Tips for Tap Teachers | Learning to Listen

Photo by Robert Rosen

by Thelma Goldberg

Listening is an important skill for both tap teachers and students. Of all dance forms, tap is unique in that its sound is its essence. It’s easy to get distracted by how it looks. Challenge yourself (Tip 1) and your students (Tip 2) with these simple ideas for strengthening listening skills.

Tip 1

  • Note the quality of your students’ connection with the floor as they perform simple tap movements. Do you hear relaxed, natural heel-to-toe walking or loud clunking?
  • In shuffles, which part of the tap are your dancers using? The tap’s edge sounds different than the full tap.
  • Always demonstrate the sound you want your dancers to play before asking them to dance. Listen to make sure they execute the sound accurately as well as the rhythm. Are you asking for a tall tip or dig sound, a shuffle or scuffle, a heel drop or chug?

Tip 2

  • Have a student or small group demonstrate a step while the other dancers look away. Challenge the listeners to identify the part of the tap being used. Ask students wearing different brands of shoes to perform the same choreography. Does each brand make the same sounds?
  • Record your dancers as they demonstrate choreography or exercises, then have them listen to the recording. Ask them what they like or dislike about what they hear.
  • Listen to a standard jazz or classical tune with your students. Encourage them to notice the different instruments, and when they come in or out of the arrangement.
  • Include at least one “down-the-line” activity in every class, in which each student demonstrates a short phrase. Listening to themselves and to each other will increase their awareness of their sounds. With reflection, students will self-correct and aspire to create the desired sounds and rhythms.


Thelma Goldberg, teacher and director of The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts, since 1983, is the author of Thelma’s Tap Notes: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Tap: Children’s Edition.