A word from Ken: I often get asked about double bass drumming, recently I received an email from a young drummer that wants a quick way to get his feet going on double bass drum patterns. He cited some of his favorite metal music bands and drummers. He was very down because after a few weeks of trying to play it, he was basically getting nowhere.
He asked about the heels up or heels down positions and he said he wasn't getting much volume from his bass drum. He wanted tips on getting started on developing his double bass ability. Getting Your Double Bass Chops Together Reality check first the reality is that professional drummers, known for their proficiency with double bass drum playing spent years practicing like obsessed maniacs to develop their speed, endurance, and muscles. Unless you are a one-in-a-billion exception then you are not going to get that good in a few weeks. It's gonna take a lot of work.
First get your feet in position a few drummers may disagree, but I contend that the speed and power you are going for, is best achieved using the heel up technique. Although I have seen some double bass drum players use their legs for making the strokes, the more typical technique for fast playing involves the ankles. That's the technique I use, and therefore the one I will discuss.
Volume and Power Now depending on which drummers we might use as an examples, you need to know that many of them actually get the volume via the sound system. Therefore, for the time being, I suggest that you focus on the playing the patterns and keeping them steady. Volume can be addressed later. Equipment factors you need to make sure you set the height of your drum throne and the position of it (in relation to your feet on the bass drum pedals) to where your feet just hang naturally over the pedals.
The idea is to get your legs into a position where your ankles can move freely in order to generate speed and control. Spend some time getting this position established because it is the basis of the balance you'll need for playing double bass drums. The length of your beater stroke, the tension on your bass drum pedals, and the amount of rebound the beaters get off of your bass drum heads (because of the tightness or looseness of your bass drum head) are all very significant factors. You will have to experiment to find the right combination of those variables for you. Perhaps you will even need to make some trade offs to come up with a combination that sounds good and yet still feels good to you.
The physics of bass drum pedal speed Imagine trying to play fast bass drum patterns with very long beater stroke lengths (the travel distance) plus loose spring tension on the pedals (the way the beater comes back to ready position) plus a very loose bass drum batter head (which has little rebound). That would take some absolutely phenomenal foot work. There are some minor adjustments would make it so much easier.
These adjustments will improve the efficiency of your pedal strokes. The length of the beater stroke has to be long enough to generate solid beater impact, but not necessarily from a ninety degree angle or "all the way" back. I'd start with about a forty-five degree angle stroke and then adjust it to whatever feels best to you. Somewhere is that general range is most likely going to be a good "feel" for you.
Next the pedal spring tension has to be tight enough to return the beater back very quickly to make the next stroke. You need to let the pedal help you. That's why a loose spring tension is just going to feel sluggish and will slow you down rather than helping you. The beater also has to bounce off of the batter head. Not sink into it.
So if you are a drummer with a normal bass drum stroke that sinks the beater into the bass drum head (and holds it there) rather than one that lets it rebound off the head (much like a snare drum stroke), then you're going to have to change that style for fast double bass drum patterns. You'll never play thirty-second notes on your bass drums by sinking the beater into the head. Exercises when you are not at the drum kit Louie Bellson was the first drummer to really bring double bass drum playing to popularity. I had the fortune to meet him, when he was here in Nashville visiting my friend Larrie Londin. We talked about double bass drums and he shared something that, at first, really surprised me.
I'll share that here. He told me that one of things that helped him master the feel of playing double bass drums was his ability as a tap dancer. He said that his bass drum playing had a feel similar like he was tap dancing on the pedals. Well, I'm not a tap dancer, but I watched him do it. And it made a lot of sense to me.
It was all in his fast moving ankles! Now I point this out, not to suggest that you take tap dance lessons, but to suggest that even when you are not at your drum kit that you can do some exercises that will develop your ankle muscles. Exercises You can do this by sitting on a stool or chair (perhaps with something in the seat that helps raise your heels a bit off of the floor-if needed) and, with heels up, start tapping out an eighth note pattern. Focus on keeping the tempo even. If you can't do it at the tempo you first attempt, then just slow the tempo down. Stay with that slower tempo until you can keep the eighth note pattern steady and even. Then speed it up a bit and master that.
After all of these years of playing double bass drums, I still do this exercise daily. Review of my tips Get your pedals and bass drum heads adjusted for your best overall sound and feel. Get your throne height and position for the best balance. The speed and control is going to be coming from your ankles not from your legs.
Remember, for fast playing, - the beater has to bounce off of the bass drum head quickly in order to get ready for the next stroke. Practice slow eight note patterns first. Master the slower tempo, and then move up to a little faster tempo. You are working on the ability to keep the pattern even and steady. If the strokes sound choppy or uneven, then you are not ready for a faster tempo yet.
This is a building block endeavor for you. There is no point in trying to pound out blazing thirty-second note patterns until you can play steady eight notes evenly and effortlessly. Do your feet exercises whenever possible to build up endurance and feel. Practice.
Practice. Practice. Then practice some more.
Many times, nothing of value comes to us easily. But if playing double bass drums was easy and everybody could do it, then it wouldn't be a big deal would it? Stay committed and have fun. Ken Sanders.
About the author: Ken Sanders is playing Dw Drums and various Drum Pedals, Ken is also an active member of Drum Forum, at Drum Solo Artist where he is answering drum related questions, and helping drummers with tips and advices.