This is how the first drumset players played, and it is still the method of choice amongst certain drummers...especially drummers who play older styles of music. I find that this method has both advantages and disadvantages. Let's talk specifics. One advantage of "heel down" is that it allows a drummer to relax the leg and foot muscles between strokes. Another advantage of this method is that it tends to encourage the beater to rebound off of the drumhead for a full, low-pitched sound. The primary disadvantage of "heel down" is that it presents a challenge for drummers who need to play with maximum volume. Despite the online debates about this last point, it is actually a concrete fact. The physics equation for FORCE is MASS x ACCELERATION. Playing "heel down" prevents us from using the MASS of our full leg for each stroke, so the FORCE we can generate is severely limited. A full analysis of "heel down," can be found on my DVD.
This is the bass drum technique that hard-hitting rock drummers typically discover on their own as they attempt to play as loudly as possible. Playing "heel up" means that the entire leg can get behind each stroke to generate power. That's the main advantage to this bass drum method. Unfortunately, the power created by playing "heel up" comes at a price. Keeping the heel suspended in the air requires that the calf muscles be in a constant state of tension. When playing a long set of music, this can take a heavy toll. Furthermore, with the heel off the ground, the weight of the leg tends to press the bass drum beater firmly into the drumhead. We often call this "burying the beater." It chokes the vibrations of the drum and severely limits the spectrum of sounds that can be achieved. It can also create unwanted buzzes and extra hits against the drumhead. A thorough analysis of "heel up" and a discussion of the problems associated with "burying the beater" are presented on my DVD.
Unburying The Beater
After a decade of frustration with "heel down" and "heel up," I concluded that those methods aren't for me. As discussed in the other 2 columns, both "heel down" and "heel up" have some significant drawbacks. If only there were a way to retain their strengths while eliminating their weaknesses. In other words, what if it were possible to get the relaxation and the full, low-pitched sound of "heel down"...combined with the power of "heel up"? As it turns out, this incredible combination is possible. In fact, I have been using it and teaching it since 1999. I jokingly call it "Unburying The Beater" because it offers contemporary drummers the raw might that they seek from "heel up" without the troublesome side effects of "burying the beater." If you already know my "Unburying The Beater" techniques, then browse around this website for additional details and assistance. If my concepts are new to you, then you can enjoy a 2 hour and 16 minute class on them by watching my DVD.
But what about Jeff Porcaro…or John “JR” Robinson…or…?
Yes, it is true that there have been many great drummers over the years who did NOT use the "Unburying The Beater" bass drum techniques that I enthusiastically teach. Jeff Porcaro and John Robinson are excellent examples. I happen to love the drumming of both of them. Growing up in the 70's and 80's, I was surrounded by the sounds of these 2 gentlemen playing with Michael Jackson and countless others. It was unavoidable...and that was a good thing, since their drumming is always tremendous. In any case, it is common knowledge that Jeff typically used standard "heel up," and JR has stated numerous times that he exclusively uses standard "heel down." So...why is that?
Well, there are a couple of possible explanations. First of all, maybe they knew the techniques that I teach and simply did not like them as much as "heel up" or "heel down." There would be nothing wrong with that. Everyone is entitled to their personal preferences when it comes to drumming! On the other hand, there is an extremely good chance that they did NOT know the bass drum techniques that I teach, thus meaning that these techniques were not really an option for them. If that's the case, it certainly wouldn't reflect poorly on them. It would just be part of the reality that drumming techniques evolve and circulate gradually over time.
Before the release of my DVD in 2005, the bass drum techniques that I teach were not common knowledge within the drumming community. I fully expect that some people will scoff at this statement and insult me for daring to even say such a thing. And yet...I can tell you with 100% certainty that it is true. I have taken drum lessons with 19 different drum teachers, including some of the most famous of all time. Out of those 19 teachers, only ONE of them was familiar with the bass drum techniques that I teach. As an instructor myself, I have worked with about 500 individual students, many of whom have been professional players and educators. One of them is an internationally-celebrated drumming icon. And guess what...out of all of those students, only ONE was previously familiar with the bass drum techniques that I teach. And no, it was NOT the drumming superstar! It was a Broadway player who had stumbled upon the techniques by accident. That's how obscure these techniques have been until recently. So...considering that Jeff Porcaro and John Robinson were both born in 1954 and both began drumming at a young age, I would say it is highly unlikely that they somehow knew these exact techniques when first learning to play. I'm not saying it is impossible. I'm just looking at the historical timeline and saying it is unlikely.
