What Is Foot Percussion?

Foot percussion is one of the oldest and most powerful musical instruments. People were keeping time with their feet long before there were even rudimentary musical instruments. Every type of music includes some form of foot music, whether it is as simple as a bare foot and packed earth or as complex as a rhythm device involving pedals, chimes, bells, and other instruments.

Dancers can be thought of as foot percussionists in some ways. Irish step dance, clogging, and flamenco, for example, incorporate the dancer’s rhythmic choices into the music. By introducing a rhythmic pattern that emphasizes or counterpoints the musical pattern, the dancer can literally cause the musicians to change how they play. Traditional cloggers can be seen shuffling atop wooden boxes called stepatunes that reverberate and echo the beat at mountain music festivals.

Some types of simple, non-device foot percussion are nothing more than sitting-down dancing. A variety of French-Canadian musical styles feature sophisticated foot rhythms tapped out musicians playing fiddle, guitar, or another instrument at the same time. The patterns created are far more than just toe-tapping, and they are usually created with leather-soled shoes. Complex rhythmic patterns can be created heel-to-toe, toe-to-heel, double taps, rolls, and other types of strikes. Although this foot music is sometimes mic’d, most traditional musicians consider this cheating and prefer the natural, acoustic sounds of the rhythms.

Foot music was released jumping onto hollowed logs and steadying themselves with long poles, according to archeological digs in the Southwest. Metal bells or conch shell ankle bracelets are used in some tribal African dances as foot percussion. In the 1960s and 1970s, counterculturalists enjoyed adorning their ankles with highly belled ankle bracelets to add musical accompaniment to the simple act of walking. During musical jam sessions, hollow tambourines were frequently used as a type of foot percussion.

Tap dance, which uses metal taps attached to the toe and heel of leather-soled shoes to create highly complex and artistic rhythms, can be performed solo or with music. The trap set was born in early twentieth-century jazz and is derived from the word contraption, which is a good term for the first mechanical setups created drummers that allowed for additional strikes on the bass drum or cymbal crashes with the hi-hat.

Foot percussion is a great and very natural way to introduce music to children. The little boys are more interested in rhythm than melody from an early age, and they enjoy playing with beats and counterbeats. One way to teach them to dance to their own drummers is to put on a jingly ankle bracelet for a dance session.