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You may have heard or seen piano players tapping their feet when playing. Why do they do this? Is it beneficial to their playing? And should you do it yourself? These are the questions I’ll answer in this article.
Why do piano players tap their feet?
Piano players tap their feet to keep time. Tapping their feet helps piano players play pieces accurately by knowing when to play a note or how long to hold notes. This is especially true for jazz players, as jazz rhythms are more complicated.
How does tapping your foot help with keeping time?
When practicing rhythm, you would tap your foot to count beats and clap your hands to count notes or just play the notes directly.
For example, look at this excerpt with a 4/4 time signature, meaning there are 4 beats per bar, and there are quarter notes and eighth notes:
Here’s how you count the beats with your foot and the notes by clapping your hands:
Of course, you can count beats while playing pieces. During practice, I sometimes instinctively tap my foot to sync up with the beats that I’m counting in my head.
Should you tap your foot when playing piano?
You shouldn’t tap your foot unless you’re playing jazz because the noise will distract and annoy your audience if you’re performing. Tapping your foot to keep time also means you won’t be able to step on the pedals. Consider using a metronome or counting the beats out loud instead.
During performances, the audience doesn’t like listening to tapping noise interfere with the music constantly. This is also true for piano exams, where you may lose marks because the examiners can’t listen to your playing properly.
Some people also say that foot tapping looks distracting and the piano player should focus on playing with their hands. It’s already hard enough to coordinate both hands; the last thing you need is to add a foot to the mix!
Also, you can’t use the piano pedals by tapping your foot. It’s especially bad if you tap your right foot, meaning you can’t use an essential pedal – the sustain pedal!
To know why a sustain pedal is so important and the use of the two other pedals you see on a piano, check out this article.
Because of the reasons above, instead of tapping your foot, use a metronome or count the beats out loud when practicing piano.
A metronome is a must-have tool for every piano player because it’s always counting the beats accurately, ensuring you’re never playing pieces off-beat or incorrectly.
Counting the beats aloud is reserved for when you’re practicing rhythms specifically; maybe you’re trying to understand how triplets work by counting the beats aloud while clapping your hands for the notes. Practicing rhythms this way will help build an internal metronome in you so you can play pieces accurately without a metronome.
With that said, tapping your foot occasionally to keep time is ok. I sometimes tap my foot when practicing to keep time, as it feels more natural than saying it out loud. Just remember to tap with your left foot, so your right foot is free to step on the sustain pedal.