The Complexities of Finger Snapping to Music

I’ve written previous posts on White Man’s Clapping Syndrome, but even if you can clap to the beat, do you know on which beat to clap?

Jazz dancers clap on the upbeat

I’ve heard it said that black people clap on the upbeat and white people clap on the downbeat.  Or that jazz dancers of any race clap on the upbeat, except for Germans who tend to clap on the downbeat to everything.

So do swing dancers

The only thing that is consistent is that if you can hear the beat at all, you clap on every other beat.  Which is to say, the down beat (1 and 3) or the upbeat (2 and 4).  I’m a swing dancer, white but not German, so I clap on the upbeat.  Why do I do that? Because it feels right for the music.  And of course because it’s cool.

Wikipedia agrees with me.  Here’s their definition of finger snapping (in music):

“In music[edit]

In Sumatran culture, finger snapping, along with chest slapping, is a common form of music.[7]

In Western music involving snapping of fingers, the sound of the snap is usually on 2 and 4 (the offbeat, like the clap).[citation needed]

The sounds of a fingersnap also are sampled and used in many disparate genres of music, used mostly as percussion; the works of Angelo Badalamentiexhibit this in the soundtracks to, e.g., Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, as does the theme song for the television series The Addams Family.”

Here’s the best explanation I’ve ever heard from one of the coolest jazz cats who ever lived, Duke Ellington.

He says it best, so no more words needed from me:

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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