How (Not) To Practice Bass Drum Speed
Updated: Jan 28
I just watched a short video tutorial on YouTube. The guy in the video is a drum teacher and he talked about how to develop your bass drum speed. His so-called “secret” to a faster BD foot was an exercise that he explains in the video.
The only instructions he provided us with were to play each bar for 30 seconds. That’s it. Do this exercise for a few minutes and you’ll get faster in no time.
I know that there are many young drummers out there that watch these kinds of videos on YouTube. I do not recommend practicing like this. YouTube can be a great place to gain knowledge and learn all kinds of stuff. But the information on YouTube isn't always the best and it's the listener's job to determine whether a piece of information is good or bad. For young aspiring drummers, this can be very frustrating, so I'm trying to help.
I bet you’re wondering what’s wrong with this exercise and what you could replace this exercise with. Here you go:
I don’t have a problem with the exercise itself. Of course, if you practice this exercise for a few months regularly, your bass drum speed will increase. Cool. But what for?
You know the problem I have with this, is that all you gain is speed. Nobody’s addressing control, dynamics, creativity or technique. Nobody’s addressing musicality. That’s my problem.
Need For Speed?
What good is speed if you have no musical application for it? It’s like learning all the words a lexicon contains by heart, but you have no idea what the words mean. What are you left with? You just lost countless hours by memorizing all these words. Now you know hundreds of words but can’t use them. Most importantly you have not understood the point of a lexicon, which is to help you express yourself better by using more precise and accurate words. That’s exactly what practicing music should do as well.
To not waste your valuable time with shallow exercises, always ask yourself what the exercise provides you with musically. Let’s make the above-mentioned exercise more musical.
Talking about music in seconds, minutes and hours makes not much sense. Practice and development should never be measured by time, but rather by achieving goals. Get in the habit of thinking of Music in subdivisions, measures and parts.
Get rid of thinking you have to do 30 seconds of each bar. It makes more musical sense to do 16 bars of each. Also, if you talk about speed it makes sense to keep the bar counts. As at faster tempos you play more notes in a shorter time frame. Which means that you probably wouldn’t be able to hold faster tempos for as long as you would slower tempos.
Focus on your technique
Constantly look at your foot and check if your movement is fluid, if it looks good and if it feels right. Try different shoes, barefoot or with socks. What works for you?
Use different techniques. How fast can you go with heel down? How loud can you go with heel down? What about heel up? How soft and how slow can you go with heel up? Any other techniques you want to use? Go ahead!
Keep the HH going
Practice the exercise with your HH foot playing quarter notes and eighth notes. At first it’s going to make the exercise much harder because your brain will have to get used to it. But once you developed the independence required, your brain will be able to focus again on the technique and speed of your bass drum foot.
Play the exercise in different dynamics. Play it a few times through in pianissimo and fortissimo. How loud can you go? How soft can you go? Practice crescendos and decrescendos. How fast can you change between dynamics? Important here is to always play the rhythmic subdivisions clearly and on point.
Use a metronome to keep track of your progress. That way you’ll see that you’re actually making some, otherwise, how would you know? I also recommend you to do practice sessions without the metronome, as this will improve your inner clock and you’ll have more brain capacity to focus on what you’re actually doing.
With these few tips and trick we turned a simple technical exercise into music. Be careful when you browse the web as there's a lot of information out there, good and bad. I hope I could give you an insight on how you could redesign exercises to make them more musical.