Considered the “heart of the drum kit,” the bass, or kick, drum is used to mark time in almost all styles of popular music, including pop, rock, and jazz. The appearance and functionality of this modern-day kit dates back to 1909, when drum manufacturer William F. Ludwig invented a practical bass drum foot pedal. Though there were primitive prototypes developed in the 1890s, they did not use Ludwig’s spring-activated mechanism to return the beater back to its original position after it struck the bass drum head.
Decades later, the bass drum received another makeover when big band jazz drummer Louie Bellson popularized the double bass drum setup: using two kick drums operated by two pedals–one per foot. The 1960s saw an increase in its popularity. Rock drummers Ginger Baker (Cream), Keith Moon (The Who), and Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) were all seen beating away behind two bass drums.
Today, the popular alternative to lugging around two separate bass drums is playing one drum with a double bass drum pedal. This feat in pedal technology works just like a regular pedal except that a second base plate is attached by a rod to a separate beater mechanism, which operates alongside the primary beater. Like earlier double bass setups, double pedals require both feet to operate.
Though initially popularized by jazz drummers during the mid-20th century, double bass drumming today is heard mostly in heavy metal, hard rock, and punk music (though some jazz, Latin, and country styles utilize it as well). Typically, drummers learn to play double bass to add power to their sound and to play patterns that are not possible with a single pedal, such as triplets and running sixteenth notes. Using a double bass drum pedal, rather than two separate bass drums, makes it easier to obtain a consistent sound, and also simplifies transportation and setup on stage. However, for metalheads who care more about breaking the sound barrier than saving their backs, using two bass drums produces a larger sound than a double bass pedal because each drum has extra time in between strokes to resonate. Follow these tips to get the most out of a double bass pedal.
Taming the Beat
Step 1: Shape Up
To prevent injury, build stamina, and increase leg muscle strength, drummers swear by the simple exercise of calf raises. Try doing three sets of 25 raises daily, and an extra set shortly before you’re going to play. Also, take leisurely bike rides or walks several times a week to strengthen the leg muscles, which will enable you to play faster.
Step 2: Make Adjustments
Adjusting your double bass pedal’s spring tension and beater angle are imperative to creating your desired sound, as well as keeping you comfortable. Spring tension allows the pedal to feel heavier or lighter; the higher the tension, the harder you’ll have to work to depress the pedal, but the quicker the beater will return. In addition, make sure the spring tension in both pedals is even. This prevents one leg from becoming faster than the other, ensuring consistent playing. The angle of the beater is usually adjustable, too. A louder sound is created when the angle of the beater is larger because the beater’s stroke is longer.
Step 3: Learn the “Heel Up” and “Heel Down” Methods
For musical styles requiring louder, faster, and more powerful strokes, the “heel up” technique is best. Pressing the pedals down in the middle of the footboards uses your entire leg, thus creating a louder sound.
The “heel down” method places both feet entirely on the footboards and uses the natural leverage of the pedals. This technique provides more control and is best used for playing less aggressive styles of music, such as jazz.
No matter what technique best suits the styles of music you play, it is important to practice both methods. This ensures versatility and flexibility in your playing.
Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice Your Rudiments
Practicing basic drum rudiments is just as important for your feet as it is for your hands. Practice them slowly at first (and correctly), then increase your speed to further practice technique and to increase foot control. And remember, listen to your mother and sit up straight! It improves leg mobility.
One of the most common patterns to play with the double bass pedal is the single stroke roll, in which you alternate striking the drum with your right and left foot (R L R L). Paradiddles (R L R R/L R L L) and the double stroke roll (RR LL RR LL) are more advanced rudiments that require patience and skill, but they will greatly improve leg strength and speed.
Step 5: Keep a Positive Attitude
The double bass drum pedal is an advanced drumming technique that may take months to master. Don’t get frustrated, if after one month, you still can’t play the single stroke roll for four measures in a row, at 200 bpm. For a more accurate portrayal of your progress, gauge it every two months.
This article is from our September-October 2010 issue. Click to order!