How important is foot tapping when playing?

How important is foot tapping when playing?

I never used to bother but playing in session one person does it really loud and they told me that it is very important to their playing.

I ignored it at first but I was practicing with metronome again recently and then I started tapping with the metronome and suddenly I found it much more immersive somehow.

I used to think it was just a nearly useless aesthetic preference but perhaps there is more to it?

I actually realised there are other ways I would move to the beat in the past but never thought of it as time keeping but when I experimented a little more since the tap revelation I realised it had the same effect. When I played fiddle sometimes when I really got into it I would start rocking side to side in time. I tried this again the other day with the intention of keeping the beat and it seems to have the same effect of foot tapping, so a valid alternative, acting as a mechanical metronome would rocking on the beats.

Re: How important is foot tapping when playing?

Oops I forgot to search before posting. I see this has been discussed at length already.

Re: How important is foot tapping when playing?

I’ve never consciously tried to do it - I find it just happens whenever I get into any sort of a groove.

Re: How important is foot tapping when playing?

Don’t ever tap your foot when playing. Never ever ! You are assumin gthat you are the "timekeeper" and your sense of the pulse/beat is better than everyone else’s, and the scary thing is, it just might not be.
I have a tip for all foot tappers, passed on to me as a classical musician who lovesand plays trad. (mostly be ear)
move your toes inside your shoes, so you tap, but nobody can see nor hear it, just you.
Obviously everything is decided by context. Sometimes everybody foottapping to create a great beat is desirable
Just be sensitive to context.

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Important? Not soo much. But it’s a good sign, Arthur. Musicians often forget their body when playing music. They put deliberate effort into not moving any parts which are not strictly for use in playing their instrument. If you find you’re tapping to the metronome I think it’s a natural response to the music. I can play without tapping my foot (and keep time), though I cannot dance without moving my entire body. If I was you, Arthur, I would see where it takes you.

Ben

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Re: How important is foot tapping when playing?

There are a number of advantages to foot tapping.
1) It helps with the rhythm. Starter musicians tend to play with equal emphasis on every note and this makes for dull music without any rhythm. If they can tap their foot or watch another tapping and tell them to put the emphasis on the "Tap" note it improves their playing.
2) Keeping time. If you are playing in a big group in a noisy pub it can be difficult to keep it together, following the lead musicians foot tapping keeps everybody together.

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Re: How important is foot tapping when playing?

"Don’t ever tap your foot when playing. Never ever ! "

In that case, if we ever end up in a session together, I will tap as ostentatiously as possible while wearing alpine mountaineering boots. ;)

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I always stop foot tappers, becauset ehy nve keep a constant beat. They are ony playing to their own isntrument and thier beat wanders - it is actually not a steady beat. Tell them to tap inside thier shoe and not out loud. It’s a very bad sign of either iability to play properly and feel the natural beat of the music or "ostenation". Neither of which you don’t need It;s not OK , it’s really annoying.

Re: How important is foot tapping when playing?

Just take a look at almost every video of good irish musicians on Youtube or the Comhaltas website and you’ll quickly see if its somehow important or not.

I’ve never ever been to a session where anyone took it upon themselves to tell other players to stop tapping, or to wiggle their toes. If that ever did happen I’m pretty sure they’d be politely ignored or not so politely told to tap on out the door.

The suggestion that you should never tap your foot is (and there is no other way to put this) nonsense.

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There is a quite practical reason to tap your foot. Frequently, it is hard for all the musicians to hear one another. Sometimes one half of the room is at odds with tempo from the other. At other times, it is complete cacophony. The visual cue of feet tapping keeps everyone together and at the tempo set by whomever called the set.

