Drummers are PASSIONATE about kick drums. I mean, wow. Technique, dimensions, pedal choice, head choice… there are so many forums and articles on the topic, often containing really heated rhetoric. So, let me start off this series of posts about kick technique with a disclaimer: I DON’T THINK I’M RIGHT. I’m not suggesting that my way of doing things is the one and only correct way. Please feel free to disagree with me. The only thing I’m trying to convey is that my personal kick technique, which I’ve developed over my years of playing, seems to work really well. Not only does it work well for me, but it has worked well for my students. And I think it might work for others too. So I’m sharing it.

That being said…

I want to begin in the rock world – in what I think of as playing in a power environment. By “power environment” I’m referring to any musical context where the drums are bringing a backbeat (snare on “2” and “4”) in a way that dominates the groove of the song. This includes pop, rock, country, hip hop, punk, metal, and others. Jazz, on the other hand, is not normally thought of as a power environment, because in that genre the drumset has a more subdued and nuanced dynamic. Folk is another example of a style I would not consider to be a power environment. Additionally, any of the styles I listed above as being power environments could easily become NOT so, if the physical room that one performs in is too small or boomy or whatever (I’m thinking here of churches or wedding receptions or any other situation where one would play rock grooves quietly).

Sorry for all the disclaimers, but… just in the name of clarity… the technique I’m suggesting in today’s post is ONLY for loud and forceful playing in a power environment. Got it?

Ok. Today’s post is about playing the kick drum with a “heel-up” technique. This means holding one’s leg (knee, calf, etc) slightly in the air so that one’s heel is not touching the kick pedal.  Then, when preparing for a kick stroke, the entire leg (knee, calf, etc) is lifted even higher, such that the entire foot rises almost entirely off of the pedal. The stroke itself comes from the lowering of the entire leg in a sort of stomp, bringing the foot back down onto the pedal with the thrust of the entire leg behind it. I’m using the word “entire” over and over because the technique really hinges on the WHOLE leg being involved, rather than just the ankle.

The source of power in this technique should be obvious, and it far exceeds the power offered by a “heel-down” technique. The heel-down technique involves keeping all parts of the foot on the pedal, with both toe and heel touching the foot plate. When preparing for a kick stroke, the heel remains on the foot plate while the foot itself is pulled up using the ankle. The stroke comes from the foot returning to the foot plate (again using the ankle), and all the while the heel has remained on the foot plate.

The basic difference between “heel-up” and “heel-down” techniques can best be understood as the difference between tapping one’s foot and stomping one’s foot. A tap involves just the ankle and a stomp involves the whole leg. The power difference should be obvious, and the tone difference that results is a MAJOR factor in the feel of the groove. Power environments needs a powerful sound from the drummer, which is where most of the DNA of a power environment comes from in the first place. The more powerful your stroke on the kick drum, the more air will be pushed through it, and the more air being pushed through the kick drum, the more powerful the sound.

Now, there are some guys that I’ve seen who can play with surprising power using only a heel-down technique. This is not the norm, but it certainly exists. My hat is off to those dudes, but I would argue that those guys would get even MORE power if they would use a heel-up technique. It seems like physics doesn’t allow a tap to be stronger than a stomp, even if one’s tap is abnormally strong.

A few additional notes:
1) There is no need to raise your leg higher than a couple inches while preparing for a heel-up technique kick stroke, and the technique definitely involves the ankle is its own way (more on that in the next kick technique post). So don’t go overboard in lifting your leg higher than necessary or locking your ankle.
2) The contact point on the foot plate should be the “pad” of your foot (the base of the toes). While seated, try to lift both your toes AND your heel up off the ground slightly, while still touching some part of your foot to the floor. That part that’s still touching is the pad of your foot, and that’s where I make contact with the foot plate on a heel-up stroke, as opposed to using the toes themselves as the contact point.
3) I personally use heel-down technique all the time, but only in quieter environments. So again, don’t go overboard in thinking that heel-up is the ONLY way to do things.

SUMMARY: Learn to play the kick drum with heel-up technique. This will take time if it’s a new technique to you, but the power will be worth it. Identify if the situation you’re in is a power environment, and if it is, get your heel up technique in the game.