One of my students complained to me that he had a weak foot. “I have no strength or control of my bass pedal,” he said. I gave him some exercises to practice on the bass drum. At the next lesson, he was still frustrated by the lack of progress with his bass drum technique. As luck would have it, this student happened to live near me. I suggested that I visit his house for the next lesson to check out his equipment. When he showed me his drumkit, I noticed that he was sitting quite high and very close to the bass drum. He was definitely uncomfortable with the pedal and the bass drum. I attempted to play his set just the way he had everything arranged. The bass drum pedal was impossible. It turned out to be some unknown “bargain” that came with the drumset. Superman could not have played that pedal. It simply did not work. I advised my student to get another foot pedal immediately. He tried several well known pedals and selected one he liked. When he set it up for the first time, we made the following adjustments:
- Since he was shorter than me, we lowered his drum seat.
- We also moved the seat further back so he could get more leverage.
- We adjusted the spring on the pedal until it was comfortable—not too tight and not too loose: medium tension, for lack of a more precise description.
- We lengthened the beater rod slightly for more power.
My student was more comfortable with the entire set because he was now comfortable with the foot pedal. He was also seated and balanced more naturally. Need less to say, in a short time his so-called “weak foot” made a tremendous improvement. He realized that the problem had not been with his foot, but with the pedal. This understanding was a great relief to him. Drummers are often neglectful when it comes to pedals. I have sat in on drumsets with pedals that actually squeaked from lack of lubrication. They felt really terrible and could have been fixed quickly with a little oil. Bass drum pedals need constant checking. The dirt from your shoes, the floor, and so forth sticks to the oil on the springs and moving parts of the pedal. After a while, this can really gum up the action and response. The problem is that it happens so gradually that we don’t notice it until it is pretty bad. If you are not getting the volume or punch needed from the bass drum, change the type of beater. Many, many players use a hard beater, such as wood or Plexiglas. This type of beater produces a louder, more definite sound than a felt beater. You will need to place a pad on the bass drum head to protect it, such as moleskin or leather, depending on how hard you are playing.
The wrong equipment can cause other problems as well. A friend of mine recently complained to me about being tired all the time. “I am really working hard to play at the necessary volume level.” I inquired as to muffling, drumheads, drum sizes and so on. He replied, “The drums are large sizes, there’s not much muffling, and I use regular plastic heads—not especially thick ones.”
One day I dropped by his house to check out the recording studio that he had built in his garage. He wanted to show me what the studio would do, so he began to play and record some things. As he was playing I asked, “Are those the sticks you normally use?” He said, “Yes, why?” “Because they are so small,” I replied. He said, “I know they are extremely thin, but I have gotten used to them.” The sticks were so small and thin that my friend was knocking himself out in order to achieve some volume. I suggested that he start practicing with larger sticks—at least a 5A size. Even a 5A was big compared to what he had been using.
He did have a little trouble adjusting to the larger size and weight. However, as he became used to the larger sticks, he was able to relax. He could now get more volume with less effort than ever before. Now he can’t imagine that he was ever able to play with such small sticks.
Ed Shaughnessy makes the point very clearly in his clinics that most drummers use sticks that are too light for the style of music they play. A very light, thin stick will not produce the volume needed for most contemporary groups. It will also not produce a “full” drum sound.
How do you know if the stick you are using is too light or too thin? There are many individual preferences, and people don’t always agree as to what is best. The only way I know to judge is to try the following: Play extremely loud and notice how hard you have to squeeze the stick to get volume. If you are squeezing extremely hard, you will have a tendency to “lock” the wrist. If your wrist is rigid or “locked,” you will be working too hard and possibly damage the equipment. If your wrist remains reasonably relaxed when playing loudly, you are most likely not squeezing too hard. I’ve had friends and students develop some aches and pains from playing extremely hard with very light, thin sticks. Muscular strains not unlike tennis elbow can occur when you overplay very small sticks. With a slightly larger stick the muscles can relax and let the stick do more of the work.
Please do not go to the other extreme.
Most of us do not need a stick larger than a 5B on the drumset. Don’t practice with baseball bats or metal sticks just to work out. They won’t make you faster. If you want to warm up on a pad with sticks that are heavier than you normally use, this is okay. Just avoid extremes and don’t overdo it.
The moral of this article is that, when you are having difficulty playing, don’t forget to consider your equipment.
- Is your equipment good equipment?
- Is your equipment in good shape?
- Are you using the right equipment for the way you play?
Remember, adjust your equipment to suit you. Don’t bend yourself out of shape to adjust to faulty or improper equipment. If something doesn’t feel right, make changes. And keep making them until you are comfortable.