Getting Your Feet Up To Speed
I've been teaching drums for many years and by far the most common complaint I've heard from new students is that they aren't quite satisfied with their feet - technique-wise, that is. While lack of speed seems to be the most common problem, shaky endurance ranks a close second. If you aren't as happy with your feet as you could be, here are some tips and tricks to help bring your feet up to speed.
Why So Many Foot Problems?
There are two major reasons such a large majority of drummers have problems with foot technique: They spend too little time working on feet and/or they practice ineffective foot exercises. While there are a few good instructional books that can help you develop your footwork (including DoubleDrum: A Double Bass Drum Text by yours truly), you can start out with a classic book, originally written for the hands, called Stick Control by George L. Stone. If you don't already own these, by all means get them. (See the Related Links sidebar.)
If you are a more advanced footologist, you can practice most of the exercises in Stick Control using your feet instead of your hands. But if you're just beginning to work on your feet, I suggest you start slowly as outlined below.
Single Stroke Roll
Single Strokes: You've practiced them with your hands (hopefully) and now you need to practice them with your feet. Don't make the mistake of thinking that Singles Strokes are beneficial only to double bass drummers. Singles build proper leg and foot muscles and improve foot reaction times for all drummers. This will enable you to pop in that funky kick drum accent in just the right place or splash your sock cymbal on command. The endurance and control you'll develop through properly executed Single Strokes will also help you with your performance of left foot clave-type rhythms ALA"El Negro."
Here's the most effective way to build your feet using simple Single Strokes:
- Dial your metronome (see the Related Resources sidebar) to a tempo somewhere around quarter-note equals 100.
- Play one bar (in 4/4 time) of eighth-note Single Strokes (RLRLRLRL) with your hands, followed by a second bar of eighth-note Single Strokes with your feet. Repeat this pattern, alternating between hands and feet, until you feel the muscles in your feet becoming loose and relaxed. If your feet are really out of shape, they'll also get very tired and begin to stiffen up. If this happens, slow the tempo down and continue working out. Eventually, you'll build up endurance and your feet will no longer tire out. For the ultimate in speed, you must approach drumming with the feet the same way you approach drumming with your hands: Loose and relaxed (See Build Your Double Bass Chops in the Related Links sidebar for more on staying loose). Those of you who are familiar with this column know that my motto is "Stay Loose." To me, staying loose is the most important thing you can do for your drumming, and it's not a bad approach to take in life either. I've known drummers who have developed huge calluses and even tumors on their hands and feet from years of playing under constant, extreme tension. This stuff is definitely not good for your body or your drumming.
- Once you can easily play the previous exercise, turn the metronome up a few notches and practice it again. After you become comfortable playing it up to around quarter-note equals 160 on the metronome, proceed to step 4. Note that this may take a few days or weeks and that's fine. Give it time and don't rush it.
- The second exercise you can work on is to play two bars of eighth-note Single Strokes with your hands, followed by two bars of eighth-note Single Strokes with your feet. Repeat this pattern, alternating between hands and feet, until you can play it easily for about half an hour at a metronome speed of quarter-note equals 160. I find that watching TV helps greatly with these types of endurance exercises. Not only does doing something else take your mind off of the monotonous exercise but watch a half-hour TV show and when the shows over, so is your workout.
- Remember, we're not just working on building speed here but endurance as well. Speed is useless without endurance. To that end, practice the previous exercise until you can easily play it at your top metronome speed for an hour or more. Again, this can be done while relaxing and watching an hour-long TV show. Top metronome speed will vary and increase as your feet and legs get more of a workout but I would suggest that you shoot for a short-term goal of about quarter-note equals 208 on the metronome. It won't let you win any fastest drummer contests, but it's a great start on the way to building speed, strength, and endurance in your feet and legs.
So Many Exercises
Don't feel that the exercises I gave you above are the only ones that will help your feet. Although I encourage you to follow my suggested pattern of slowly increasing both the duration and speed of the exercise, feel free to use any of your favorite stickings (or footings, so to speak) for the actual exercise. You can use Double Stroke Rolls, Paradiddles, or any other pattern from the first 3 pages of the Stick Control book.
Once you've built your feet up to the point where you can play and remain relaxed for an hour or so, try playing the exercise with the feet alone - don't alternate between the hands. Better yet, to give your hands a workout at the same time, play some hand patterns along with your feet. And because your hands are probably faster than your feet, try playing eighth-notes on the feet while playing sixteenth-notes on the hands.
The best way to build up your feet is the same approach you should to building your hands - slowly and gradually. If you build endurance at the same time your working on speed, you'll eventually get to the point where you can easily play anything you can think of either with your hands or feet. All you need to do is put in some solid, regular practice (while watching your favorite TV shows).
Remember, it's always better to practice at regular intervals for shorter lengths of time, than to practice sporadically for long hours.
Stay Tuned for the Reprint of Tiger Bill's DoubleDrum - Coming Soon!
Until next time... Stay loose!