It’s really helpful musically and otherwise to move to the beat while you play. Musically, tapping, marching or moving in some other way drives the beat, which is what music is all about, and provides a physical backup system to take you through a tune and keep you on track. Emotionally, moving to the beat takes the edge off any tensions you may have and gives you a place to put them that’s part and parcel with your music making. Physically, moving as you play relieves your muscles of being frozen in one position, where they can get overstressed and cause strains and pains.
If you don’t move as you play, all your playing has to be managed in your head, which is very little help to you. Your mind can easily be overloaded with worries, demands, and so-called executive functions (the existence of which many neurologists have doubts about anyway), in addition to the fact that without physical engagement, your mind can feel overstimulated by complex sound, social cues, and bodily tensions. Read my past article about “Reversing Old Presumptions” (type “reversing” into the search box to pull up the article) to see why playing music starts with ears, uses muscle memory, and engages the brain last, instead of the other way around as most people presume, and have to struggle with.
But how to manage that pesky notion of “tapping your feet”? It doesn’t have to be the feet, by the way; if you feel the pulse of the tune strongly enough, you will move whatever is most natural to you. Notice what you move when you are listening to any music with a strong beat. Tapping your feet should never be a task added to your mental list (yet another thing to unnecessarily overload the mind). Thinking of it as an additional task to coordinate while playing, instead of as a natural movement, is why many people find it difficult and shy away from it.
And yet, tapping the foot to music is totally natural to everyone.
If you aren’t so sure, just think about how you use the accelerator in your car. Is that an additional task to remembering to steer, control wipers, turn signals, shifting — or is it totally natural for you to step on the gas when you want to move the car? If you don’t drive, pushing the pedal of a bike is the same idea.
You naturally move that foot on the gas pedal every time you want the car to move. Try feeling that motion when you play fiddle! One great compliment to a dance fiddler is that they can really drive the tunes.
If you want that tune to move forward, step on the gas!