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You should never show any sign of feeling, and always have clean underwear too…

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I think foot tapping is important, but not mandatory. As mentioned, it can help in larger group situations, but it also shows that you’re *feeling* the music, not just regurgitating notes. And since most of this music is dance music, it can help with feeling the lift and drive. When I was more of a beginner, I was watching a well known player and noticed that he tends to tap his feet with the left foot tapping on the down beat, and right foot tapping on the ‘lift’. (Especially noticeable in jigs, because he taps his left foot on 1, and his right foot on 3, and that’s part of how he finds a lovely lilt and lift to his jigs…)

It can also be a problem in certain instances. My foot tapping is sometimes ‘dancing’ a bit, and people have told me that they sometimes have a hard time watching my feet. It’s also a problem if it becomes loud. Sometimes a player will stomp loudly to get everybody on the same page, but if it is happening regularly and audibly, it can be distracting. Especially because some people hear the beat in different places, and some people play ‘in front’ of the beat that they hear in their head on purpose. That doesn’t mean that they’re playing doesn’t meld with other players, it just means that sometimes they’re going to be tapping their foot at a slightly different time than other people, because they’re internalizing where the beat is a bit differently… And the biggest places I have had problems with foot tapping is on stage and in the recording studio. Say you’ve got 4-5 musicians performing, and they’re all tapping their feet - microphones pick that up - and it can become a bit monotonous for the audience, with a regular dull thumping noise coming from the sound system. So in those cases, we try to isolate our feet or our microphone stands with some padding to keep it from being a distraction.

But asking me to stop tapping my feet is like asking me to do all my picking of the banjo backwards or something. It’s integral to how I play the music.

So Arthur, I would encourage you to keep tapping, especially if it made you feel more connected to the tune. But also to try to be cognizant of the potential downsides, like how loud your tapping might be…

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"But asking me to stop tapping my feet is like asking me to do all my picking of the banjo backwards or something."

I can’t imagine what I’d say to a stranger who asked me to stop tapping my feet. Especially in a setting like a session. It would probably not be printable.

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"I always stop foot tappers, becauset ehy nve keep a constant beat. They are ony playing to their own isntrument and thier beat wanders - it is actually not a steady beat. Tell them to tap inside thier shoe and not out loud. It’s a very bad sign of either iability to play properly and feel the natural beat of the music or "ostenation"."

In that case, next time I am in a session around Newcastle (it’s possible — I have friends there), screw the B3 boots, I’m wearing the ski boots. Just in case.

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I can think of several people who tap their foot all the time while playing, but not in time to the music: in that case it’s just a habit rather than an aid to keeping time.
There’s a big difference between tapping and stamping, and I just can’t stand the latter, especially in a concert environment: it’s a distraction, especially as others have said, if the sound system picks it up. On the other hand, if it’s an integral part of the performance, as in, say, some of the Cape Breton groups step-dancing in their seats or using a stomp board, that’s OK by me.
I also came up through classical music, as a percussionist, and was NOT allowed to stamp or tap at all. What we did was improve our peripheral vision by being able to watch the conductor, score and rest of the orchestra all in one glance: it’s a very useful facility to have in trad sessions too: watching and listening to whatever else is going on, and not going into that head-down eyes-closed switched-off position.
Having said all that, confession time: I do now find myself doing a bit of foot-tapping when playing trad: does wonders for my Fitbit count!

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I recorded myself playing the same tunes tapping my foot and not tapping. My timing was no better either way but there seemed to be more ‘energy’ in the playing when I was tapping.

So either tapping is good for my playing or I need more practice at not tapping.

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If the music is good then people will dance. And if you’re sitting down and playing an instrument then you just dance with one foot. It’s perfectly natural, it’s what the music is for. Anyone who objects to foot tapping should probably be playing in an orchestra not a session.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_nHKS89bAo

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I wouldn’t tap extremely loud, when another person leads a set (unless its a really stirring polka set and everyone is doing it) ;)
Most of the time, I tap quiet, just for myself. But when I start/lead a set, loud tapping helps to play with a steady rhythm for the first bars, or it can be really handy to signal the other people, that I want to lift up the speed, when changing to the next tune.

One of my favourite session experiences was hearing box player. She sat down at the table, didn’t say anything and just started a really loud foot stomping. It was not just loud, the tapping alone was somehow really driving. Then she started with a polka set, playing really loud, it was incredibly powerful together with the driving stomping..just a set of well known polkas, no fancy really big reel, just simple polkas, but it was mighty!

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"t’s a very bad sign of either iability to play properly and feel the natural beat of the music or "ostenation""

FYI, ‘ostentatious’ means an overly flamboyant and showy display.

