Good drummers know that when striking a drum with a stick, it is important to get the stick back off the drumhead as quickly as possible. There are exceptions to this but, in general, that is the technically correct way to play that gives the drummer the ultimate in both tone from the drum and speed of motion. It is obvious that if the drumstick lays on the drumhead after a stroke then it needs to move in two directions before it can hit the drum again. The stick has to move upward first before it can move back downward to the drumhead.
When playing the bass drum it is as equally important to get the beater back off the drumhead as it is when striking a drum with a stick. However, many drummers leave the beater on the drumhead after it strikes the drum…or what is called burying the beater. This technique can be used to get a more deadened or muffled sound from the bass drum…especially one that is heavily muffled, but if tone and speed are desired, leaving the beater buried into the drumhead is counter-productive.
HEEL UP or HEEL DOWN?
Most drummers play the bass drum using either the heel-down or heel-up technique. Some stay with one or the other of those while some will use both techniques at various times. Usually the heel-down technique is used by drummers playing more jazz oriented music while the heel-up technique is used by those playing heavier styles such as r&b, rock, blues, funk….and whatever is the current pop style of the day.
Another difference in the two techniques is that most heel-down users will play from the ankle with the heel stationary on the drum pedal and the beater motion executed by the ball of the foot pushing down on the pedal and thus forcing the beater to hit the drumhead. Most heel-up players will use the force of the leg almost stomping down on the pedal to facilitate the beater hitting the drumhead. Anyone who has studied any type of science can see that there is a tremendous difference in the amount of mass that needs to be moved with each of these techniques. What’s faster to move? An ankle or a whole leg? And which takes more effort? It is obvious that the heel-down technique will be faster using less energy. It is also obvious that the heel-up technique will give more power….but will tend toward the beater staying in the drumhead after the stroke.
COMBINING HEEL UP & HEEL DOWN TO EXPAND YOUR ARSENAL
The heel-raise technique I’m about to detail is one that can be used for both speed and power when needed. It allows the player to bury the beater if desired or let the beater come off the drumhead with as much power. But I think once a drummer learns to use the technique correctly the buried beater days might be over. Why sacrifice speed when you can have both speed and power?
To begin, put your foot on the bass pedal as normal when using the heel-down method.
Next, lift your heel very quickly as high as you can. This will force the ball of your foot downward on the pedal footboard making the beater hit the drumhead. Immediately after the beater hits the drum, while keeping the ball of your foot on the pedal, allow the beater to come back to its starting position. The ending position will be with the heel in the air.
Keep in mind that the ball of your foot will always have full contact with the footboard and remain on the pedal. Lifting any part of the foot off the pedal will inhibit control of the beater strokes.
Put the heel back down and do the technique again…always ending with the heel in the ‘up’ position and allowing the beater to rebound off the head. After doing it a few times you will find that you can control where the beater stops with the pressure of the ball of your foot. You will also find that the harder and quicker you move the heel upward, the stronger the stroke will be and the more volume you will attain. It is very important that the beater rebounds off the drumhead and comes back to the starting position with your foot maintaining contact with the pedal at all times.
The next step is to do the same technique but only raising your heel half the distance.
You won’t develop as much power, but that isn’t the point. Just have the beater come off the drum while controlling and stopping it with the pressure of the ball of your foot on the pedal.
When you can make the beater come to a complete stop with your heel in the halfway position, then move your heel upward from the halfway position to the original ‘up’ position as in the 2nd photo. This should cause the beater to strike the drumhead again getting a note with each motion….one note when moving to the halfway point and another note when moving from the halfway point to the full up position.
When practicing this, be sure and have the beater come to a complete stop at both heel positions. Then gradually shorten the amount of time between the two notes….stopping the beater for shorter and shorter periods. Eventually it will become one smooth motion with the heel moving from the ‘down’ position through the ‘halfway’ mark to the ‘up’ position, getting two notes in a row….one when the heel is at the halfway point and another when it is at the up position. Move the heel faster, and you will get a double-stroke sound with one heel motion. This is very similar to playing double strokes with a stick to get two notes with one motion.
Work for a few days to get this technique down. In Part II, I’ll describe how to get 3 and even 4 notes with one stroke. I’ll be interested to hear your comments and questions!
————————————Mat Marucci has written several books for Mel Bay Publications, including “15-Minute Warm-Ups For Drums”, “Drumstick Finger Systems And Techniques”, “Drum Rudiments: A Simple Approach” and “Drumming Facts, Tips and Warm-ups”.
This article is excerpted from Mat’s upcoming book, “Jazz Drumming Essentials (and more)” – coming in 2010!