Jazz Drummer’s Workshop

Bass Drum Technique

by Ed Soph

The bass drum foot should be developed with the same technical/musical objectives as the hands: control of tempo, dynamics, and syncopation. A simple approach to these objectives is to relate bass drum technique to hand technique.


A stroke produced by the hands consists of a downstroke and an upstroke. The upstroke is produced by the rebound of the stick off the drums or cymbals. The principle of tension and release in music, is also found in this basic technique. The tension of the muscles which produce the downstroke is released by allowing the stick to rebound. This balance of downstroke/tension—upstroke/release is a prerequisite for relaxed endurance.

If we do not equate bass technique with hand technique, we may be apt to play the bass drum without the immediate, in time release of muscle tension. A common example of this is pressing the beater into the head and not releasing it until the preparatory stroke for the next figure. This technique is not wrong, but it is limiting. Imagine if we had been taught to play the snare by pressing the sticks into the head!

Strokes are the raw material of drumming. They determine dynamic range, syncopative ability, and tempo range. We develop the hands by practicing maximum strokes and minimum strokes of the arms, wrists, and fingers. The same may be done with the bass drum foot provided the pedal allows us an expanse of stroke similar to that of the wrist. Don’t try to play loudly with a pedal which has a stroke of only three to four inches. To play loudly with such a set-up is very uncomfortable. One must “force” the stroke, grinding the beater into the head, and destroying the dynamic blend of the set. One would have to over-play to get a dynamic level equal to the full stroke of the wrists. Experiment. Find a maximum stroke which offers an attack equal in intensity to an unforced maximum stroke of the wrists.

he tension of the pedal determines the fulcrum of the foot. Where the balance of the fulcrum in the right hand is between the thumb and first finger, the fulcrum for the bass drum foot is established between the relaxed weight of the foot on the pedal, and the tension of the pedal. The pedal tension should support the relaxed foot almost in the position of the pedal’s maximum stroke. The pedal tension is too loose if the beater falls against the head or stops within three or four inches when the foot is placed on the pedal.

Don’t despair, if in tightening the pedal or elongating the stroke, your muscles ache. You must take your time and give the muscles chance to conform to the new stroke and tension. Right-handers taught traditional grip will remember the agony of trying to hold the left stick straight-up without grinding the elbow into the body. That’s the way the muscles of the leg will feel until they relax through practice.

Here are two basic exercises which, with the aid of a metronome, will help to develop your bass drum technique:

Bass Drum Technique

Assuming that the pedal is adjusted as discussed earlier, play these exercises 1) With the maximum stroke allowed by the tempo and note values. 2) With the minimum stroke. In both approaches, allow the pedal to rebound immediately after striking the head. No hesitation, no pressing into the head.

You may prefer to play the larger note values with the heel stationary, and the smaller note values with the heel elevated; the “toe technique.” That’s fine, as long as the rebound is consistent in both techniques. The ease with which you can use these two techniques (and any others) depends upon the height of the throne and its distance from the set. Experiment and find the height and distance where different techniques may be used without altering the balance of the upper body.

Exercises combining the maximum and minimum strokes are found in accent patterns. The accented notes may be called maximum, or larger strokes. Unaccented notes are minimum, or smaller strokes. Some excellent books with accent patterns which avail themselves to bass drum practice are the Berklee Series Drum Method, by Alan Dawson and Don DeMichael; Ted Reed’s, Progressive Steps To Syncopation; George Stone’s, Accents And Rebounds; Chapin’s, Advanced Techniques; and Subject: Control by Marvin Gordon, edited by Saul Feldstein.
© 1981, Eward B. Soph