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This one has obviously touched a nerve, to get so many responses in a fairly short time. Personally, I don’t have strong feelings either way, as long as the tapping is in time. Same with spoons, bones, bodhran, guitars, etc. Folks who play Swedish polskas (which are in 3/4 time) will say that it’s actually quite important to tap on beats one and three: it helps to get the body moving with the sort of rhythm that these tunes need.

As an aside, I remember the late Packie Byrne posing the question, ‘How do you get an Irish musician to stop playing?’ (Self: ‘No, how do you …?’). Packie: ‘Stand on his foot’.

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Emily, I find Ostinato, or repetitive phrasing in my musical dictionary. Another musical term I need to forget…
Ostenation is an obsolete form for ostentation. It is, however, not a proper translation for Ostinato. In French such a portmanteau would be labeled a faux Ami. Argh! I think I’ll go back to tapping my feet. . .:)

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https://youtu.be/Pb3GyhfJjYo Here’s my favourite reel,and a couple of my favourite foot tappers to boot! Cousins Glenn Graham and Rodney MacDonald on fiddles, with Tracey Dares MacNeil and Dave MacIsaac. Foot tapping doesn’t come much better. I uploaded this video a few years ago. Excuse the quality— it was the best I could do with the dint of excitement that day in the Gaelic College, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

Rodney is an amazing dancer. I’ve watched the following clip (a young Rodney) about 38 times…
https://youtu.be/BPpDoF7q6TI

Foot tapping is very important the Cape Breton tradition and very strict rules are applied to same. I’ll leave it to other authorities here to elaborate. Or perhaps that has already been done in the previous discussion of this topic. Whether or which, it’s a bit too late for me to go in search of that now.
On a personal level I wouldn’t trust my own foot tapping one single bit. Sure footed I’m not, and that’s for sure!

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" Ostenation"?

I got this. It is a state of mind for people who live in the state capital of Texas. The only reason I know this is because I once lived there (and knew alot of people who were very bad with spelling & geography).

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Re: How important is foot tapping when playing?

Arthur, what is important is up to you. Whatever members’ post on the forum is probably well intended and hopefully what is important for us translates into something equally important for you on your musical quest. From your original post I think you are asking not just about the recent foot tapping. I think you are observing something about yourself, about how your body responds to your playing, about going deeper into your own playing. If I’m not mistaken you want to find out if this new experience is a potential distraction or if it is a way into immersing yourself in the music you’re playing. I don’t know. My gut response is, it’s both. Paradoxically I think it is both an immersion and a potential distraction.

To play music is an experience of endless paradox. I say ‘embrace it’ when something which moves you in a good way comes your way. As far as when not to move your body ostentatiously, tap your foot to the distraction of others, or whenever you are not sensitive within a given context;
leave those extended scenarios to a future time.

It’s likely those issues will come up & you’ll deal with them when they do. So, unless you are asking about those future potentials, why not enjoy your body’s movement with the music while you’re still free to enjoy it?

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Re: How important is foot tapping when playing?

I cant play without foot tapping - its not a conscious thing, my feet just do it ! As shown above, its an integral part of the Cape Breton and Quebecois traditions - heather mc, I hope we never end up at the same session cos we just aint going to agree…………..

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‘How do you get an Irish musician to stop playing?’

It’s a very natural thing to do but there’s also skill involved. I used to be guilty, as many are, of "speeding up" my foot tapping along with my playing! :-)

In more polite circles, such as ensembles, orchestras etc it seems to be frowned upon. I’ve heard fellow fiddlers make disparaging remarks in fiddle societies and the like.

A few years back, I went to a good going session in The Globe(?), Aberdeen and the toilets were downstairs. All you could heard down below was the stamping of feet but, upstairs in the actual session, all you heard was the music itself.
So, if your neighbours complain about you practising, it’s usually more to do with the foot tapping than your playing… :-P

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Many musicians are able to keep in perfect time without the need for foot-tapping. The trick is to develop what you might call a "virtual metronome" in your head.

However, many others do not have that ability or are unable to acquire it.

