Many drummers complain about foot technique, so I dedicate this month's lesson to exercises designed to develop speed, precision, power, control, and endurance for your feet. Although specifically written for double bass drumming, the exercises that follow are just as effective when applied to a single bass drum and hi-hat.
When I began my own excursion into double bass drumming, I thought it would be neat if I could use my feet as if they were another pair of hands. The problem was, in the early 1970s, there were no drum books using that approach. So I began writing my own exercises and collecting them in a notebook, referring to them each day as I developed my foot chops. When I played some of my exercises for Louie Bellson he freaked! He encouraged me to put them into book form and DoubleDrum: A Double Bass Drum Text was born. The exercises in this lesson have been taken from the first chapter of my book, which concentrates both on building the endurance of the foot and leg muscles while coordinating the feet with one another to develop precise execution.
Developing Tension-Free Foot Technique . I approach foot technique with the same total relaxation I use in my hands. No stress, no strain, and no veins popping out of my legs at any time! This method has allowed me to develop foot technique that is nearly as fast as my hands. In 2004, my foot chops were officially measured on the Drumometer at 1,011 strokes in 60 seconds. I've gotten quite a bit faster since then, but to accomplish this type of speed without using tension, you must develop the muscles in your feet and legs. This can be done in a number of ways both on and off the drum set.
Away from the drum set, biking is one of the best exercises for developing foot and leg muscles. Swimming is another. Martial arts has also helped me develop foot and leg speed, power, control, and endurance. Recently I found a “toy” that I consider to be one of the best devices for developing the feet and legs. In fact, it gives you a better muscle workout than playing on actual drum pedals! It's called the “Futz” Practice Pedal (pronounced foots) from Hansenfutz. What makes the Futz such a great exercise tool is its adjustable tension capability, which allows you to develop your muscles in a variety of ways by providing varying levels of resistance. And, as a bonus, the Futz also makes a great accessory pedal and can even be used as an electronic trigger pedal.
Basic Exercises. Although there are many approaches to foot technique, we will be applying the two most basic ones in this initial lesson: Heel Up and Heel Down. Check out the video supplement for a detailed explanation of how to apply the rudiments in the exercises that follow to your feet.
Although I'm playing the entire series of exercises straight through on the video, in practice, you should repeat each two-bar phrase at least eight times before moving to the next (without stopping). For best results, start at an extremely slow tempo (such as 60 bpm). Gradually move the metronome up a notch at a time, but only after you can play the entire series of exercises with complete control and total relaxation. Continue to practice regularly, raising the tempo when you can, and you'll be well on your way to total control of your feet.
Bonus Drill . If you've been following my series of Speed Lesson columns here on the DRUM! Magazine site, you'll know that this is the re-presentation of lessons I originally produced for DRUM! starting in 2004. Since web video capabilities have improved greatly since then, I re-filmed all of the video and I often add bonus drills that weren't in the original lessons. Check out the accompanying video clip for a drill that I developed that has helped me greatly improve the speed, accuracy, and endurance of my feet.
As with hand technique, the only way you will improve your feet is through regular practice. Even a few minutes each day will show improvement much faster than longer sessions at irregular intervals. There are many exercises you can use to improve your feet in addition to those listed here. If you don't have my book DoubleDrum: A Double Bass Drum Text, I suggest you play through a book like George Stone’s Stick Control. Simply practice any of the exercises written for your hands on your feet.
Until next time, keep practicing and stay loose!