1. DOUBLE BASS DRUMMING: Driving on the Left Side (from the Right Perspective)–Leading With the Left Foot
    by Scott Stedeford

    Most right-handed drummers begin double-bass phrases with their right foot. It is only natural. And this is what many double bass instructors teach their students. But this approach comes with an inherent alignment issue that could be problematic for some drummers. For example, if you play a straight 8th-note or 16th-note double bass phrase, you’ll notice that the foot must play each beat in conjunction with the snare hand. In concept it’s good to have this kind of lateral limb independence. Functionally, however, it can stifle the feel of certain double bass phrases.

    I’m right handed. My dominant right side naturally takes the lead in almost everything I do. Yet when I began learning double bass I struggled to keep my right foot aligned with my left snare hand. I could start patterns with precision using my right foot; but when the first snare stroke landed, my feet seemed to automatically trade leadership roles. At first I wasn’t able to realize what was happening. I would feel an interruption in the coordination of my feet, and hear a sloppy blurb of notes as the feet stuttered and assumed their new roles.

    I was very discouraged. It was the type of issue that wouldn’t correct itself. In fact, it seemed only to worsen the harder I tried to correct it. {How could my dominant foot be so uncoordinated?} At first I tried diagnosing the problem by slowing down the troublesome phrases. Unfortunately, what happens at tempo doesn’t always happen when you slow down. At slower rates I found that I had no problem maintaining the right foot/left hand alignment. To analyze the problem more effectively, I had to isolate my right foot during play. I did this by removing my left foot from the pedal and placing it on the floor next to the pedal. Then I played at full speed.

    Immediately I noticed that when the snare hand landed, the right foot played two beats instead of one — or, a double stroke — after which it would maintain a steady meter without interruption. The second beat, I discovered, acted to invert the right foot’s position from playing the on the down beat to playing the on the up beat. The left foot then became the down beat player. At the point of conversion, however, the left foot was forced to pause for a spit second, causing the sloppy stuttering of beats.

    For a time I devoted many practice sessions to the right foot, trying to force its alignment with the snare hand to feel natural. It didn’t work. So I was left with the following conclusions: (1) it felt natural to begin phrases with my right foot, but (2) it felt unnatural for the right foot and left hand to align (at least on straight 8th-note or 16th-note patterns), and thus (3) my right foot automatically relinquished its leadership role by adding a double stroke. With this information I was able to formulate a coordination simple and effective fix. I simply moved the double stroke to the head of the phrase. This allowed me to start all phrases with my confident right foot but with the left foot playing all the down beats, and corrected the alignment from lateral to same-side limbs (left foot with left hand, right foot with right hand). Most importantly, it felt and sounded strong, confident, and natural.

    This was a good fix, but only up to a point. As the speed increased, my ability to execute a clean double stroke decreased. But the correction, again, was easy. I simply removed the first stroke, leaving the second stroke in its original metric position. The first beat in the phrase therefore contained no bass drum; the beat was only implied by whatever instrument I chose to begin with (hi-hat, ride, etc.). The second bass drum stroke plays the up beat, with the left foot following on all down beats. The hands and feet remain synchronized without compromising the sound. In fact, at high speeds the missing bass drum isn’t noticeable. It sounds very clean, intentional and stylistic.

    I’m sure this will help those of you who are struggling with the same alignment issues. But don’t let these approaches stop you from building superior limb independence and left foot coordination. Ultimately it’s an issue of feel. Rhythms groove because you’re body, each limb, is comfortable in the groove. If you find yourself struggling, take time to analyze the problem, and create a solution. There are no wrong limb combinations. Drive on the left side when you need to

  2. DOUBLE BASS DRUMMING – A Balancing Act: Calibration Technique For All Skill Levels
    by Scott Stedeford

    Frustration is a way of life when learning to play an instrument. But it’s a good thing as an ingredient to development, if you stay eager to learn and refine your abilities. Easier said than done? Of course! you say, when it comes to double bass drumming. This time, however, I’d like to give that old cliche a rest and share with you a simple but powerful technique that produces instant results.

    Most of us start out as single kick players, and so our non-dominant leg has been living a comfortable life anchored to the hi-hat pedal. This has provided a lot of stability, and enabled a lot of mobility around the kit. But once both legs are moving, the anchor is gone, and it feels like learning how to play all over again.

    Most double bass frustration therefore can be traced to balance. When it’s off, nothing comes together. As your legs move, you might feel your body sway, or push back and away from the kit, or maybe lean to one side (usually to your dominant side), while the second leg feels weak and unruly, and the foot seems to flop up and down on the pedal. It can be overwhelming, because the issues seem too many, too complex. Where do you begin?

    My balance issues surfaced when I had to learn “Painkiller” by Judas Priest for a one-time summer holiday gig. I had already been playing “old school” driving double bass (i.e., “Fireball” by Deep Purple, or Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher”) for over 20 years, so I felt confident to reproduce Scott Travis’ precise lines. Yet, I was struggling with the transitions. The first few notes of the 16th-note triplets in the chorus, following the driving straight 16th notes in the verse, were speculative. I was capable of the speed, but the transition wasn’t clean. I had to figure out the problem.

    I started by analyzing Scott’s technique. He sits low, with his hips slightly below parallel to the floor. That makes his legs appear have more lift when he’s pumping out the double bass rhythms. His torso, however, is firmly planted on the seat, leaning slightly forward. No matter how much his legs move, his body remains solid in one position; his legs seem to be detached from his body.

    I went back to work on the song, and sure enough I had too much torso movement at the beginning of the transition, which was forcing me to lean back. I tried planting down more in the seat, but the problem only got worse. The speed was dropping off; and then a worm of doubt as to my capability to play this song worked it’s way into my mind.

    I tried isolating the part. Nothing worked. I became so frustrated that I slammed both pedals down at the same time and mashed the beaters into the head. And that’s when I made the discovery. For the first time I was feeling the pedal boards under my feet, feeling the pressure of the beaters against the head — feeling a connection to the pedals — in a way I hadn’t before.

    I took this experience and refined it into a simple exercise. Here it is:

    Push both pedals down, and firmly hold the beaters to the head for a few seconds. Release and relax. Repeat. As you do this, be mindful of the tension of the foot board against each foot.

    With both beaters against the head, release your dominant foot, but continue holding down the opposite beater. Press and hold with the dominant foot, release the opposite beater. Both beaters are again against the head. Repeat this process slowly, back and forth, as if you’re marching in step. One beater holds while the other moves. (NOTE: It’s important to keep your feet planted on the foot boards at all times; never lift your foot away from the pedal).

    You’ll instantly feel the hits become solid, they will sound strong and controlled, and the meter will be consistent. Most importantly, you’re now automatically balanced on the seat, leaning slightly forward to the kit.

    Try speeding up the pace. But when you feel your balance waiver or shift, or the hits becoming inconsistent, or you lose the feel of the pedal tension against your feet, stop and reset: Hold down both pedals firmly for a few seconds. Then march in step.

    With this exercise you are using your own body to calibrate your balance and build solid technique and sound. In this case, the feet are teaching the torso how to remain balanced for double bass drumming, by building a strong neural connection to foot boards while anchoring the beaters against the head, one beat at a time, for consistent movement.

    Enjoy the benefits of this powerful technique, and let me know the results!


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