Why Tapping Your Foot Makes You a Better Musician
When you hear your jam on the radio, your immediate response is probably to tap your foot to the beat. Musician or not, you can easily feel the pulse to music and you might be subconsciously tapping your foot.
As musicians, we are taught to tap our foot to the music at a young age. Our instructors informed us that tapping your foot can help with pulse, rhythm and timing either for an individual or a whole ensemble. As a listener, myself along with others will tap their feet at a concert or listening to the radio.
Why do we do this? There have been many studies done about how and why movement and music are connected. Most of the studies conclude in the following way:
“Wheatley’s study findings support the hypothesis of cross-cultural universality of linked music, motion, and emotion.” (PBS Dartmouth)
Movement is linked to music, there is no debate about it. So tapping your foot is a great tool for musicians since playing and moving are already linked. Some people are taught specifically to do both at once and others do it subconsciously.
In the music world, tapping your foot is actually a bigger debate than you might think.
In some instances such as French Canadian Fiddling, it is common for musicians to step dance in time while they are playing. Other fiddlers stomp their feet as loud as possible during their performance.
It is accepted in a multitude of music genres for the musicians to tap their feet, and sometimes it looks wrong to not tap their feet. Other activities that combine motion and music are musicals, operas, marching band, and drum corps.
In a classical setting, it is generally frowned upon for musicians to tap their feet at all. Audience members want the musicians to have an internal pulse and not need the “handicap” of foot tapping. Not to mention it is distracting if you can hear or see someone's foot going up and down on a loud creaky floor.
When we see a top tier orchestra or a jazz big band, the musicians are almost always moving their bodies to the music, swaying and twitching to what they are playing. If we refer back to the Dartmouth study, isn’t tapping your foot motion? If swaying to the music helps a jazz saxophone player play Coltrane, why can’t a cellist tap his foot to Shostakovich? I do not see the difference, it is all just motion that helps a musicians play better.
In sports you are told to do whatever it takes to win. “Winning” in music could easily be defined as having the best performance possible. So if tapping your foot helps you achieve that, why do people frown upon it? If an individual or group sounds good, who cares how they achieve it. They sound good for a reason.
Do you think musicians should be able to tap their foot in any music setting? Let me know in the comments.