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I'm a beginning cellist, and one of the things I struggle with is limb independence. The simple act of trying to keep a steady beat with my foot while playing subdivided beats (i.e. 8th notes) with my bow are too much for my beginner brain to handle. Naturally, my foot wants to speed up and tap on the 8th notes in synch with my arm, typically resulting in a very strange beat pattern with my foot that bears no resemblance to the actual beat.

Obviously there's all sorts of limb independence exercises for drummers, but many seem a bit complex for those of us who just need basic limb independence.

Has anyone ever seen any exercises for non-drummers or have other suggestions for building this skill?

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My answer on a somewhat similar question might be helpful (although I think Slim has covered it pretty well here). –  jadarnel27 Jan 22 '12 at 6:38
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4 Answers

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This is an interesting question to ask, since tapping out the beat with your foot isn't, I imagine, your end aim -- unless you want to become your own "drummer", as with Seasick Steve's "Mississippi Drum Machine" (a wooden box he taps with his foot).

Nonetheless, maintaining a beat - in your head or by tapping something - is a very important part of musicianship, and doing it by tapping your feet is a good way to reinforce it.

Drummers don't do anything cleverer than selecting a pattern that's just beyond their ability, and practising until it's second nature. You should do the same.

Simplify down to the most basic exercise you can't easily do already.

For example, just bow 8th notes on an open string, while tapping quarter notes with your foot. Only when you've got the rhythm down, should you try fingering melodies or switching strings.

A metronome is likely to help.

Start very slow, and only speed up when you're ready.

Count out loud as well. Many people get so accustomed to 4/4 that they struggle with other time signatures; so it's good as a beginner to throw in some 3/4 and 6/8 exercises too.

You could also put your instrument aside, and practice just with your hands. Tap out a pattern on the table, while tapping the quarter note beats with your foot.

Take care; tapping your foot might become so ingrained that you can't stop doing it when you're not meant to be!

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Thanks. Tapping the foot is a subject of great debate in orchestral settings. Some say it should never be done, some say it's fine if not loud, etc. Still others say to flex some other body part in time. My instructor sees no problem with it if it's quiet. As a total beginner I think I need the extra reinforcement, since just keeping a beat in my head doesn't come easily when my mind is trying to think of notes, bow angles, string crossings and so many other things that are second nature to experienced musicians. –  wadesworld Jan 19 '12 at 16:08
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I'm a drummer and I have two and a half seemingly facetious exercise that force you to think consciously about muscle awareness and mirroring the muscle commands.

First is the toughest one and I'd recommend it very lightly. Try to write with your left (right if you are a lefty) hand. It helped me a lot to mirror my o's 3's etc. in turn gave me some insights why the left hand is acting weird. I don't think it's weak but there is practically no muscle memory to keep up with the required agility. In engineering jargon you are always using the feedback loop instead of the feedforward hence you are slower.

Second is kind of fun: Scramble eggs with your left hand as rapidly as your right. It's a mess initially but somehow very good for repetitive tasks. I have no idea why. Maybe it's a thing for me exclusively.

Third : Brush your teeth with your left hand. Just try it out but take it easy :)

Of course, these are not unique exercises and can be done on any right hand dominated task but it helps to you separate what the hand should do and the what brain thinks of how it should be done.

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Here are some exercises I use with young piano students who are getting ready to learn 2-hand pieces. They are for hand independence but could easily be modified for one hand + one foot. We do these sitting on the floor but a table would work too:

Easier exercises (gross motor skill, hands easy to see)

  • Tap the floor slowly with one hand and quickly with the other
  • Wipe one hand side to side as if cleaning the floor and move the other hand up and down like an elevator

Harder exercises (fine motor skill and/or hands not easy to see)

  • Pat head with one hand and rub tummy with the other
  • Walk one hand like a spider and thump the other hand like a giant's footsteps
  • Wiggle fingers slowly on one hand and quickly on the other
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(Sorry, I missed how old this question was before I answered! Hope this is helpful to someone else.) –  terpsichore Dec 25 '12 at 20:04
    
Nothing wrong with answering old questions. One of the first things I did after joining the site was search for all the questions I knew the answer to, and post if it hadn't already been said. –  luser droog Dec 25 '12 at 23:09
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One thing it took me a great deal of time to understand is that, when learning a new skill it is important to pay attention to the very first mistake. The very first wrong motion. What's going on just before that? Something interesting you heard from the instrument that distracted you? Some extraneous motion that throws you off-balance?

You should make an exercise out of that moment. Even if it's just a partial measure. Loop over it until you've ironed out the kink.

This is not to say you shouldn't also practice with a focus on recovery and not stopping, but these should be separated into different portions of the practice.

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