Progressive Drumming Essentials

Part 9: Switching Gears With the Double Bass Pyramid

by Aaron Edgar

Changing subdivisions on a dime is a fundamental skill for playing double bass in modern heavy metal. Switching gears to a faster subdivision can help build intensity, and with a careful execution it sounds incredibly tight and powerful. A great example of this would be playing a 16th-note groove and then ramping up to 16th-note triplets.

Bass Drum Subdivision Pyramid
In this example, each subdivision from 8th to 32nd notes is played on the bass drums while the hands outline a quarter-note groove. The hand pattern gives you a musical frame of reference throughout the seven subdivisions.

Prog Drumming Essentials 1

First focus on each example individually, and try to make it feel comfortable while playing along with a metronome. We’re going to eventually put the examples together, so your starting speed will be dictated by how fast you can play a measure of 32nd notes.

Running the Pyramid
Set your metronome a few bpm below your maximum tempo. Play the first measure for four bars, and then transition to the second measure. Focus on executing the transitions as precisely as possible—don’t gradually slide into each subdivision. Practice the first two measures back and forth until they’re solid. Continue with this method all the way up to 32nd notes.

When you’ve mastered all of the transitions, play the entire pyramid from measure 1 to 7 and back. Don’t be too concerned with how many bars you spend on each subdivision. Take as much time as you need to make each of them feel comfortable. When one subdivision is settled into the pocket, make the jump to the next. If the transition is bumpy, jump back and forth until you get it tighter. Repeat this until you can switch freely between all of the subdivisions.

Another way to practice this is by matching your hands and feet. Put both hands on the hi-hat (or other tight sounds), and match the bass drum rhythm. Play an accent on the snare with whichever hand lands on beats 2 and 4. Exercise 1 demonstrates this idea in 4/4 with 16th notes and quintuplets. Practice the entire pyramid in this fashion.

Prog Drumming Essentials 2

Additional Groove Exercises
Now it’s time to tackle larger jumps, such as 8th-note triplets to 32nd notes. For each of these exercises, create a two-bar phrase in 4/4 comprising one bar for each subdivision. There are forty-two possibilities, however there are eight main pairs of more common transitions to master first. They are: 8th notes to 16th notes, 8th notes to 16th-note triplets, 8th notes to 32nd notes, 8th-note triplets to 16th-note triplets, 8th-note triplets to 32nd notes, 16th notes to 16th-note triplets, 16th notes to 32nd notes, and 16th-note triplets to 32nd notes.

Here’s what 16th notes to 16th-note triplets looks like.

Prog Drumming Essentials 3

If you’re feeling brave, try creating more advanced combinations, such as this quintuplet to septuplet exercise.

Prog Drumming Essentials 4

When you feel like you’ve gotten a handle on the full-measure transitions, try experimenting with shorter groupings of notes. For example, you could make a two-bar phrase in 4/4 using measures 3, 2, 3, and 5 from the pyramid.

Prog Drumming Essentials 5

Here are some examples that use more advanced phrasings. Exercise 6 has an odd number of notes, so the foot pattern reverses on the repeat.

Prog Drumming Essentials 6

For an additional independence challenge, try different sticking patterns over alternating singles on the bass drums. Exercises 7–11 demonstrate a few alternate sticking patterns you could try for 16th notes through 32nd notes.

Prog Drumming Essentials 7RLRRLProg Drumming Essentials 8

Paradiddle-diddlesProg Drumming Essentials 9

RLLRRLLProg Drumming Essentials 10

DoublesProg Drumming Essentials 11

For advanced polyrhythm junkies looking for an extra challenge, try running the pyramid while playing 8th notes on the hi-hat over each bass drum rhythm. In measures with triplets, quintuplets, and septuplets, the “&” of each beat lands on its own between bass drum notes. Go slowly, count, and good luck!

Aaron Edgar plays with the Canadian prog-metal band Third Ion and is a session drummer, clinician, and author. You can find his book, Boom!!, as well as information on how to sign up for weekly live lessons, at