So, as far as foot-tapping is concerned, you’ll never be able to stamp it out … ;-)

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If I were King I would ban it just on account of those people who don’t actually step in time. That being said if it’s done in time with a good pulse it just sounds like any percussion instrument. One time I thought the Bodhran was killing it and then I realized it was one of the leaders banging her foot in time. It was neat.

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Americans tap their toes I find the Irish use their heels more or less .

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I can always tell an educated audience from casual punters who just happen to be there by the fact that educated listeners tap their toes or heels; ignorant people clap their hands loudly, and usually off time.

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What a hilarious thread! I’m so glad I tuned in this morning. Dr Spear, you’re welcome to stomp yer boots in our session any day. I am an American and I prefer my heel to my toe when tapping along. Does that make me a citizen of the world? A "Globalist?" I’m not sure. I also tend to alternate feet, rocking back and forth to the music. I let the tunes saturate my entire physical being. There might be swaying, eyes sometimes closed, sometimes open, and an ever so slight head-banging motion if the reels are really shredding. Completely spastic, me. To be fair, I do my best not to let my apoplectic musical spasms disrupt anyone near me, and I believe that is the essence of having good manners in a session. If you like to tap, then tap away. If you don’t, then don’t.

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I love Irish music but I never imagined this would be the topic of the day.
I still cannot believe it is.

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Even though it has run well every time it has come up since 2002?

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How boring it would be to watch ITM musicians not moving at all while playing! Foot tapping and some other movements show the musicians are feeling and enjoying the music, and it makes me enjoy it much more.

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You’re on the right track Arthur. Can’t imagine not tapping my foot when playing. And to echo comment above, when our kids were smaller and wanted to ask something, but wouldn’t wait till end of tune, they’d just stand on my toes :) One way of pressing the stop button.

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I think that the important point here is we are talking about "tapping", which is vastly different from "stomping". I tend to agree with Heather’s comment that "You are assuming that you are the "timekeeper" and your sense of the pulse/beat is better than everyone else’s, and the scary thing is, it just might not be."

I find when a player suddenly begins to "stomp" and their foot becomes equal in volume to the music being played it is a distraction and detraction from the music. It is a gesture of dominance, and often not in the least helpful with regard to keeping a beat. If you will watch even the best players leg and foot movements, while their music might be well timed, the feet are often not in sync. Agreed, body movements do become automatic, and almost vital to the player doing the moving, but it is my opinion that for the most part, these movements are for the benefit of the individual and not the group. The rhythm can easily be accentuated through an emphasis on the notes which fall on the beat. That being said, I appreciate my session mates letting the music take center stage and keep their feet for the most part to themselves.

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When I started learning over 20 years ago, I didn’t tap my foot, but began to try to, as I thought it would make my timing better- but it didn’t work, as there was no way I could make my playing follow my tap, which was probably not regular anyway. A couple of years down the line- I’m a slow learner!- I was delighted to find myself tapping along and realised I could do that BECAUSE my timing was good enough. So the cause and effect were reversed in my case. Nowadays, finding myself tapping in time with the other musicians reinforces and helps keep us all together I find, as mentioned above , whether or not we’re tapping on the same beat.
Sometimes this can turn into stomping- we’ve had glasses wobbled off tables by the floor vibrations with glass shards everywhere and worse still beer spilled! But we know it’s down to sheer enthusiasm for the tunes so try to be tolerant!
Now I’m teaching a few pupils and am waiting for the day when they start tapping too…!

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David50, I’m not surprised it is a topic nor the fact that it has been and will continue to be. It just seems in this case it has become "the" topic of the day. It’s not the most exciting thing since sliced bread but it apparently feeds the masses in this room.

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Sure the rocking works just as well, but I often find that foot tapping gives the set more energy and audible pulse. Plus it’s always a good thing to get the audience involved.

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The audience?

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With regard to ‘stomping your feet’, I think a little awareness of who you are playing with comes into it. The sessions I am familiar with, the person starting the set, sets the pace. It is extremely rude to not follow their lead. I’ve seen thoughtless players hi-jack a set, both in tempo, and even veering off on automatic to a tried and true follow-on. If you don’t like the pace, don’t play it. Some people become quite irate if you try to increase/decrease their tempi. I’ve seen foot stomping in this case. We have mixed abilities playing together. Have a care.

