often, but doing it at the end of every phrase starts to feel a little dull and exhausting. When you’re practicing, focus on hitting the end of the phrase, and when you’re out social dancing, have fun with the music however you’d like.

AABA Example

Since the Bridge (section B) feels the most different in this structure of song, 6-counts are a great way to highlight that change in the melody.

Here’s a song example using ‘Taint What You Do. Can you visualize yourself dancing to 8-counts for the “A” phrases and 6-counts for the “B” bridge?

ABAB Example

With the alternating nature of this structure of song, alternating the way you position your moves can feel really musical.

Imagine yourself dancing one phrase of 8-counts and then one phrase of 6-counts with a Phrase Ender to Shiny Stockings –

Remember, these are not the only ways to dance, but they’re great learning tools to help you understand swing music and how things fit together. If you don’t know a lot of moves yet, these structures are also useful for making what you do know feel more musical, dynamic, and less repetitive!

Using Trading 8s to Develop Musical Skills

As a Follower, when Jo and Kevin started working on Trading 8s, Jo learned that if she started her phrase with an 8-count, it felt right to then stick with 8-count moves until the end of my phrase. However, if she started with a 6-count move, she would do 4 of those in a row and then add one 8-count so she would stay within the musical phrase.

“As Kevin and I have continued to trade 8s, I find myself working within units of 4. It gives me a greater sense of freedom in being able to mix and match moves and movement where I can double rockstep somewhere if I need to or connect moves in an unusual way so that I can still end the phrase exactly where I would like to.

I wanted to gain the learning curve so I would practice this solo. I would put on some music and then walk myself through various ideas. So I would do an entire song with as many 8-count figures I could come up with (totally fine to repeat moves, of course) or I would practice sections of 6-count figures. And then as I got more comfortable, I would start alternating phrases of 8-counts and then phrases of 6-counts. As I got stuck I would try to figure out why and how to fix where I was.

I even went as far as to mathematically map this out so I understood what different types of options I had to add up to four 8-counts. That gave me an initial roadmap and at some point I also had to let that go and just listen to the music and feel in to where I was. Knowing that I spent so much time training on this, I could trust that my body would start to naturally end up where it needed to be.”

The other fun thing about musical phrasing is that whoever is guiding is not solely responsible for all this musical understanding. Both dancers, Leader and Follower, are listening to the music and hopefully you’re both also there to support each other to acknowledge the musical phrase.

If you haven’t checked out our Trading 8s course yet, you can find it here.

Bringing It Home

Get the PDF for Understanding Jazz Music for Lindy Hop👈
Get the PDF for Mixing 6-Count & 8-Count Moves👈

Have you got any tricks that have helped you with the musical phrasing? What about some great song examples to help others practice? Let us know in the comments!

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