The Punctuation of Performance: A Guide to Clapping


You’d think clapping would be a pretty straight-forward, intuitive behaviour that’s pretty much foolproof. After all, every human being on the planet has done it for as long as they can remember. Along with things like waving and pointing, it’s one of the very first social interactions you get taught as a child.

But there’s a complexity to this punctuation of performance – and a bunch of situations where it all goes wrong.

So you are up the front watching the coolest new band in town and you’ve been swaggering around in your concrete undies and then the song ends and you start clapping – maybe a little too enthusiastically – but then BANG! it’s just a false ending which everyone else in the room is wise to and you have to suddenly quit your clapping, awkwardly find something else for your arms to do and quietly, slink off into the shadows.

And there’s plenty a band with a song that just suddenly finishes and there’s this awkward, pregnant pause as the audience tries to work out if the song really has actually ended.


And I may not be the best person to talk about this subject because I may be one of the only people on the planet to suffer a “clapping injury”. And regrettably, I have witnesses to prove this. I’d been to the football the night before and got a bit excited. The next day I was riding with some mates and noticed my hands were hurting and there were these distinct bruises on both my palms.


There are usually three types of clappers in an audience, and by “audience” I mean enough people you might call a “crowd”. So there’s: 1) Hyper-clappers 2) average-clappers and 3) lazy clappers.

Hyper-clappers are always the first to break into a clap. They clap long and they clap hard. They’re leaders – or at least they want/think to be. They know the subject. They APPROVE. They almost want to demonstrate there’s not much difference between whomever’s up there on stage and themselves. In the audience of a speech – sometimes hyper-clappers will attempt to “raise an applause”.  In an effort to sway the rest of audience to (the speaker’s) and their agenda – or perhaps just cause they thought whatever was just said – really quite funny – they will go into hysterics and launch an impromptu clap. But beware – sometimes the only ones who follow are the ones who aren’t paying attention and just instinctively clap as well.

Average clappers are just there for the ride. They dutifully – well, do their duty. They make up the numbers and don’t think much more about it.

Lazy clappers get a bit annoyed at clapping and just make the motions. They manage a few barely audible slaps – or sometimes just make a show to look like they’re clapping – but they’re generating no sound whatsoever. There might be more complexity to this reason that means they are not actually “lazy” but just not really approving but just willing to engage to the point of appearing social and pleasant.


At school we’d have this weird ritual which can only be described as “endurance clapping”. The idea was to clap in our new prefects and we’d just stand around clapping for what seemed like hours – but maybe closer to 10 minutes – and periodically someone would start up a big fat heavy slow clap which everyone would join – smacking their palms together as hard as you could. And then that slow clap would get faster and faster until it was indistinguishable from ordinary clapping. And then the slow clap would start again. By the end of this ritual you’d look at your hands and they would be swollen and throbbing red and your arms would feel like they wanted to drop off.


We all know performers will give cues for applause. Indeed sometimes there are big signs above the stage saying “APPLAUSE”. But there are subtle cues. The cues to clap are obvious. You take a swig of your beer, you say thank-you, you walk off stage. But in the stop-start song, the performer actually might want to save the audience a bit of embarrassment by trying to avoid premature applause.

Another weirdness with clapping I have found was the various performances by the Fiery Furnaces i have seen over the years. The band deliberately strung all their songs together so there was no gaps. There was no opportunity for clapping. It was relentless music. Kinda like a James Joyce sentence or a Jack Kerouac stream of consciousness. And so I am not instinctively a hyper-clapper, but I found myself desperately wanting  to demonstrate my gratitude at this amazing display. But in the end I had to suck it up. This was ART I was experiencing and I was grateful.


I know this seems ridiculous but some people can’t actually clap. I have learned this by once having to record hand claps for my band in a recording studio. A girlfriend of a bandmember had come to visit and after hours and hours – was looking distinctively bored. Perhaps even more bored than we were – because recording is perhaps THE most boring activity ever. Parliament Question Time looks like it’s on speed compared to recording.

So I wanted to include her. But it became an effort. Initially she had trouble with the timing, but then I realised it’s not just the rhythm people get wrong. They bring their hands together but don’t make any credible “clapping noise” or the noise they make sounds like slapping a wet pillow. To make a nice sounding clap – you need to clap like you are putting your hands together to pray – but have your hands parallel to the ground. And even those instructions might not get the job done.

Sometimes a tiny bit of moisture on your palms will help. And then make sure the distance your hands move to make the clap is always about the same and then obviously try to make the force of the clap about equal too. Others may have more to say on this subject. I guess I am essentially saying, clpping is a musical instrument – one of the very first – and it takes practice and skill. Some people I know who are drummers, who have been a a billion bands and who are sober and willing just FAIL. Some are even infinite musicians but they still have trouble fucking clapping. It is insane! As a musical skill – many of us take for granted and don’t train. And training is the key to any endeavour – be it artistic or physical.


I really don’t want to get into this subject cause it is so appallingly contrived and old-school. So I will leave it at that.

1 thought on “The Punctuation of Performance: A Guide to Clapping

  1. Pingback: Labguru Blog » 5 Tips: How to Present Your Research and Live to Hear the Applause

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