How To Develop Foot Speed!

Looking back on my early percussion education, it’s now apparent that lessons covering bass drum technique weren’t particularly in depth. In fact, they didn’t really go much further than the introduction. “Do that bit with your foot,” was pretty much the only instruction I received.

foot speedA few years later, a friend of mine bought a double kick pedal, fueled by his determination to play along to song Metallica albums. Not to be outdone, I bought one too, though my taste in music at the time didn’t really call for one, so it just sat around gathering dust.

That said, I’ve since discovered that you don’t have to be playing the heaviest music this side of Iceland to warrant a double kick pedal, but you should maybe use it sparingly in jazz band rehearsals.

As I mentioned previously, my introduction to the bass drum was somewhat lackluster. Early on in my drumming career, I didn’t even realize there were multiple ways to use the kick pedal.

I started off by keeping my heel down and pushing the pedal with my toes, which can make you sound like a drummer who lacks confidence. Later on, I started playing with my toes down and pushing the pedal with my heel after a new teacher told be that the kick mallet should always be touching the batter of the bass drum, which I never really questioned, so I’m not sure if there’s any science to why.

Before we get into exercises, there’s some basic stuff to discuss. I’m not trying to belittle you, but try and pay close attention to your foot positioning on the secondary kick pedal – that foot likely isn’t as familiar with working the bass drum and will have a tendency to slack off. Try to ensure that both feet are positioned in the same place on the pedal, and that both pedals are at the same tightness. If they’re not, you’ll probably fall out of sync within a few bars.

Shockingly (not really), increasing your foot speed is not hugely dissimilar to increasing your hand speed – it’s mostly about control and beat division. Before you try to play any progressive thrash metal, you’ve got to put in the legwork (pun definitely intended).

Double Pedal Exercises:

If you’re familiar with my article on improving hand speed, you might rrecognizethis exercise, but I promise this isn’t me trying to hit a word count. This exercise works as a nice pedal warm up, or a good starting point for complete beginners.

Play this at a sauntering tempo, increasing 5 or 10BPM every few minutes. If you can handle that, it’s time to start adding rhythms over the top. Keep it simple at first, with stuff like a snare on 2 and 4, along with a hi-hat on every beat. If you can keep adding to the hands and adjusting the tempo, that means you’ve succeeded in keeping your hands and feet independent of each other. Congrats!

Alternating semi-quavers and triplets are helpful for breeding limb independence and improving beat division. Try this exercise with the usual 2 and 4 on the snare and hi-hat on every beat.

Single Pedal:

When I was in my late teens, I stumbled upon the “heel-toe” method, undoubtedly after hours of failing at double-kicks and crying out to the heavens “there has to be a better way!”
Heel-toe is exactly as it sounds.

You play the kick drum once with your heel, then follow that up with a toe hit, which feels incredibly natural, so it’s pretty easy to pick up. I became enamored with the method and found it slipping into all of my beats, which all the bands I’ve ever played in have given me notes about.

The urge with heel-toe playing is to go as fast as possible, because it sounds kind of badass, and you can daydream about being in NOFX. My drum teacher gave me a fun heel-toe warm up that played into that feeling and I still use it all the time.

Adding alternating crashes on every snare hit adds to the fun on this one.

Unfortunately, with every fun exercise comes a lesson about tempo and beat division control.

The same drum teacher gave me this exercise to ensure I was playing each heel-toe cleanly and definitively in the right place. This is one of those exercises that is more difficult when played at a lower BPM, but it can still be fun.

It’s essentially sextuplets all around the kit and it was part of a longer piece, but this is the gist of it. With this one, be sure to spend a lot of time in the lower end of the BPMs – that might seem boring now, but it’ll be worth it when your heel-toe technique is the talk of the town (admittedly, a very nerdy town).