Tips for Tap Teachers | Three-Sound & Four-Sound Cramp Rolls

Photo by Robert Rosen

by Thelma Goldberg

Cramp rolls are useful both in class to strengthen small footwork and in choreography. With recital season on the horizon, here are some tips for using them:

  • Begin with clean quarter notes. Dancers should shift weight correctly and separate their sounds.
  • A favorite three-sound pattern for beginners is the press cramp roll, with three sounds in the traditional order of toe dig (R), heel drop (R), heel drop (L); or the reverse (LLR). After students master this step, introduce dropping the opposite foot’s heel first: toe dig (R), heel drop (L), heel drop (R).
  • Substitute a heel dig (R) for the toe dig, followed by a toe drop (R) and heel drop (L). Try changing the order: heel dig (R), heel drop (L), toe drop (R).
  • Do you want triplets (&a1) or straight eighth notes (1&2)? Use words to reinforce the rhythm: “ba-na-na” vs “can-ta-loupe.” Have students suggest words or phrases to spark creative thinking.

  • Start four-sound cramp rolls with the common “RLRL” pattern of steps and heel drops. Experiment with dropping opposite heels; starting with heel digs followed by toe drops; or alternating a toe dig (R), heel dig (L), toe drop (L), and heel drop (R).
  • Try pendulum cramp rolls, which swing side to side with opposite heel drops, and cramp roll turns, which often prep with a stamp (R), followed by an around-the-world cramp roll (LRRL), allowing repeated turns (in this case, to the right).
  • Spanks, flaps, shuffles, extra heel drops, and toe drops before or after the cramp roll offer more opportunities to expand the four-sound idea.
  • Encourage vocalization to clarify the four-sound rhythm. For homework, have students identify four-plus-syllable words or phrases to share in class. Parents will appreciate the emphasis on multisensory learning.


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