Rock ‘N’ Jazz Clinic

Bass Drum Development

4 Focused Exercises for Building Raw Speed

by Mike Johnston

One of the most common questions I get asked in clinics is, “How did you develop your foot speed?” And that is often followed by, “What pedal do you use?” I can promise you this: Bass drum speed has almost nothing to do with the pedal and everything to do with you. You have to put in the work, you have to maintain focus on your goals, and you have to be the one to stay motivated while practicing what can seem like boring, repetitive exercises. If you can do all that—if you can finish your vegetables—then the dessert will be that much sweeter.

Let’s first try to understand speed. There are two types of speed when it comes to drumming, and without proficiency at both you most likely won’t be able to reach your speed goals. The first type is raw speed—how fast your limbs can currently move. Think of it like this: If I asked you to play right, left, kick, kick (RLKK) as fast as you could, that would give me an idea of your raw foot speed. But if I asked you to play RLLRKK, most likely your foot speed would decrease drastically. Even though there are still only two kicks in a row, the hand pattern preceding those two kicks might be a bit foreign to you, which makes your mental hard drive work much harder, thus causing you to slow down.

That brings us to the second type: pattern speed. Pattern speed is required to play any combination of notes that doesn’t flow out of you naturally. Maybe you can play singles and doubles with ease at fast tempos but you feel as if you’re starting over when working on the double paradiddle. It’s just a combination of singles and doubles, right? Your raw speed is plenty fast to play the double paradiddle, but your pattern speed is not. The way to develop pattern speed is through mid-tempo repetition. Allow your brain to memorize the motor function by playing at 60 to 70 percent of your maximum speed for long periods of time.

Below are four of my favorite bass drum exercises for building raw speed. Play each exercise with a timer for at least five minutes a day, and your foot speed will increase immensely before you know it.

Goal tempo: 220 bpm

Goal tempo: 120 bpm

Goal tempo: 90 bpm

Goal tempo: 120 bpm

Mike Johnston runs the educational website, where he offers prerecorded videos as well as real-time online lessons. He also hosts weeklong drum camps at the facility each year.