The Topic: Heel-Up Doubles
Recently, I’ve been working with a lot of students on a heel-up technique for playing two notes in a row–quickly–with a single bass drum pedal. This technique is an essential skill and will enable you to play a lot of great grooves as well as fills that incorporate the bass drum. In this post, I’ll address this technique in three ways, 1) describing the mechanics of the technique I recommend, 2) showing you a video of how this technique looks (courtesy of a great Dave Weckl video), and 3) providing you with a written exercise sheet (the PDF,”9 Exercises To Build Bass Drum Double Strokes”), that you can print out and use to give some structure to how you practice developing the technique.
Please note that this is a heel-up technique. For quiet double strokes with the bass drum (ie for jazz or any other time when quieter playing is required) a heel-down method is preferable, but that is not addressed in this article.
The Technique: Some Call It “The Slide”
The technique I use to achieve this (there are several ways) has been referred to as “The Slide,” but I prefer to think of it as the “Rocking Technique” or as the “Front-Back Technique.”
Front-Back refers to the mechanics of the motion, which require one to push down with the
front of the ball of the foot, followed by the second stroke created by rocking the foot backwards and then pushing through the back of the ball of the foot. At fast tempos, the foot does actually “Slide” up the foot board. However, the essence of the technique comes from the “Rocking” or “Front-Back” motion, and that the “Slide” is a RESULT of those motions. This is why I don’t really like to call the technique “The Slide”—the implication is that sliding is the essence of the motion, and it is not. Sliding is a result of the correct motion, not the cause of it.
The Mechanics in Words
Let me describe the mechanics in more detail, and then we’ll have a look at how Dave Weckl does it on video. In heel up technique, the ball of the foot remains on the pedal board, and I like to have my foot situated down the pedal board (ie. towards me) a bit. The toes are not pushed all the up the pedal so that they are almost touching the head of the drum. On modern DW pedals, one way to look at this is that the toes are located just at the bottom edge of the DW logo.
Here are the mechanics. I lift my heel up by engaging my thigh muscles. The front of my foot stays on the pedal. I push down through the front of the ball of my foot to get the first stroke and let the beater bounce off of the bass drum head. As the beater is coming back towards me, I rock my foot back, in a scooping kind of motion, so that my heel is now moving down towards the pedal, and the back of the ball of foot now pushes through to get me another bass drum stroke. When I get up to faster tempos doing this, the foot slides up the pedal as a result of the front-back/rocking motion.
The Mechanics on Video
Clearly, the way to really understand this is to have a look. I’ve looked around on the web, and through my video collection, and this Dave Weckl clip shows the motion pretty close to the way I do it. The only thing I don’t like is that Dave never slows it down so we can dissect the details of how it works slowly. It’s from an ’80s release, “Back To Basics.” This clip includes a lot of information about Dave’s approach to bass drum technique, but for us, of particular interest is his take on doubles with his bass drum foot. This part of the video begins at 4:38.
Dave explains it differently than I do, but I hope that the combination of his video and explanation and my explanation will help you get to a place where you can execute this technique. The way I’ve been explaining this to my students (front of the ball of the foot/back of the ball of the foot) seems to work for them and hopefully it will work for you as well. Here’s the video…Have a look.
How To Practice This Technique
Before you open up the PDF, “9 Exercises,” let’s talk about some ways you can structure your practice to focus on mastering this technique. You can play any beat that you like that has two bass drum notes right next to each other and try to apply this technique to those patterns. But before even trying that, you might simply put down your sticks and try to maneuver through the foot technique with no music in mind, no patterns in mind, nothing but the technique itself. Work on it in isolation until it starts to feel right. Then, once you think you have a handle on the physicality of the movements, then and only then, you should start on some applications, and these exercises could be among them.
Finally, The Exercise Worksheet: “9 Exercises to Build Bass Drum Double Strokes”
Here is the PDF: 9 exercises to build bass drum double strokes
Have at it. Comments, sharing and discussion are welcomed.