Jazz Drummer’s Workshop
Improve Your Bottom Line
Part 1: Bass Drum Comping in 4/4

by Steve Fidyk

Drummers depend on the bass drum to help drive the band and provide depth to their time feel. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, the bass drum was the “solid four” timekeeper of the rhythm section. Many modern jazz drummers use the bass drum to attain a softer, feathering pulse in union with the acoustic bass. A dynamically controlled quarter-note pulse on the bass drum, played in sync with a walking acoustic bass line, can help expand an ensemble’s sound and reinforce the swing feel. The bass drum can also be used as an accent texture for stressing ensemble rhythms or as a third hand to execute patterns that are generally played on the snare drum or toms.

The Technique

To achieve a round tone and a consistent swing pulse with the bass drum, it’s essential to have control of the heel-down foot technique. This approach works particularly well when you’re playing rhythms at a softer dynamic range (pp–mp). I find that when my foot is resting on the pedal as I improvise, I have greater control and an improved sense of balance.

The Sound

I achieve my bass drum sound by tensioning the batter head until there are no wrinkles around the perimeter. For the resonant head, I start by matching the pitch with the batter side, and then I tighten each lug approximately a half turn to produce a somewhat higher tone.

For dampening, jazz legends Joe Morello and Buddy Rich would put a 3″ felt strip against the inside of the batter head. Swing drummer Dave Tough placed torn newspaper inside his bass drum shell. Mel Lewis would tape a piece of paper napkin to the edge of the batter head to help decrease the overtones. Experiment with your sound to find something that supports the music you’re playing.

Check out the complete article in the September 2012 issue of Modern Drummer for additional insight.