Thomas Lang: 5 Ideas For Faster Feet
1. Don’t Believe Everything You Hear
Foot technique is all about the foot, not about the pedal (spring tension, beater angles, or throw) and not about the shoes you wear or the tension of the bass drumhead. You should be able to apply your foot technique to all kinds of pedals, playing hi-hats, cowbells, and drums of various rebound and feel.
2. Avoid Unnecessary Motion
Every pedal has been designed and constructed by professionals who know what they’re doing. Since every pedal has a sweet spot, keep your foot right on that spot at all times. No wiggling, sliding, twitching, pivoting, rocking, or any other herky-jerky foot moves when you practice control. Move the pedal down by stepping on it. That’s it. Don’t try to be all funky by sliding around on the footboard just because you have seen someone do that. They most likely do it to compensate for a lack of power and control, or it’s just a bad habit. So keep it simple and don’t waste time and energy learning irrelevant and inefficient compensation techniques.
3. Pedal Setup
I usually take the pedal out of the box and use it just like it is. The factory setting is usually at “medium,” and that works for me. I try to spend the time that I would be fiddling with the pedal on adjusting my foot technique a little, if necessary. Of course, if the pedal is really unadjusted and uncontrollable, then I will adjust the throw, footboard angle, and spring tension to a medium setting. My aim is to be able to play decently on any pedal, no matter how it’s setup, just like I want to be able to play something decent with any pair of sticks, mallets, or
4. Your Feet Can Do Anything That Your Hands Can Do
It is only a matter of practice. Work on control, not speed. Speed comes naturally with control. I consider speed to be a mere side effect of control and technique. Try to be as creative and musical as you attempt to be with your hands. Let your imagination run wild and experiment with different sounds and ideas for multi pedal-orchestrations.
5. Play Pedals Dynamically
The kick drum — the largest drum in the drum set — deserves to be played dynamically. I use a combination of heel-up, and heel-down technique at all times, in order to play all patterns dynamically. Loud, heavy strokes and accents are played heel up. Softer, unmuffled, and unaccented strokes are played heel down. But I also use heel-down to play heavy, unmuffled strokes, and I use a lot of heel-down for broken-up patterns, multi-pedal-orchestrations, and fills. Here are some of the resulting foot-positions in detail:
Left foot heel down, right foot heel down. Simple. When you practice any heel-down stuff you will find out it’s hard and painful after a short period of time. It is an unnatural motion and a physically awkward movement that needs a lot of practice and control. The burning sensation in your shin muscles will gradually disappear with practice (that counts for both feet, of course). Practice all rudiments heel down, up to the point where you can do all rudiments with your feet heel-down at ideally the same speed as you can with your hands.
Left foot heel up, right foot heel up. This way, you can drop the weight of your whole leg into the pedal for accented strokes and powerful foot patterns. Bounce your foot off the pedal, try to get a springy motion going, bouncing off the ball of your foot. That usually feels comfortable at around 110 bpm when you bounce in eighth-notes. Try to maintain the same level of comfort and ease, and an equally balanced and natural motion in all other tempos with both feet. When I play long stretches of heel-up patterns, my heel is only about 1/2" off the heel plate of the pedal.
Right foot heel up, left foot heel-down. Try to combine these two techniques as soon as possible. Play soft heel-down strokes and heavy heel-up strokes. Any sixteenth-note pattern will immediately sound more dynamic and interesting, even if you’re just playing alternating strokes. Then work on “stickings” for your feet, such as RLLR LLRL. Practice all rudiments that way, with one foot heel up, the other foot heel down, then switch to left foot heel up, right foot heel down. Once you get used to switching comfortably between heel-up and heel-down while you play a pattern, it’s not a big deal to incorporate multi-pedal orchestrations. Play alternating sixteenth-notes (RLRLRLRL) and orchestrate the pattern like this: kick-hat-hat-kick-kick-hat-hat-kick-kick. Work on all sorts of orchestrations using four pedals, all played heel up (for now). Left foot on two pedals (kick and snare), right foot on kick, or on right hat, or any other alternative sound source. Try using two sounds at the same time to add color and timbre to a multi-pedal orchestration.
When you jump off the kick drum to play kick and hat with the next stroke, aim for the space between the two pedals in order to land safely on both pedals. When you play these things very quickly, you might not have enough time to bounce off one pedal with your whole foot, so I swivel my heel onto the second pedal in order to play two sounds. So my right heel is playing the hi-hat, while the ball of my right foot is playing the kick drum. The same works for the left foot. This way I get a short, tight “chick” sound from my hats on top of my kick drum sound.
For a longer “splashy” sound, I bounce off the kick pedal with the ball of my foot, and then land on the hi-hat — or alternatively on both the hi-hat and kick drum pedal — with my heel first (Fig. 4). That way, I get a “splashy” hat sound on top of my kick drum sound, which I can incorporate into my multi-pedal-orchestrations. That again works for both feet and is especially effective if one of the instruments played with each set of two pedals is a hi-hat. However, this also works with any other choice of instrument.
Finally, try to pull all these elements and techniques together and start orchestrating your own foot patterns. Play dynamic kick drum, snare drum, and hi-hat patterns with your feet while you hold down a strong backbeat with your hands. Eventually, try working on independence and polyrhythmic and polymetric foot or hand ostinatos, which are all played dynamically and orchestrated in one way or another.