I grew up in the ’80s, as the double bass pedal rose in popularity, and it was a game-changer. Drummers didn’t have to buy, store, or transport two bass drums to play double bass anymore. I had a friend back then who could play anything with his feet—doubles, paradiddles, and more. I sought to differentiate myself from him and other players at the time, so I decided to play a single pedal exclusively.
There were a few guys, including Jimmy D’Anda (BulletBoys), Clive Burr (Iron Maiden), and Troy Lucketta (Tesla), who were playing single kick, but many of the records I listened to included double bass. This presented a challenge: How do I play along to these songs as a single-pedal drummer? I stumbled onto some unique solutions for mimicking double bass that I’d like to present in this lesson.
Playing double bass licks on a single pedal can require exceptional speed. To play fast doubles, try skipping or sliding your foot on the pedal. Play the first note with your foot placed a little farther down on the pedal, and slide up an inch or so to play the second hit.
To practice speed on a single pedal, I used to use Ted Reed’s book Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer. I would play the written rhythms with my right foot while keeping steady quarters or 8th notes with the hi-hat pedal. This routine helped my reading skills as well as my foot speed. I’d practice each line until I could play it ten times in a row without making a mistake.
I came upon this first groove after trying to play along to the Mötley Crüe song “Red Hot.” I realized that if I left out the kick when I hit the snare, listeners couldn’t really tell the difference. Since discovering this pattern, I’ve used it many times on songs that require 16th-note double bass. Play the hi-hat with your foot to balance the lower half of your body.
The Cult song “Bad Fun” inspired this next groove. When I first listened to this track, I thought I heard double bass in the intro and the chorus. But then I noticed that there weren’t any cymbals in the pattern, and I realized that drummer Les Warner was splitting the double bass part between the floor tom and the single bass drum pedal. You can put a pretty funky swing into this pattern. The hi-hat foot and floor tom anchors the groove. If you want to crash on beat 1, hit the cymbal with your left hand while playing the floor tom underneath.
Try playing a crash on beat 4 and the “&” of 4 instead of the floor tom at the end of this variation.
Here’s a single-pedal workaround for a standard double-bass lick. Try using the rack tom instead of the floor tom for a more aggressive sound, à la Rough Cutt drummer Dave Alford.
This is my version of the groove for Love/Hate’s song “Tranquilizer,” which I had the opportunity to play with the band in 2011. The group’s original drummer, Joey Gold, had a wild Keith Moon–type approach. Try playing the rack and floor tom notes on the snare for more excitement.
This groove was inspired by Steve Smith’s solo on Journey’s Captured: Live. This example has a 6/8 feel. Again, playing the hi-hat foot throughout the beat adds stability to the groove. For a variation, try moving the left hand between the rack tom and floor tom.
Here’s a very powerful Cozy Powell–style lick that you can play with the previous example.
Classic double-bass quads can be played on a single pedal using the skipping technique described previously.
Now add four consecutive notes and notice how the pulse of the fill flips. Move your hands to various drums. Also, try leading with either hand for more orchestration options.
Terry Bozzio’s performance on Missing Persons’ Spring Session M was very inspiring to me. Here’s a Bozzio-type fill, which is a more sophisticated version of Exercises 8 and 9.
Hopefully these exercises get you thinking about fills and grooves in a different light. Some great single-pedal drummers to check out are Vinny Appice, on any of the records he made with Dio; Jimmy D’Anda, on the BulletBoys’ self-titled debut; Clive Burr, on Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast (especially “Gangland”); Jack Irons, on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ The Uplift Mofo Party Plan; and, of course, everything by John Bonham.
Matt Starr is the current touring drummer with Mr. Big. He’s played with Ace Frehley (Kiss) and Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow), among others, and is an active producer and career coach.