If you want to be a solid all-around drummer, you have to work on the individual drumming components. This means developing your snare and bass drum technique. Here, drum instructor Tracy D. offers her tips and exercises to help you improve your bass drum technique…
The bass drum is the heartbeat and backbone of your drum kit, and the bass guitar’s close friend. The bass drum also drives the marching band and adds the dramatic effect to the large concert ensemble.
Like the snare drum, there are different types of bass drums for different styles of music. Here, I will discuss bass drum technique and application.
Bass Drum Technique (on the Drum Kit)
The bass drum is also known as the “kick” because you operate this drum with a pedal.
Different techniques can help you achieve your desired feel, volume, and rebound. While there’s usually some debate about whether heel-up or heel-down technique is preferable, each has its place.
Ideally, you should strive to be able to play with both techniques, as each method requires a shift in the balance of your body.
Bass Drum Technique Heel Up
The heel-down method is good for quieter passages, due to the weight of the leg resting on the heel.
With both of these positions, move your foot in a whipping motion, if you want instant rebound and resonance. This is different from “burying the beater,” which leaves it at rest against the bass drum head (which can muffle the sound) until the next stroke.
More advanced methods include the heel-toe (rebound arrested in the arch) and side-to-side (ball-of-foot) motions. Both are geared toward rapid-fire doubles with one foot. Both initiate a stroke and use a smooth motion to arrest the rebound and get another stroke from that move.
Double Bass Drum Technique
You may eventually decide that you want to try double bass drumming, which is a lot of fun, and allows you to play notes in rapid succession. It can also help you develop your weaker foot, which benefits your hi-hat work as well. If budget and practice space allow, you may want a configuration with two kicks, or you may prefer a double pedal. Each option presents a different feel.
You should strive for evenness and control in your strokes; you will find that your non-dominant foot will present the challenge. If you have already been playing for a while, your weaker foot will be less developed than your dominant foot.
Bass Drum Technique Video
For the following exercises, lead with your dominant foot in the bass. Once you’ve got that down, try leading with your weak foot.
Double Bass Drum Exercise 1: 95 bpm
Double Bass Drum Exercise 2: 110 bpm
Double Bass Drum Exercise 3: 125 bpm
Download the drum charts for these double bass drum exercises.
When playing the drum fills, think of the motion from the bass to the snare as a sort of tumbling together (rather than muscling through the notes), and your execution should become more relaxed and fluid. In the grooves, the hats are constant 8th notes, so you can use this as an anchor and play everything else in relation.
You may want to try using a drop clutch (pictured). This is a clutch for your hats that uses a lever (that you can release with your stick) to drop the hats.
You can re-engage the hats by stepping firmly on the pedal. This allows you to play figures on the hats while your foot is on the bass pedal.
Concert Bass Drum Technique
The playing surface of this drum is so large (roughly 28″-38″ in diameter) that it requires dampening while playing, although you can let it open up completely for rolls and certain effects.
You may dampen the drum by applying constant pressure in varying degrees (depending on need/generally used for staccato notes) or pressing and releasing the head in time for a given note value. You want to be sure that you apply enough pressure to kill the sound at the end of the note.
For louder dynamics, apply less pressure for legato passages. For quieter dynamics, apply more pressure. You place your dampening hand between the beater contact point and the rim. If you’re playing at fortissimo, you will need to sweep your dampening hand across the head to suppress its motion.
For rolls, you need an extra beater, and you should have your hands diametrically placed somewhat close to either edge. Use faster, lower strokes for lower volume, and higher, slower strokes for higher volume.
Bass drum beaters vary in hardness for different effects (soft for legato/lower volume and harder for staccato/higher volume).
Marching Bass Drum Technique
The strokes on this drum, since it’s vertically aligned, are best executed with the forearms held parallel to the floor; thus allowing the mallets to be held at a 45-degree angle.
The fulcrum should be between your thumb and index finger, and your grip should be relaxed with the other fingers. This will allow the rebound to work for you and provide for much better tone, feel, and stamina.
You can learn more about how to hold drum sticks in this article and infographic.
Posture is important, so you should always keep your back straight. This will help eliminate fatigue and help you avoid potential problems with your spine.
You can improve your bass drum technique with practice and consistency. Try these exercises and find some more that you like. Grab your drum sticks and get to work. Happy drumming!
Image courtesy Darryl Kanouse