If your bass drum speed sucks, one of two things might be the issue:
- Bad technique
- Weak muscles
You might built muscles and have endurance, but you need more technique, so you lose control.
Or you developed technique, but you need more endurance due to weak muscles.
In this article, I will explain how to increase bass drum speed
How do you build muscles and improve endurance?
First thing first.
Feet endurance = strong feet muscles.
The most important muscle to develop for foot endurance is the shin muscle, aka tibialis anterior muscle.
It’s a big muscle located in the front part of the shiny bone just below the knee.
So you know exactly what I am talking about. It is the muscle that hurts the most when you play heel down.
How do you strengthen the tibialis anterior muscle on drums?
My approach is to play everything with you heal down. Put your entire feet on a pedal footboard, and never bring up your heel.
It will hurt in the beginning, but after some time, this muscle will become strong, and you’ll be able to play loud notes with your heel down.
This is my take on how to build foot endurance. More than endurance is needed to play the bass drum fast.
It would help if you improved your technique as well.
Why do I lose control while playing the bass drum?
If you lack foot control, there are several reasons:
- You haven’t built muscle memory. How do you fix that? Practice the technique you use more to the point you don’t think about it.
- Lack of stamina and endurance: if you start playing, let’s say, 16th notes on the bass drum, and it’s good for a few bars, but after some time, you lose control, endurance might be the issue. How do you fix that? Work on your tibialis anterior muscle; I already mentioned
- You are using the wrong part of the leg; if you use the entire leg instead of just the ankle at high speed, you might lose control. If you use the ankle in slow tempos when the whole leg is needed, you might lose control. Also, how do you fix that? Use big muscles for slow tempos and little ones for fast tempos.
Most popular foot techniques and how to practice them
There are a couple foot techniques drummers commonly use; whether in single or double pedal, it doesn’t matter.
- Heel down technique
- Heel up technique
- Rocking foot (down-up) technique
- Constant release technique
- Heel-toe technique
- Swivel technique
Heel down technique
How to play the heel-down technique?
Place your foot on the bass drum pedal and slowly flex your ankle to push the beater into the drum head.
The movement is similar to tapping your foot on the ground to the beat of a song.
Why use the heel-down technique?
The main reason is to strengthen your lower hand muscles; drummers tend to use this technique more for building stamina.
However, this technique may offer more controlled bass drum strokes and more control over dynamics. I discovered that besides strengthening the muscles, you will even get some rest for your foot after you get used to it because it’s constantly on the ground.
Heel up technique
How to play the heel-up technique?
It’s totally opposite from the previous one. Lift your heel up and use the same ankle motion to hit the bass drum.
In this technique, the beater is buried to the bass drum.
Why use the heel-up technique?
This is the most popular technique because it is the most natural one. It’s how any newbie would hit a bass drum naturally.
It’s easy to learn this foot technique but less easy to control it, so I suggest you practice tap strokes and groupings, but more on that later.
In comparison to heel down, it’s easier to control gentle tap strokes with this one.
Rocking foot / Down-Up technique
How to play the rocking foot / down-up technique?
This foot technique consists of 2 strokes down and up.
First, press down with the ball of your foot to push the beater into the drum. This is the “down” part of the technique.
After the downstroke, quickly lift your toes, allowing the heel to drop slightly (if it was raised) and the ball of your foot to rise. This motion pulls the beater away from the drum head, readying it for the next stroke.
Why use the rocking foot / down-up technique?
There is a famous clip where Jojo Mayer showcases the use and advantages of this technique. When done right, this technique allows you to play 16th notes with one foot.
Imagine possibilities on a double bass pedal. The most significant advantage is that you lift your leg once, and on the way down, you get two strokes instead of one.
Constant release technique
How to play the constant release technique?
It’s more an approach than an actual technique. This can be applied to every other technique mentioned here.
You need to release the beater after you hit the bass drum.
Why use the constant release technique?
To get a bigger, more open sound out of the bass drum. Just try to bury the beater into a bass drum head and release it afterward. You will hear the difference.
