Strictly Technique

Bass Drum Control

by Colin Bailey

When I wrote Bass Drum Control in 1964, it was at the request of drummers who wanted exercises to practice for hands and bass drum. They had heard me use a lot of bass drum in my solos. I had been frustrated for years at not being able to technically play the ideas I heard, so I set about trying to come up with a method of using the foot pedal that would allow me to play my ideas. 


Lifting the heel slightly helped me get more speed, and a heeldown and up combination gave me good control. I tried using all heel-up, but got cramps and pains in my leg. Some drummers have really good speed using the all heel-down method, but I couldn’t get it. I stuck with my method, and have gained a reputation of having a fast right foot.

There are several combinations in dealing with the bass drum pedal. The first is the spring tension. I like it quite slack for jazz playing, but it needs to be tighter for rock and louder playing. I use different pedals with the required spring tension for each type of music I’m playing. It’s easy to play double beats with slack or tight spring, but I found that 3 or more beats weren’t as easy with a tight spring.

The next consideration is a very important one. Use the ball of the foot and not the toe when lifting the heel. I get much more control using the ball of the foot. I’m sure some drummers can make a fast group of beats using the toe, but I have never heard anyone control it consistantly enough to play the exercises in my book that employ several beats in a row.

I like to keep the foot in a flat position on the foot board, not too close to the top, as it tends to choke the sound of the drum, but just about an inch or two down. For louder playing, the foot needs to go further down the board and the heel would need to be lifted higher. I find it easier to play faster at a softer volume, but I’m sure there are drummers who will dispute that. I have seen some rock drummers use different methods, like the heel lifted high, pushing forward and lifting the foot off of the foot board slightly for doubles and it seems to work. I doubt if they could use that method for more than 3 beats, and maybe not that many.

A good way to get the feel of the floating method is to lift the heel about a half-inch and play consecutive beats (no specific amount), just to get the feel of it. However, I do recommend starting out by playing all the exercises with heel down. Develop a good control of the pedal before attempting to lift the heel up. First, get the exercises as fast as you can with the heel down. Play time on the ride cymbal as if you were playing jazz with a big-band:

Bass Drum Control

Keep time with the bass drum, 4 quarter notes in a bar. When you develop good control of that, you will have advanced considerably.

A good pattern to try using the heel-down-up system is:

Bass Drum Control 1

Keep the heel down for the quarter notes and lift the heel slightly for the eighth notes. When you have played the eighth notes, put the heel down on the first quarter note as you strike the drum. If you practice this slowly, you should get a feel of the method. Then you can try for a faster tempo.

Coordination between the hands and the right foot is also important. Let’s go to the double beats, which are used extensively in every kind of style. I play it as one long ankle stroke and one very short one, kind of like a rebound. As the beater ball comes back off the B.D. head, you give it another short stroke to make the second beat. This pattern should be

Bass Drum Control 2

played at M.M. 208 or faster. You can apply the same thing on sambas. The upbeat is the long stroke, the down-beat is the short stroke. 3 beats would need the same method, one long stroke and two short ones. It can be obtained with heel-down or up. I usually keep the heel down. There are times when I want to play extremely fast, so lifting the heel makes it easier to accomplish. For four or more beats I use the heel-up method.

If you keep your leg as relaxed as possible—concentrate hard on it—you shouldn’t have any cramps or pain which are caused by tension.

I will be doing clinics for Drum Workshop, Inc. in 1981, so I hope I will get to meet and talk to many Modern Drummer readers.