So where does that leave us? Well, for one thing, it proves beyond any doubt that a person can achieve drumming greatness without using the bass drum techniques that I have devoted myself to teaching. So then, should we all just stick with standard "heel up" and standard "heel down"? I personally don't believe so. Just because people like Jeff Porcaro and John Robinson achieved great success using "heel up" and "heel down," it does not mean that those techniques were actually the REASON for their success. On the contrary, I feel that their success resulted from a combination of innate talent, solid training, a musical environment, and countless hours of dedicated drumming...not from their preferred foot techniques! If you doubt what I'm saying, you can easily test it for yourself. Sit down at the drums right this minute and play some grooves using "heel up" and "heel down." How did it go? Did you suddenly drum as well as Jeff or JR? Could you suddenly pass off your playing as that of the legendary studio aces who drummed on thousands of hit records? If so, great! You have found the secret to beautiful drumming!
On the other hand, if this little experiment left you just as frustrated as ever, you're not alone. For every person who uses "heel up" or "heel down" and manages to play as well as Jeff Porcaro or John Robinson, there are millions of others who use those techniques and struggle just to get beyond a beginner level of drumming. It is my firm belief that many of those people would benefit greatly by adopting some different foot techniques. It seems clear to me that "heel up" and "heel down" cause a great deal of trouble for a lot of aspiring drummers. For evidence of this, you need only to visit some of the various online drumming forums. Those sites are flooded with posts by people who find "heel up" and "heel down" to be an ongoing source of anguish. I can relate to their suffering because I went through it myself. For over 10 years, I tried desperately to become comfortable playing "heel up" or "heel down"...or both. I never overcame my difficulties with those methods, and my progress in all areas of drumming was at a standstill. Eventually, I found a way to combine the few parts of "heel up" that worked for me, and the few parts of "heel down" that worked for me, and eliminate all the parts that were causing me so much trouble. The result was a bass drum approach that dramatically improved my speed, power, comfort, and quality of sound. No, adopting this approach did not suddenly allow me to play as well as Jeff Porcaro or John Robinson. It did, however, finally get me on the road to maximizing my own musical potential.
And that is what I wish for you as well. If you have been thwarted in your drumming efforts due to nagging bass drum problems, the bass drum techniques that I teach can help. Even if you've ended up doing just fine with "heel up" or "heel down," you still might find that some new techniques could make your life a little easier. As I mentioned earlier, one of the people who came to me for lessons was a full-fledged drumming celebrity, easily as famous as Jeff Porcaro or John Robinson. He was a "heel up" player, and he seemed to have done more than OK with it. However, when he contacted me, he surprisingly revealed that he had spent over 50 years feeling uncomfortable with his foot technique! Can you imagine?! After 50 years, he was finally ready to make some changes. And he's not the only one. As the techniques that I teach are becoming more widespread, we are seeing a number of drumming's elite begin to adopt some of these techniques. On my Reviews page, you will see names like David Garibaldi, Steve Smith, and Mark Walker. So, you will obviously be in good company if you decide that the time has come for you to learn something different. And it just might enable you to start making meaningful progress again!
GOOD TO KNOW: John Bonham's drum tech has stated that the Led Zeppelin drummer did NOT press the bass drum beater against the drumhead.
GOOD TO KNOW: A drummer who took bass drum technique lessons with Matt was voted the world's #1 rock drummer in a Modern Drummer Readers Poll.
GOOD TO KNOW: Matt's DVD was given a tremendously thorough (and positive) review on TheParadiddler.com, one of the Internet's best drumming blogs.
GOOD TO KNOW: Matt developed the bass drum concepts in his DVD by working for many years as a leading NY drum instructor.
GOOD TO KNOW: Matt's bass drum techniques work on any pedal, but the Pearl double Powershifter Eliminator is the one he likes best these days.
GOOD TO KNOW: Matt uses a Sonor drumset with a 22" inch bass drum and an 18" inch bass drum, getting excellent results with both.
GOOD TO KNOW: Matt is proud to be an official Vic Firth drumsticks endorser.