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.

4 Responses to 9 Exercises To Build Bass Drum Double Strokes

  1. ang says:

    hi,

    actually I’ve always thought the slide technique as different from a front-back motion, thanks for this lesson.

    • feldiefeld says:

      Hi Ang -
      You’re welcome. Thanks for your comment. I disagree. The slide COMES from a front/back motion. Just my opinion.

  2. Benjamin says:

    What you could do to extend these exercises further–into double bass drum double strokes, would be to start over on exercise #1, and add a double stroke on the weak foot on the same part of the next quarter note (which would look something like exercises #5-#8), and then when you get to exercises #5-#8, you would be playing displacing alternating double strokes. The final exercise, #9, could then be played as

    ||: RRLR RLRR LRRL RRLR|RLRR LRRL RRLR RLRR|LRRL RRLR RLRR LRRL :||

    -or-

    ||: LLRL LRLL RLLR LLRL|LRLL RLLR LLRL LRLL|RLLR LLRL LRLL RLLR :||

    (If you’ll notice, the pattern is a cycling backward, then forward, then inward paradiddle.)

    • Benjamin says:

      P.S. – With what I understand of slide technique, I don’t agree with it at all. From what I understand of it, I think it’s an additional, unnecessary extension of the leg, using extra energy and motion that, at fast tempos, you can’t afford to be expending. I do, however, agree with flat-foot technique (to a degree), but that’s more because you seem to have the best dynamic control; for a long time I’ve used primarily flat-foot technique, but I’m working using primarily heels-down, especially when it comes to playing double-strokes. (When not playing I just rest my foot on the pedal- duh! Haha)

      I already use heels-down when playing double strokes, but I’m trying to develop the movements I’m using when playing doubles into something where the motion involved with the toes, ball of the foot, ankle, knee, and thigh is much like that of double-strokes played with the hands, but without the Moeller-esque swivel movement, which, while at the time being don’t quite agree with it (which is probably because I’m not sure how to get my foot to work that way), I can see myself using it more for triplets and quadruplets, where I’m guessing the twitch muscles of the muscles in just the ankles and toes would seem to start to not be quite enough to fulfill the speed and fluidity of movement needed for larger, tighter groups of notes.

      From watching the foot movements Dave Weckl was making, I think those at 6:13~6:24–like how you say you’ve shown your students (front of ball of foot, back of ball of foot)–is what I do, too, when playing double-strokes. However, I use that movement only for “a-2″, “a-3″, etc., because the back of the ball of my foot is closer to the main body of my foot, and, therefore, heavier, so when playing a note that would fall on the strong part of a beat, I use the heavier part of my foot (the back of the ball of my foot) to get that little accent, which helps tell the listener “this is where the music is” while with the “1-e”s and “&-a”s I do the opposite (for obvious reasons). (I’m still trying to work out how my foot needs to move for “e-&”…)

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