Follow That Sound! – a journey in technique (part 2)

In this installment, I’d like to talk about my feet. In drum set playing, we use our feet just the same as our hands. Getting comfortable with certain foot techniques has improved my playing as much as anything. When I started on the kit, I wasn’t concentrated on my foot technique, but as I developed I noticed more limitations from my feet than my hands.

Beginners have trouble separating their feet and their hands, that’s common, but there are some beats and exercises that can really help to gain balance between the hands and feet, and balanced is the place that every drummer wants to be. I had gotten comfortable with the balance between my limbs by doing exercises, but I noticed that the sound I was getting from the bass drum and the strength of the hi hat “chick” wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I started to think about the work I was doing with my hands and wrists, and applied that to my feet and my ankles. I started to train with some simple foot movements, in heel down and heel up bass drum techniques, and found that I could apply the same idea that I was using with my hands, about velocity, to my foot. I could make quick precise movements without a lot of effort and get a great sound. I also found that I could apply these techniques to my left foot. In addition to working on ankle strength and relaxed movement in my feet, I also started to develop a good feeling of pulse with my left foot in multiple styles. To do this, I applied a technique that I learned from my teacher, in jazz patterns, to other styles and patterns. In this technique you use your heel to keep a steady pulse while the ankle and ball of your foot, with a little weight from your leg, actually play the pedal. This technique enables you to really lock into a tempo, gives you more stability and a stronger “chick” sound.

“The sound you want is out there waiting for you to rise to it and through technical practice you can physically get the place that you’re hearing.”

I was starting to really develop the right kind of strength and balance to effectively use my feet like my hands. These techniques also helped me establish feel in my feet like I hadn’t had before and this kind of feel leads to trust. Trust that you can lock into a rhythm, a tempo, or a pattern and not have to devote thought to do so. This mental trust helps you listen to the music around you or the ideas that you have more clearly. These are times in playing when you truly grow because you’re able to let go of mental processes that slow you down and focus on movements and sounds. Technical knowledge and practice sometimes seems endless. It is hard to notice your own progress, but when you get to another plateau you can look back and see how much technique has actually given your musical ability. The sound you want is out there waiting for you to rise to it and through technical practice you can physically get the place that you’re hearing.

Here’s an example of the balance I’m talking about from a solo recorded. Check out the left foot eighth notes that stay steady while moving the other three limbs.

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