After years of playing, I utilized this technique because the change in sound was substantially different. Of course, you can still bury the beater into a drumhead when needed.
It’s the approach Dave Weckl utilizes.
How to play the heel-toe technique?
This technique consists of two strokes. First, drop your heel down, press the pedal, and strike the drum with the beater.
After the heel stroke, quickly pivot your foot so that your toes press down on the pedal, creating a second stroke.
Why use the heel-toe technique?
This technique allows drummers to play fast bass drum patterns with a single foot, which is especially useful in genres that require rapid bass drumming.
Something more useful is to reverse this technique and play the first toe rather than the heel. That’s something Benny Greb uses.
For me, Benny’s approach makes more sense; I personally use it when I need to play doubles.
How to play the swivel technique?
The critical movement in the swivel technique involves rotating or ‘swiveling’ your foot side-to-side (left to right) on the pedal. This motion is akin to wiping something off the bottom of your shoe.
As you swivel your foot, you’ll use the alternating motion to press down on the pedal. When you swivel to one side, the pedal is pressed down, creating a stroke. As you swivel to the opposite side, the pedal is pressed again, creating another stroke.
Why use the swivel technique?
This technique allows drummers to play extremely fast bass drum patterns with a single foot, which is particularly useful in genres that demand high-speed drumming.
In comparison to other techniques, it’s more advanced, and to be honest, I haven’t seen drummers who play single pedal using it; mostly metal drummers who play double bass use this technique.
George Kollias invented this technique, but he says this is a heel up variation rather than a separate technique.
Exercises to improve your bass drum speed
#1 Rhytmic pyramide (single and double pedal)
Set the metronome to 80 bpm. Start by playing 8th notes alternating between legs. Same as you would play single stroke roll but with your feet.
Then switch to:
- 8th note triplets
- 16th notes
- 16th note triplets
Practice this starting with right and left foot. If you play a single pedal, lower the tempo.
#2 Bass drum rolls rolls (single and double pedal)
Try playing 5,6,7, and 9-stroke rolls starting with the right and left foot.
You can set a slower tempo, like 70 bpm, and then while the metronome plays a quarter note, you play a roll. One starts with the right, and then one starts with the left foot, for example.
The same approach goes as in example number #1; if you play a single pedal, lower the tempo to, let’s say, 50 or 60 bpm.
#3 Rudiment (mostly double pedal)
Practice everything that you usually play with your hands.
Here’s my practice routine that takes you up to 30 minutes a day.
- two bars of doubles (you can practice doubles with a single pedal also)
- two bars of doubles but in blues shuffle, same as you would play a hi-hat pattern. You can play it either alternating if you use a double pedal or with one foot.
- two bars of single paradiddle
- two bars of 16th-note singles
- two bars of 16th note triplets, one with the right foot, two with the left, and vice versa
#4 Spring Off (single and double pedal)
Take the spring off, then put a beater on top of your foot.
Now, try to bounce the pedal. In the beginning, it will just be glued to the drumhead. After some time, you’ll be able to bounce the pedal even without a spring.
With these exercises, your control over the pedal and footboard will increase. By the way, this exercise is from the old Buddy Rich days.
Does equipment matter for bass drum speed?
Equipment does matter to a certain point. As long as you are not using cheap beginner pedals, you’ll be able to execute all these techniques.
You may think that a pedal with direct drive is better than a pedal with a chain, but it is all a matter of preference.
It’s all a matter of preference; a lot of metal drummers still prefer chain pedals before direct drive. If you want to experiment, try Dualist pedals.
How do you adjust your bass drum pedal for more speed?
There are a few things you can do to make the pedal feel more responsive:
- tighten springs
- experiment with beater height
- experiment with beater to drumhead range
- experiment with footboard angle
In order to increase your bass drum speed, you need endurance and technique.
Regarding endurance, you need to strengthen the tibialis anterior muscle. The best way to do this is by using heel down technique.
As far as the technique goes, you have several options, some basic, some more advanced, and each has a specific use. Regarding exercises, you can basically exercise everything you already play with your hands.