An issue that I hear a lot is how to properly use your bass drum pedal for effective bass drum technique. If you are a new drummer, the best tip I can provide is to just keep practicing. Most beginner issues usually revolve around muscle memory and simply getting used to using the pedal.
Having said that, there are a few things to keep in mind when working on your bass drum technique, such as the beater bouncing off the head, your leg getting tired, or having the bass drum move away from you.
I’m here to address some of these issues in order to help you get comfortable using your pedal.
If you just want to skip ahead to some a solid and trusted video series, Drumeo has a great course you can check out which is specifically designed to help you improve your bass drum technique.
*Note: We have written another article regarding JoJo Mayer’s excellent DVD, “Secret Weapons for the Modern drummer Part 2“, which is all about the bass drum as well.*
SET UP YOUR DRUMS PROPERLY
First things first, let’s get the bass drum in the right position. A common mistake that I see a lot of drummers make is setting the bass drum up in the wrong position for the natural angle of your feet.
When setting up your drums, the bass drum should be placed at a slight angle, and NOT directly in front of you. Try sitting down at your throne before setting up any of your drums, and place your feet on the ground where it feels comfortable.
Wherever your right foot lands is the angle where you will place the bass drum and pedal. This allows you to sit much more comfortably, leading to a lot less stress on your body.
This is how you be setting up your drum kick every time. Start with the proper bass drum positioning, and then build the rest of the kit from there. Go for a natural position, do not force your body into angles it doesn’t want to go.
PLACE THE BASS DRUM ON A SUITABLE SURFACE
The next step is to make sure that your bass drum is sitting on a surface that won’t allow it move. Use something simple and easy to transport like Drumfire’s non slip drum mat.
There are also a ton of other standard drum carpets available on Amazon. The material doesn’t really matter, just as long as it is going to keep the bass drum from moving away from you when you hit it.
It is also important to make sure that the legs of your bass drum are set up in the correct way, and are at the proper height, otherwise your kick drum might move around when it’s struck. Most bass drum legs have retractable spikes at the feet which can help secure the bass drum as well.
A slight note is to remember to be careful with the drum spikes. Depending on the thickness of the mat you’re using, the spikes might go straight through to the floor. If you happen to be playing on a hardwood or marble floor, you might run the risk of damaging the surface.
SIT AT THE RIGHT HEIGHT
Throne height is another issue that I see many drummers struggle with. I’m going to go ahead and say that I think it looks weird when a drummer is sitting really low on his kit. Sitting low isn’t very good for your joints, and is going to make using your pedals a lot harder than it needs to be.
Instead, when you are setting up your throne, make sure that you are thighs are sitting at at least 90 degrees. I prefer to sit up even higher, because I have more control over the whole drum kit that way. I find that sitting slightly higher also keeps my thighs away from the snare drum allowing me to make consistent rimshots.
Most importantly, you need to have a comfortable drum throne that allows for a lot of height variations. A good drum throne is often overlooked, but is incredibly important. If you sit at your drums for any amount of time and aren’t comfortable, you can develop very annoying back problems.
My favorite throne, and the industry standard, is the Rock-N-Soc Saddle Throne. It’s very comfortable, adjusts easy, is extremely sturdy, and has a large range of height. You can purchase either the threaded throne (my personal favorite), or you can splurge for the hydraulic version if you’re feeling fancy.
WHICH PEDAL SHOULD I USE
Honestly, don’t waste too much time with which pedal you need to use. As long as your pedal is made from a reputable company, you should be able to achieve what you are looking for. When it comes to pedals, far more important than the brand or make is how easy it is to set up.
Personally, I’m not a man of extravagance, and as such I stick with the simple and cheap pedals. Yamaha’s 7210 Single Chain Drive Pedal is my all time favorite. It’s affordable, light-weight, and very easy to set up. Other classic pedals include the DW 5000 Dual-Chain Accelerator, the Iron Cobra 200 Single-Chain Pedal, and the Pearl Eliminator Single-Chain Pedal.
The main differences when looking for a bass drum pedal are just extra features: different chain styles, multiple beater heads, and fancier baseplates. A dual-chain pedal will be slightly smoother and much more durable than a single chain.
The baseplates on each pedal will be slightly different as well. However, if you have set up your bass drum properly, different style baseplates aren’t such a big issue.
Setting up your pedal properly is where you can make a $50 pedal feel like a $500 pedal. Again, the first thing to pay attention to is whether or not your bass drum is properly set up and level as this has a large affect on how your pedal will perform.
