Improve Time & Foot Tapping Skills!

Foot Tapping

  • Have you ever been to a concert where the crowd started clapping to the music?
  • Have you noticed that the people in the crowd don’t clap exactly at the same time?

The crowd will be slightly off, causing multiple downbeats. This is common and not really a big deal. However, this experience rips my attention away from the music and makes me wonder why people have a difficult time clapping together. Of course the more people you have, the more difficult it is to accomplish. But clapping your hands at the right time is a skill you can learn and develop. It can help you become a better saxophone player too!

Clapping with a Metronome

Clapping in time (by yourself) can seem simple. However, when we attempt to clap with a metronome it can be challenging. Why is clapping with the metronome difficult? The metronome is 100% correct, and if you are not, the metronome will let you know.

So why is clapping with the metronome important?  It helps you become physically united with the music and it sharpens your ability to keep time. Let’s put it this way: would you rather play with people who can lock in with a metronome, or with people who can’t? You’ll have a much better musical experience if you play with people who are good at keeping time. Let’s make sure we are solid with our time too.

Clap, Foot Tap, or Mind?

Since we can’t clap while we play the saxophone, we tap our foot instead. Since foot tapping is just a visual of what’s occurring in our mind, it’s not required to tap our foot to play accurately. As long as you can count in your mind (and keep time as you play), you don’t need to tap your foot. As a beginner this can be difficult, so I recommend tapping your foot as you count in your mind. As you get better, we can transition away from foot tapping.

Why Should I Tap?

What’s the real purpose of tapping your foot (or counting as you play)?

  1. It helps develop a sense of time
  2. It provides a foundation in order to execute rhythms correctly

Let’s talk about both points.

#1 Developing Time

If you can tap your foot with the metronome at 100% accuracy, you’re in a good place. If you’re unable to do this, it’s something that you can learn and develop. Let’s test your foot tapping skills and see how you do. Here’s the test:

  1. Set the metronome to 72
  2. Tap your foot to the click (your foot hits the ground at the same time as the click)
  3. Continue for 30 seconds

How did you do? It can be difficult to be 100% accurate the whole time. To improve, simply spend 60 seconds a day tapping your foot to the metronome. After a couple of weeks you’ll greatly improve your foot tapping skills, and your ability to keep time. And who doesn’t want to improve their foot tapping skills? 🙂

#2 Get Better At Reading Music

As you develop your time (and you’re able to consistently tap your foot with the metronome), it becomes much easier to play rhythms accurately. Why? Because we base all our rhythms off the click of the metronome. Here’s an example. Look at the following measure and its complexity:

Foot tapping and keeping time

Now, look at the same measure below. This time I’ve added numbers to show where the metronome clicks.

Developing time and foot tapping

Even though this measure may still look complex, you can see that the metronome helps divide and organize the measure; it provides points of reference. In addition, you can visually see that if we don’t have a stable foundation (or our ability to tap our foot is inconsistent) then the example above will be difficult to play- especially with other people.

Anyone Can Do This!

Having a good sense of time (tapping your foot with the metronome will help you gain this) makes reading music much easier. You can also begin to see why it’s important for every musician to work on their time: it makes your musical life easier. If this concept seems complicated, just remember that anyone can learn how to do this. And the people who can already do it, they weren’t born with it; they learned and developed this skill.

Avoid this Common Mistake!

Next week we’ll discuss a common mistake that some beginners run into when tapping their foot. When you have a correct understanding of this concept, your ability to keep time and read music will improve.


What do you do to improve your time? Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section. We would love to hear from you!

Comments 2

  1. Hi Jeff,
    i started on my alto mid last year.I have learned to read music.My difficulty is my coordination with the metronome when I try to play a piece.Somehow the metronome seems to distract me and I loose rhythm.
    I am in my sixties.
    Will try your tip out and would be glad for your esteemed guidance


    1. Post

      Thanks for the question Ernest! Yes, this is a common issue for many people when first working with the metronome. Fortunately, over time it becomes easier. The best way to resolve the issue of the metronome is to be consistent with your exposure to it. If it really drives you nuts, then just spend a little bit of time each practice session with the metronome, and build up from that point. Eventually you’ll want to be using the metronome most of the time. Give it a couple of weeks and let me know how it goes. At that point I can provide some feedback on your playing and give you some additional tips. I look forward to hearing you!

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