If you’re like me, you listen enviously to the precision of Anika Nilles, the fast alt-rock beats of Dave Grohl and Tré Cool, the thundering power of Stella Mozgawa and Janet Weiss, and of course the mind-blowing bass drum of John Bonham, and dream of having a faster kick drum foot. In Part I of our bass drum series we explored pedal techniques. Now, in Part II, we provide exercises and drills to build stamina and control on the bass drum (eventually leading to speed), giving you access to an entirely new palette of grooves and fills.
Fast 16th note kick doubles are everywhere in rock and pop music. Equally as important as speed on these beats is precision, meaning the bass drum strokes are not only equal in volume, they are equally spaced in time. Why do linear beats and fills involving the kick drum sound so cool? Because each hit is precisely in its own time slot. Fast 16th notes are notoriously prone to swing and slide toward their adjoining notes creating a galloping feel. So, when you play the below exercises, it’s crucial to start slow to internalize the patterns and make sure all your strokes are falling exactly where they should before you speed them up.
I run through most of these drills every time I sit at the drumset, for 1-2 minutes each. As a result, I’ve increased my kick drum doubles speed from 80 bpm to 140 bpm, and my 16th note grooves and linear fills are cleaner and more precise than they’ve ever been.
Tip: For each exercise, figure out your maximum tempo, then play them around 70% of your max speed. Repetition builds muscle memory (and thus speed and control), so instead of constantly going full-blast on these drills, and maybe playing sloppy, spend most of your time at the fastest tempo where you can play the exercise perfectly.
Below each drill is a link to a playable, changeable and shareable transcription of that exercise using the free, browser-based transcription tool, Groove Scribe. Just hit the spacebar to play!
Alternating foot and hands
This exercise involves alternating singles between the kick and hands. Incredibly useful for grooves like the chorus of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” (see both below), where a kick falls in between a stroke on the hi-hat or ride cymbal.
Groove Scribe transcription: https://goo.gl/FiwyQB
Groove Scribe transcription: https://goo.gl/hQdGs7
If you struggle with these exercises at first, realize it takes time to build the muscles in your legs and core the same way training at the gym does. And, building up your core and leg strength away from the drumset (by weight and interval training, running, dancing, swimming, etc) can help immensely. Finally- just like working out, if you are doing an intensive regimen of kick drum exercises every day, stretching and regular time off is critical to give your muscles time to heal and develop.
Stay tuned for the next installment in our Focus on the Bass Drum series: “Part III – Speed”, where we’ll take an in-depth look at the skip/slide, heel-toe, swivel, and other fast pedal techniques for doubles and triples speeds over 125 bpm.
–> And f you’re ready for comprehensive, step-by-step courses in foot speed and control, check out Mike Johnston’s online courses at mikeslessons.com. <–
JJ Jones is an internationally touring, Berklee-trained drummer and educator. She has played with folk-pop darlings Girlyman, comedian Margaret Cho, Egyptian revolutionary Ramy Essam, and LA’s riot-pop band WASI, among many others. She is the founder of EmpowerDrumming.com, a drumming education company for women.