When setting up my pedal, I usually start with the angle of the beater. I usually aim to have the beater at about a 45 degree angle away from the bass drum head. You can change this angle by adjusting the cam of the pedal (The point where the chain wraps around and the beater is placed).
If the beater is too close to the skin, you won’t be able to build up any momentum and get any real volume. If the beater is too far away from the skin, it will take far longer to make impact slowing you down, and will be difficult to control the volume.
Secondly, I will adjust the spring tension. This is usually located on the right side of the pedal, and is controlled with a series of adjustable washers. I prefer a looser spring tension as I feel like it gives me more control over the movement of the pedal and allows me to hone in one smaller strokes.
Some players prefer a tighter spring tension which can contribute to a faster speed, so you’ll have to experiment with what works best for you and your techniques.
Lastly, always make sure that the pedal is well lubricated with some kind of grease, or else you’ll end up with issues of rust, and the pedal freezing up on you.
Here is a really comprehensive video done by Steve Timms, where he shows you how to set up a CB pedal.
HEEL UP, OR HEEL DOWN?
I will address this common question right away: It doesn’t matter! There are two main techniques used with playing your bass drum pedal: Heel up, or heel down.
Which technique is the best is a huge debate amongst the drumming community. Personally, I do not believe in sticking with either, and depending on the style and venue, I will use both. I will say this again: It doesn’t matter!
If you are a rock drummer, or someone who likes to play your drums loud, heel up might be the best choice. This technique is done by placing your toes on the pedal closest to the drum, and using your leg to make most of the movements.
You will also find yourself pivoting your ankle for faster movements. For newer drummers, this technique might feel a little bit awkward at first. Your leg might get tired from holding it up all the time, or you might lose your balance.
A lot of these problems will go away with time, but there are some ways you can help yourself out. First, it is most important to have your gravity centered in order to stay balanced. Again, this can be addressed with the use of a proper drum throne.
Focus your weight onto the drum throne, and not onto your legs. If your center of gravity is good, you will find a lot of the issues will fade away.
This technique is great for jazz players, or for controlling your volume. Having said that, I’ve seen players of all styles use heel down to great effect, so don’t think that you have to stick to heel up if you like to play louder.
Heel down is done by resting your whole foot onto the pedal while placing the weight of your leg onto your heel. If you are not used to this, you might find that your shins will get sore after some time.
Again, this goes away with time and practice. Also, for some drummers, getting really fast speed with heel down might be an issue. I’ve seen drummers play incredibly fast while using heel down, but I find it easier to use heel up for faster playing.
ELIMINATE “BEATER BOUNCING”
Beater bouncing occurs when you strike you bass drum causing the beater to bounce off only to have it strike again creating a “double tap” of sorts. This seemingly occurs all by itself.
This appears to be a huge problem, and also something that is hugely blown out of proportion. This is not that big of an issue overall, but it is nice if it can be avoided.
The main reason this happens, is that you are not used to using the pedal. As with all drumming techniques, you are building muscles that you are not used to using, and this takes time.
Make sure that after striking the bass drum, lift your foot slightly to help the beater clear the head. Again, this is not a big problem, and with time, it will fix itself.
Here is a great video from Ed Soph on controlling the beater:
TO BURY OR NOT TO BURY?
Burying the beater means that when you strike the bass drum, you keep the beater pushed into the head. This CAN be bad for two reasons. First of all, you are creating a sound that is harsh, and are not allowing the drum to resonate properly. Secondly, you are putting more weight than is necessary onto your pedal, which will compromise your balance.
However, I know of many drummers that successfully bury the beater and still get great sounds out of their bass drum. The tonal issues with burying the beater can be combated with a tuning that allows for such a technique. Experiment with your bass drum tuning along with your bass drum playing style.
There are plenty of drummers that bury the beater and are still awesome, but if you are a newer drum student, this is a technique should be avoided until you are well trained.
If you find that you are losing your balance due to burying the beater, you can avoid this by allowing the pedal some time to lift off of the head once your strike it. If you keep practicing the “beater bouncing” technique, you will be able to avoid burying the beater as well.
By keeping these things in mind,you should be using your bass drum pedal properly in no time with little to no effort. These tips are healthy reminders for beginners to advanced drummers alike.
For more tips and tricks, consider giving a course a try. In the end, it is important to remember, the more you practice, the more everything will feel comfortable and natural in the end.