By Tim Kane
As a professional drum instructor, I’ve found one of the largest areas of confusion and need for improvement exists with my students’ feet and the techniques they use to power their bass drum pedals.
Younger drummers are playing louder and more intricate kick drum/pedal patterns than ever before in today’s age of speed metal-driven music. Even the older players are rediscovering the wanders of double kick playing versus the traditional bass drum-hi-hat pairings. First, though most of us should already know this, it is imperative that drummers never take their feet off the pedal board while playing. I recommend a heel-up on pedal board approach for younger players, using only the ball and toes of their feet to power pedal strikes. More advanced drummers tend to use both heel down and up methods to achieve a full range of different dynamic stylings. Heel up for younger drummers, at least in my opinion, allows for more volume and ability to develop long-term muscle memory.
I primarily play flat-footed, and go heel up for speed. But there are subtle differences to the heel up style that drummers should also understand. Heel up with leg thrust strikes creates maximum sound while pedal pivots powered by your ankles are more reserved for faster patterns. Generally, the after strike goal is to get a good bounce off of the bass drum head as the beater positions back to its original resting place – unless of course when you are going for that extra punch enabled by pushing the beater into the head with no initial rebound. A good tip I give my students is to play paradiddles with both their feet. They don’t like it because it’s hard to do RLRR-LRLL with only two feet for five minutes straight at 110 BPM tempo, but the reward is quicker development of bass drum pedal skills.
The main three problems I see with bass drum pedal spring tensioning is my students want to position the beater too close to the head for some odd reason; turn the beater sideways for a heavier punch; and don’t have the beater’s height set in the most efficient location to realize the full tone and resonance of their bass drum. Here’s what I recommend as do most professionals: your beater should be about halfway between your leg shin and the bass drum head when the pedal is not pressed down; use only the front felt side of the beater or its back hard plastic end to strike the drum head – not the sides; and beaters when pressed against the bass drum should hit the exact center of the batter side head. Your pedal board also requires adjusting. Too low a height off the floor and you will lack agility; too high a setting and your beater will be too far back for any type of solid foot control.
A good trick to use when it comes to learning and further developing your bass drum technique is to use a pillow, blanket or damper system inside your shell or head so it is not too boomy and loud. That way, you can closely analyze all the above-mentioned tips on technique.