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Couldn’t agree more postie!

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I usually tap the rhythm that someone sets

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"I always stop foot tappers, becauset ehy nve keep a constant beat. "

You should never, ever come to Cape Breton then. BTW it’s not just the musicians, it will be a goodly part of anyone who happens to be around.

"I cant play without foot tapping - its not a conscious thing, my feet just do it ! As shown above, its an integral part of the Cape Breton and Quebecois traditions - heather mc, I hope we never end up at the same session cos we just aint going to agree………….."

Yup.

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Adrian, why are you disinviting Heather? Are you speaking for all Cape Breton sessions? Is foot tapping so important that you have to warn her to stay clear of Cape Breton?

Heather, we may disagree but you’re welcome at my local session. I’m not going to banish you because of this discussion. It’s mostly Mustard argy-bargy, BS.

I just finished playing in our regular session and we disagreed on lots more stuff then I care to talk about. Because we are real people, which is all which matters once you put aside all the BS posing above.

Ben

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I can’t imagine a session in Cape Breton without foot-tapping … but, who knows, maybe there is one somewhere - I doubt it though …….

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Weighing in late here … I really like it when the person leading the tune taps their foot; it’s a visual that helps me stay on the beat if there’s a lot of background noise, etc. I often tap my foot (well, my heel) to the same tempo as the leader.

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I just started clogging lessons yesterday so look out I might end up dancing at your session and stomping away! Just kidding, I’ll ask first!

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@meself I was waiting for you to tap into this one!

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If you play Québec folk music ( french canadian), it is a must to tap foot ! Simple and double rythme !

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It depends on the genre. Classical musicians do not.
Cape Breton musicians tap the right foot, flat footed. /sometimes you will hear a comment, She’s got a good foot.
Quebecois musicians use both feet and tap in a syncopated rhythm.
Alasdair Fraser stamps until his socks fall down but asks audiences to refrain from clapping and do something instead.
Sylvia Miskoe Concord NH

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Ben: not disinviting her. Of course not; in fact she should come, she will hear a lot of great music and I hope she has a great time. Just giving her fair warning. If she does not like foot tapping or stomping, she will find Cape Breton not to her taste…. no I don’t speak for all sessions in CB, but I have never heard any group of musicians play where there wasn’t quite a bit of at least tapping, and often stomping. The young ones learn it as they are coming up…. personally I love to hear a hall or whatever rocking as everyone taps. My corner of the world is the Ottawa Valley where I grew up to Atlantic Canada where I now live, so that’s my reference point, but we get people here from all parts. To me tapping is integral to traditional music and it’s always been a part of it.

It seemed funny and a bit absurd to me to hear someone coming from a classical tradition saying she ‘always stops foot tappers.’ Sounded a bit dictatorial. If it doesn’t to you, ok. Anyone who doesn’t want to tap, don’t. Anyone who does, fill your boots. Me, i’m a tapper.

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Adrian, I take internet forum comments with a grain of salt. I tend not to draw conclusions about contributing members from any single proclamation which I read only once and it’s all I know about them.

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Re: How important is foot tapping when playing?

I almost never tap my feet when playing music, and am considered to be a reasonably good timekeeper having dabbled with drums and percussion in my youth! I don’t mind other people doing it as long as it’s reasonably quiet and doesn’t put anyone else off - in a live context.

Just a couple of observations:

1. Try RECORDING musicians who tap their feet, it can be a nightmare. A couple of years ago I had to make several solo recordings of well-known musicians for a CD, and my requests to some of them to tap gently or not at all were not always well-received. In one case, I asked someone to play in their stockinged feet, and I got a flat refusal. You can still hear the stomps on the finished recording.

2. Audiences at traditional music concerts seem to be particularly prone to tapping their feet to the music being performed. In some cases this can spiral out of control and upset the performers! It may be due to the reality that in general, a lot of higher percentage of trad audiences play music themselves.

3. Fluctuations in timing in traditional music are well-documented, particularly the tendency to speed up the tempo as a set of tunes progresses. This may be die at least in part to foot-tappers whose sense of timing is not great. Tapping one’s foot when playing is no guarantee of accurate timing.