Drum & Percussion Lessons
Drummer Cafe 20th Anniversary
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5-Minute Lessons

For many of us, regardless if you’re a drummer or percussionist, the left foot is the weakest limb (assuming you're right handed). If you're a drummer, that left foot is probably on a foot operated Hi-Hat or secondary Kick drum (e.g. double pedal). If you're percussionist, you may use a foot-operated cowbell, tambourine, wood block, etc., being played by that left foot. In this 5-Minute Lesson, I going to help you build dexterity and develop precision with the left foot, as well as give you ideas as to how you can incorporate the left foot in your time-keeping, grooves, fills, solos, etc. Whatever we do with the left foot, we need to be sure that it locks in with the other limbs, working together as one machine.

The first thing that we can do with the left foot is to simply play beats 2 and 4, which is known as the backbeat (if we are in 4/4 or Common Time). Just like tapping your foot to the music, the left foot on the Hi-Hat or foot-operated tambourine, playing backbeats, works very well in must musical situations.

Taking this a step further, we can outline the pulse of the meter. If we are in 4/4 (aka Common Time), we would play all the downbeats; 1, 2, 3, 4.

Shifting this coordination slightly, we can have the left foot play all of the upbeats or ANDS of the beat. This would be the 'weak beat' or space (division) between the pulses of the meter.

Next, we can play all the divisions and/or subdivisions of the beat. To play all of the divisions of the beat, in 4/4 time, we would play straight eighth-notes with the left foot. If the tempo is slow enough, we could play straight sixteenth-notes with the left foot, which would be the subdivisions of the beat or pulse. To play these beat divisions and subdivisions cleanly on an instrument like the Hi-Hat, I will press slightly on each depression of the pedal so I get a good, clean sound or "chick", which reduces the possibility of having a lot of unwanted, extraneous sound like Hi-Hat "splashes".

Putting all of the aforementioned together, we could create interesting syncopated rhythms and patterns with the left foot, adding it to what we are playing with the other limbs during grooves, fills, solos, etc.


For drummers, an exercise to help develop precision in the execution of the Hi-Hat foot would be to incorporate a hand along with the left foot ... both playing on the same instrument. Start slowly, play quarter-notes or slow eighth-notes with the left foot on the Hi-Hat, while at the same using your left or right hand to play the exact same thing on the Hi-Hat. The goal is to get both limbs, hand and foot, to lock in together, creating their sounds simultaneously. This unison stroke between the foot and hand should sound choked, much like a Flat Flam (aka French Flam), because the two different limbs are striking the same instrument at the exact same time. You would get the same effect if you used a double-pedal on your Kick drum; the right and left foot beater striking the drumhead at the exact same time.

With this exercise, work at different tempos, gradually speeding up, making sure that these unison strokes do not sound like Flams. Use the right hand with the left foot, then work on the left hand with the left foot. You can even play Flat Flams with the hands (right and left) while playing in unison with the left foot. Our goal should be, regardless of the limb combination, that we get everything feeling and sounding good.

Be sure to watch my video supplement (above) to this lesson for examples and demonstrations of all these concepts and additional possibilities.

Bart Elliott Bart Elliott is a degreed professional musician and founder of the Drummer Cafe. His 35+ years in the music industry, over 100 albums to his credit, as well as his understanding of contemporary and classical music, makes him a complete and skilled master musician. A highly sought after drummer and percussionist, both live and in the studio, Bart is widely known as a top music educator and gifted teacher, appearing as a guest artist and clinician throughout the USA. He currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee.