How Hard Can You Hit The Bass Drum?

Here’s a new Q+A Blog post. Ihbuhs from instagram asks:

How hard should one play the bass drum and how can hitting the bass drum hard affect the knee/leg? Really like your blog posts.

First of thanks for reading!  I’m happy to get to your question. It is possible to play really hard safely. Head-breakingly hard. A lot harder than you need to. 

Of course, poor technique will cause injury sooner if you hit harder. In general, more force you apply in your playing, the faster you’ll wear out. Note that this applies both to the external force (how hard you’re actually hitting) as well as amount of internal force (tension, muscle groups battling each other, etc). So, if you are exerting a lot of force, any technique issues will show themselves sooner than if you were playing lighter. This just means that you have to be a little bit more careful when playing all-out, take your time and really develop fluid, powerful technique. You should do this anyway. It is worth noting that it is pretty easy to choke the drum by hitting too hard. This limit is defined by the size of the drum, the head and the tuning, but generally isn’t as much force as you’d expect. It is physically easy to top out the drum.

As to the question of how hard is appropriate, that really depends on you and what kind of drum sound you want, as well as the room.Playing softly and mic’ing will give you a lot more tone and sustain while playing really hard will give you a clicky sound. For most styles of music, the bass drum is generally mixed to be the loudest instrument in the band, tied with the lead vocals. This is especially true for dance styles because the bass drum emphasizes the all important downbeats. However, if you have a mic, then you can feather the crap out of the drum and be fine. You hear guys who do this from Metal to R+B and, of course Jazz. If a mic isn’t an option, then you’ll need to do the work to be heard yourself.

Actually, not really. In order to operate the pedals, you need to apply a downward force onto the pedal board. You could use your own force, or you could enlist the force of gravity. The weight of your leg dropped on the pedal from only a few inches up is enough for a power stroke. Kids 6 and younger may not be big enough for this to work yet, but  haven’t met a 10 year old yet who couldn’t get a good stroke this way. You could just pick up your leg and drop it,or you could lift the leg a little to drop it. These muscles are the iliopsoas, and are considered to be core muscles. They connect the spit and hips to the very top of the upper leg.

I consider this to be the basic stroke (I usually call it a drop stroke or down stroke) because it provides a lot of power for very little effort. While this won’t win any speed records, it is plenty fast enough for most applications. this stroke is also pretty much the basic stroke of heel-toe technique, sliding, constant release, and most combination-stroke bass drum techniques. If you want to get louder, then you can just recruit a little of your force to supplement gravity.

The drop stroke also combines easily with an upstroke. By pushing off the pedal board, you can take some of the workload off the iliopsoas muscles and get a free stroke in the process. Not that they care: the amount of effort they put out to play the drums is really small compared to walking, so they don’t really notice the difference. This technique really helps with the speed and and there are several ways to manage it, including triple strokes and quadruple strokes possible. Up strokes generally require a bit more effort on your part as gravity doesn’t do much of the work, but you do have the iliopsoas. They are also generally quieter for the same reason.

It is also worth noting that neither pure heel down nor pure heel up techniques are able to effectively harness gravity. While these techniques absolutely have a wonderful place in what a drummer can and should be able to do, they take more work and effort to pull off, and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be to default technique for most players for this reason. I think of it like having chains on your car tires: It is incredibly helpful sometimes, but if you left them there all the time, it would really start to get in the way. Of course, you might live in Alaska and need them most of the time, but this isn’t the majority of players. I write a lot more about this in Anatomy of Drumming, and I also have a feature article in DRUM! Magazine in February, 2016 if you want more information. 

However, you might want to decide what kind of a drum sound you want before you dive full on into technique. Each technique has its own strong suits and weak spots. You might consider choosing the one that will give you the sound you want easiest. It might just be to feather the bass drum and mic’ing the crap out of it.

See also: I cover some of the technique questions in more detail in the February, 2016 edition of DRUM! Magazine and, of course, in Anatomy of Drumming.
See also: I cover some of the technique questions in more detail in the February, 2016 edition of DRUM! Magazine and, of course, in Anatomy of Drumming.

This information is for your information only. It is not intended to be medical advice and should not be taken as such. The idea here is that the more you know, the healthier and more effective you will be. If you suspect you have a problem that requires medical attention, please see a reputable doctor who is knowledgeable about your problem.