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Kick Drum Basics: 4 Tips for Playing the Bass Drum

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 23, 2020 • 3 min read

A standard drum set consists of a kick drum (or bass drum), a snare drum, a floor tom, rack toms, and various cymbals including hi-hat, ride, and crash. Each of these musical instruments has its place in the overall drum kit, but when it comes to low-end frequencies and rhythmic propulsion, drummers lean heavily on the kick drum sound.



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What Is a Kick Drum?

A kick drum is the lowest-pitched instrument in a standard drum kit. Its low frequencies are made possible by the drum's comparatively large size. A kick drum head found in a standard drum set may range from 16 to 28 inches in diameter.

Drummers use kick drums to establish a song's tempo and to provide firm grounding on the strong beats of a measure—most commonly beats one and three in the 4/4 time signature. Most kick drums sound so low in the frequency spectrum that they are effectively unpitched—in other words, their sound produces no recognizable pitch within a musical scale.

The Origins of the Kick Drum

You can trace the origins of the contemporary kick drum to the davul, a Turkish drum that is struck with a rod. The drum set kick drum is also a successor to the massive concert bass drums used in classical music performances and the marching bass drum used by marching bands. The bass drum pedal debuted in the early twentieth century, enabling the type of kick drum common in drum kits today.

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How to Play Kick Drums

Percussionists play drum set kick drums using their feet via kick drum pedals attached to the beater side (or beater head) of a kick drum. When the drummer steps on the pedal, a large felted mallet strikes the kick drum, producing a deep percussive tone that is rich in its bottom end.

Kick Drums vs. Bass Drums: What’s the Difference?

Kick drums are also known as bass drums—but they’re distinct from the type of bass drums used in classical music ensembles. Orchestral bass drums tend to be far larger than drum kit bass drums. Unlike drum kit bass drums, which sit on the floor, orchestral bass drums sit suspended off the ground. And while drummers strike kick drums with a bass drum pedal, they strike orchestral bass drums with handheld beaters—usually mallets but sometimes standard drumsticks.

4 Tips for Playing the Kick Drum

Kick drum rudiments are straightforward, but there are a few things to consider if you want to elevate your drumming skills.

  1. Test out different kick drums. The frequency, volume, and release time of a kick drum sound will depend on its size, its construction materials (natural wood, metal, and acrylic each produce slightly different tones), and your technique as a drummer. Try out different kick drums to find one that suits you.
  2. Try a double kick drum pedal. For a particularly intense percussive effect, some drummers use a double kick drum pedal (or double bass drum pedal). A double bass drum pedal allows a player to strike twice as many kick drum notes as a standard pedal would allow. Some drummers use a double bass drum pedal on one single drum, but most opt for two separate kick drums placed side by side.
  3. Work together with the bass player. Many rock and pop drummers seek to align their kick drum pattern with the rhythmic patterns played by their band's bassist. A bass guitar and a kick drum can occupy similar frequencies in a live sound mix, so by syncing the two instruments, a band establishes a stronger sense of overall precision and coordination.
  4. Consider an electronic kick drum. Electronic kick drums provide two main advantages over their acoustic forebears. The first is variety: Various software libraries and plugins can connect a whole world of kick drum sounds to your digital audio workstation (DAW). The second advantage is convenience. Electronic drums do not require pricey drum microphones or studio space in order to produce pleasing sound recordings, and you can easily adjust their volume. While most drummers still fall back on the feel and classic tones of acoustic drums in their live performances, electronic drums can be useful for recordings—from demos to final masters.


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