Rhythm Class 2
Tapping the Beat

  1. Reading Notated Rhythms

  2. Tapping the Beat

  3. Tapping the Beat using both feet

  4. Tapping Exercises

  5. Practice Material

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RC 2.1 - Reading Notated Rhythms

The first step towards understanding rhythms is to learn to read them correctly.
This is not difficult once you know how to go about it.

Always subdivide each 4/4 bar into 8 half-beats : 4 downbeats and 4 offbeats (or 'upbeats').

1   +   2   +   3   +   4   +  

The numbers (1, 2, 3 and 4) represent the downbeats. The plus signs (+) are the upbeats.

When confronted with a rhythm like this :


simply write underneath the score all 8 half beats at their correct positions, like this :


Subdivide music written in 3/4 time in the same way, except that there are now only 3 beats in each bar.

1   +   2   +   3   +  

Subdivide music written in 6/8 time (or 3/8 , or 9/8) as :

1   2   3   4   5   6       or as :   1   +   +   2   +   +  

Always write with a pencil only on any music score and never use a pen or ballpoint.
This way the marks can be erased in the future by either yourself or by an other player who uses the same score (for example a part score for a band or orchestra).

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RC 2.2 - Tapping the Beat

Besides being able to read the rhythm you need to be able to play it and keep track of the beats as the music progresses.

The best way to do this is by tapping each beat with your foot.
Keep the heal of your foot on the floor and tap with your toes.

  • on each downbeat : toes are on the the floor

  • on each offbeat : toes are lifted off the floor


You may need some practice at a slow tempo to get the coordination going between your foot and your playing. First tap your foot while clapping the rhythm. Once that goes OK tap the foot while playing on your instrument.
Chapter 4 of this lesson provides some useful exercises to work on.

When playing in a small Jazz group tapping the beat with your foot is no problem. It may in fact add to the projection of outward enthusiasm towards the audience.

When playing in a big band, concert band or other large orchestra visibly tapping the beat with your foot is to be avoided. The conductor certainly will not like it!
But you still can simulate the tapping by moving your toes within your shoe (without lifting the shoe off the floor).

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RC 2.3 - Tapping the Beat using both feet

Years ago one of my Jazz teachers got me into the habit of tapping the rhythm with two feet.
This helps to keep track of where you are in a bar.

In 4/4 time :

  • My left toes always touch the floor at downbeats 1 and 3.

  • My right toes touch the floor at downbeats 2 and 4.

This means that when my left foot taps the ground I know that I am either at the beginning (beat 1) or in the middle (beat 3) of the bar. This helps enormously in reading and keeping track of where you are in the music at all times.


You need to practise this method at first, but once mastered it is quite useful, especially for reading difficult music and at fast tempos.

I also believe that tapping the beat with 2 feet helps to maintain a steady even rhythm, as the feet movement simulates our walking action which (at least when sober) is one of the most regular body movements we make.

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RC 2.4 - Tapping Exercises

Here are three types of exercises you can do to establish independence and coordination between tapping the beat while playing the rhythm.

Exercise 1
First start tapping your foot (or feet) until a regular beat pattern is established.
Select a slow tempo, around 60 bpm. When using a metronome tap on the metronome clicks, lift the foot in between them.
Then slowly play a scale in quavers while tapping the beat with your foot. Keep repeating the scale until you have both the tapping synchronised and fully under control.

Audio 2.1

Select the tapping method (with one foot or with both feet) you wish to learn right from the start, and start working on it.

Exercise 2
Once you have mastered Exercise 1 start playing a scale with quavers rests on the downbeat and quaver scale-tones on the upbeats while at the same time tapping the beat with your foot.
Keep repeating the scale until you have this fully mastered.

Audio 2.2

Exercise 3
You are now ready to take on a song.
First write the half beats (in numbers and plus signs) underneath the score, then play it while tapping the beat with your foot.

Audio 2.3

As you progress through this Course you will gradually be able to play the music and tap the beat without the half-beats written underneath the score.

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RC 2.5 - Practice Material

Tapping Exercises 1 - 3 Demo Ex.1 Demo Ex.2 Demo Ex.3
Free for All Blues Play-a-Long
Metronome 50 bpm 60 bpm 70 bpm

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