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The heel-toe foot technique was pioneered by drummers of the big band era. The application most commonly used for this technique at that time was a rocking motion that assisted the drummer in keeping solid time on the hi-hat, while simultaneously playing timpani type floor tom rhythms or swinging the ride cymbal. Early video footage of Buddy Rich, along with fellow Big band drummers are seen utilizing this technique in a musical setting.
In modern times, this method has been implemented into various styles of music such as Drum and Bass by artists like Jojo Mayer, as well as the Heavy metal music genre by drummers such as Chris Adler (Lamb of God), James Davenport (Warpath), and John Longstreth (Origin), where the heel-toe technique is used to play a multiple stroke roll Drum rudiment on both feet. Usually this consists of double and triple strikes. Tim Waterson, used a hybrid version of heel-toe technique to set the double stroke world record for feet in the World's Fastest Drummer competition with a score of 1,407 doubles in 60 seconds. Davenport is the first drummer to build a style of playing that uses multiple stroke kick drumming as the foundation of his technique.
- Begin from a position where the heel of the foot is suspended off the floor, and the ball of the foot is barely touching the footboard (the heel can be a little higher off the floor than the ball of the foot if that works for you). Let the foot step down onto the footboard in a flam motion where first the ball of the foot strikes and depresses the footboard, and a fraction of a second later the heel lands in its usual place on the floor. Despite the flam motion, you'll only actuate the beater to play one stroke.
- Using the hip flexors and calf, raise the upper leg while snapping the foot forward/down to actuate the second stroke. The ball of the foot snaps down, the heel comes up, and the ball of the foot (or toes) completes the second stroke. Your foot is back where you started, ready for another cycle.
The term heel-toe is used because of the appearance of the heel pushing down on the pedal followed by the toe. In actuality, it's the ball of the foot (or toes) both times.
The technique is an asset when playing double kick pedals or two bass drums as it allows for Drum rudiments to be played with the feet. When mastered, drummers can use the method to play complex patterns in the same manner as the hands in addition to rolling the bass drum.
- Pros - Increased speed and endurance due to less motion required, producing more strokes with less energy.
- Cons - Limited volume as a result of not using more of the larger leg muscles in the early stages.
The limited volume is due to muscle fatigue if the knee and upper leg are not used to power the second stroke. Often this will cause cramp. It takes years of deliberate practice to develop the muscles needed to even out the volume.
- "Heel Up vs. Heel Down Drumming – Bass Drum Technique". Drum.Radar website - accessed Dec 7, 2019