Play Faster! With Mangini, Bittner & Rabb

Johnny Rabb

What are the best ways to develop speed in your feet?

Rabb: This is something I am still working on myself. My left foot is great as a decent double-pedal groove or fill player, but horrible for blast beats, etc. So, I have just turned my kit around and started with basic grooves using my left foot as the lead. This has also helped my left hand on the hi-hat and right hand on the snare. I have spent the last 27 years playing with my right foot as the dominant bass drum foot. So, if I can spend half that time developing my left, I should be able to do doubles, singles, or whatever I desire. I don’t have any secrets.

Bittner: For my development, the best way to develop foot speed was to practice long patterns of sixteenth-notes, triplets, and thirty-second-notes along with a metronome … for endless hours. I still do it today to some extent.

Mangini: The best of way to develop foot speed is to understand which techniques exist and the way the muscles are used at different tempos and velocities. I'd have to say that sitting without pedals, on a chair with your heels up, working out by moving the upper legs a little bit and the ankles as much as possible, gets right to the point the quickest. It isn't the pattern that matters, it is the amount of focus and repetition that counts more.

Mike Mangini

What, if any, exercises do you currently use to maintain your speed/chops?

Rabb: Here is a killer exercise taught to me by Jimmy Robinson (a great jazz drummer from Sacto, CA): Play with either right or left foot. Originally it is all quarter-notes, right foot, with 2/4 hi-hat chick. Start slow and gradually increase in volume, then work back down. Play a jazz ride pattern with the right hand and work on your time. This totally developed my dynamics on my bass drum. The other is just to play 1e, 2e, 3e, 4e starting with your right foot for a measure, then left foot for a measure. The practicing is endless!

Bittner: Playing rudiments to a metronome is still my preferred exercise. Although currently my practicing has been focused more on hand technique, rather than speed.

Mangini: Currently, I am reading The All-American Drummer by Charles Wilcoxon that we use at Berklee, as well as combining a five-time signature exercise. I have chosen these two things because choosing more would not allow me to progress at anything. I practice 15 minutes one day, 30 minutes another in one week at best. I simply have not practiced for two days in a row in any week since 2002 except in clinic-day warm-up sessions. Therefore, I pick patterns to play that require my attention for what I think will be a year before I really see the results I want. I know all too well that we all must earn it. I do not escape this aspect of nature. Given the little time I actually can give to it, I know my muscle memory will need constant exposure to the same patterns for a long time.

What advice do you have for beginners wanting to play faster?

Rabb: Make sure you have a grip on solid time, groove, dynamics, and feel, and have a teacher that can guide you. If you are self-taught, that’s cool, but try to open your mind to all styles of music. Speed is not the answer unless you first have all of your other parts of drumming together. Basic fundamentals are much more important than playing blazing fast hands or feet. It all has its time and place, so just use it wisely. Start slowly and work your way up. And use a metronome!

Bittner: My advice to beginners would be to make sure you can play the exercises you want to play slowly and properly, before trying to play fast. Speed comes with time and practice. I always tell my students, “Better to play something slow and perfect, than fast and sloppy.”

Mangini: Understand it for what it is. Better yet, choosing to be faster because of a musical expression gives purpose to the speed practicing. This type of goal-setting promotes lots of good things, especially a respect for those who have worked harder than ourselves at something, and acting well towards others by sharing the information, not being wrathful, angry or vein.

Jason Bittner photo by Robert Downs

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