Fiddle Foot Work
Foot tapping is an integral part of Cape Breton fiddle playing. No one that I know was taught to tap their foot to the music. It’s not something they consciously think about. The main function of Cape Breton fiddle music is for dancing. Taping the foot is a natural response for fiddlers to keep time. For me, it is a natural response of my body to the music that I am playing. It is not only about the action of keeping time, but also about the sound of the foot. So, I when I play, I prefer to play on a hard wood surface and wear hard soled shoes so I can hear my foot. I feel like I put much more effort into playing when I can’t hear my foot. In fact, I know fiddlers who have specific shoes they wear just for this purpose. Others travel with a piece of plywood. I even toured with a fiddler that inspected various parts of stages and recording studios to get the best foot sound.
It is generally the strong beats or pulses of tunes that are tapped out. So, for a jig (6/8), it is the pulse on the first and fourth beat, in a strathspey (4/4), each of the four beats is tapped out. Some fiddlers use the heel of their foot, and some lift the leg to put their whole foot on the ground – or a combination of both. For reels (4/4), many fiddlers tap out the strong beats on one and three with the heel and the off beats of two and four with the toe. I like to do this because putting the toe down helps me feel a lift. Most fiddlers I see use one foot. Some tap out these rhythms with both feet in unison, or use the other foot to help tap out more intricate rhythms.
Do you feel a natural response to tap your foot when you play? Not everyone does and not everyone feels natural to tap on the strong beats. Some musicians I know feel more natural to tap on the off beat. This takes a lot of concentration for me!