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I've been playing drums for a number of years off and on, and one thing which has always eluded me is how the (amazing) John Bonham managed to get quite so much out of his right foot.

The classic example is in "Good Times Bad Times" where sometimes he plays a triplet on the bass drum.

[edit: Actually it's not quite a triplet in that the first strike is the cowbell so it's more like a bell-drum-drum triplet. So really it's a double strike between the cowbell strikes, which has the effect of a triplet]

I've googled and youtubed it and there doesn't seem to be a consensus on how he managed it, that I can tell.

So my question is probably twofold: 1) Does anyone know THE method that JB used ?

2) If there are several methods for doing this, please could you highlight them ?

Note: The answer isn't a double beater or double bass drum. Yes that would work, but I'm talking about single foot technique. I have established that he didn't use double beater/drum.

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    This guy does it the way I do, heel up, use the toes only youtube.com/watch?v=11gLbvLb1yg – Matthew James Briggs Feb 3 '15 at 17:00
  • @MatthewBriggs I had a go at this and made some progress - thanks ! I'm a "Heel down" drummer usually so it's not natural to raise the heel up yet, but with practice this might crack it. If you post it as an answer I'll give it an upvote (or does the upvote on this give you points anyway?) – user2808054 Feb 11 '15 at 9:42
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I've seen several drummers use different techniques to play the "JB triplets ", but in my opinion and experience heel-toe is by far the easiest. You just don't sit, and play them at 100 bpm. It took me several weeks at 45 min a day to get it.

Watch the guy Jared on Drumeo. It's a YouTube video, and he explains it perfectly. Yes, you will see your knee raise a bit (like JB) but the important part is the starting position of heel up. The speed and power comes as you're able to control how close you can keep control of how high the heel comes off the board. The next tricky part is the feel. What solidified it for me was getting my left foot to play the 1/8th notes (just as JB does in the intro).

Once you get it, you get it, and with practice should be able to play it to a click at 100 bpm for a minute plus. Good Times is a little slower 96 bpm or so. No tricks, just work, and feel. Hope this helps. FYI, I couldn't get it for years, until I saw the Drumeo "Heel toe" video. Nor foot size, nor long/short board should make a difference. In one of the videos, Jared Falk is playing it with snowboard boots. I thought that was my problem for many years, as I wear a size 15 shoe.

Check out the video, and work. Good luck, because it feels great!

  • Thank you for this info ! I will watch the videos you mention - but one quick quesiton: When people say "heel and Toe" I assume they mean start heel up when playing a 'normal' rythm, and when you want the fast stuff do a punch with the heel then the toe, or do you do it the other way around, punch with toe then heel ? – user2808054 Jun 26 '15 at 9:02
  • are you able to provide a link to a specific video ? – user2808054 Jun 29 '15 at 9:24
  • this has started to work after just an hour's preactice. The key was starting in the heel-up position, also that it's not really heel and toe, but toe-and-toe where the first push starts from the heel. I'll get there in the end .. thanks ! – user2808054 Jul 1 '15 at 17:17
  • useful Drumeo videos are youtube.com/watch?v=bMGCT-J-_N0 and youtube.com/watch?v=qo7aD4orz6w as referenced above – user2808054 Jul 1 '15 at 17:36
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Edit I didn't realise YouTube links would naturally inline. I've inlined them all now, for easy ref.

I had a look at the instruction video mentioned by Matthew Brings -

& also at

which is Bonham himself playing Moby Dick.

Fleshing out from my earlier comment, it looks like Bonham may have played the way I do, mainly heel up rather than heel down. There's too much knee-movement on the live video to be heel-down, though it's still a guess, I never actually spotted his right foot clearly. Left foot is heel-up, though, which gives more credence to the opinion.

I find heel-up requires much less actual ankle movement, & gives my shin muscles a much easier time of it.

The technique video may be close to how Bonham had his pedal set up & how he actually played it [we may never really know] however, for me personally, that beater is set way too far back, too long, too heavy & there's nowhere near enough spring tension on it.
That said, I have never specifically tried to copy how someone else did it, merely get my own foot as fast & accurate as possible.
I've found I can get a more even & more powerful strike with a light, modern beater, short swing & tight spring then relying on the variable spring tension of a longer swing - of course there's twice as much tension when the pedal's on it's way back & you want to turn it around to have another go, so you end up fighting that natural period half the time.
If the beater's already returned & stopped, you get the same feel every time.

The combination of beater weight, spring tension & shaft length will change the natural period of the beater's swing, so you can 'cheat' by setting it up to match your most common 'difficult bits'. For easy bits, it really doesn't matter - & I wouldn't worry about it too much in everyday use.

I used to have some fairly tricky stuff when I was replacing a drum machine for live work in the 90s/early 2ks - no-one ever gave it a thought that one day someone might actually have to play all those tricksy kick patterns.
One that springs to mind is

not really because it's all that that difficult to play, but it can get a bit relentless when a) the band always want to play it too fast & b) it's their end of show, 20 minute disco-dance-dub-party-12"-remix version & they have a tendency to wander off for 5 mins in the middle leaving you & the bassist hanging in there til they deign to wander back.

I used to time my beater's natural swing period to that track, just so I wasn't constantly fighting the second of those relentless doubles every time.

Conversely, trying to do

I used to sneak my left foot onto the pedal too & drop the hats down to almost closed;-)

Note from those tracks they're fairly evenly-weighted, where a drummer would naturally give them more light & shade - which don't work at all on that stuff;)

Having said all that… listening to Good Times Bad Times, I'd definitely say he's heel-toeing, as Basstickler said.
I can achieve, with heel-up only, the fast doubles shown in the instruction video - going to triples, I'd have to go toe-heel-toe [the guy doing the video should have done too, at about 19:30 ;) - something I'm not particularly good at but can just about get away with if it's not too continuous.

After comments - It is possible [I'm guessing really] that heel-down could be a 'jazz' thing & heel up a 'rock' thing.
I found this video of Buddy Rich. You never see his foot but based on watching his knees, I'd guess he mainly plays heel-down, only going heel-up when he's really going for it. It's by no means a great piece of video but there's enough detail to just about make it out, especially towards the end…. & Buddy's always worth watching.

Edit 2

I found some footage of Tony Royster - he has 2 kicks, but there's some nice cutaway to his foot proving he really can do it with one foot. This is impressive footwork, for sure…

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    To save some time for anyone wondering about the JB video (yuck.. not his best solo lol), there's footage of footage at 3:06, 8:51, 10:20, 10:37, 11:15, 14:10 and 15:27. You can see he's playing heel-up but it's a bit too blurred to see whether he's heel and toe-ing. This is great info though thank you! – user2808054 Feb 11 '15 at 12:12
  • Isn't heel down a very rare technique? – Meaningful Username Feb 11 '15 at 13:09
  • I'm not sure, tbh - it might be a 'jazz' vs 'rock' thing - going to add to the answer just to get a link in... – Tetsujin Feb 11 '15 at 14:03
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    @user2808054 Thanks for providing the timestamps. Most helpful - there's a lot of video to wade through from all those links. – Tetsujin Feb 11 '15 at 19:17
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    @MeaningfulUsername I too wondered whether 'heel down' was rare so I asked on a facenook page - got about 20 replies so far. Answer (to my surprise): not rare at all, in fact most people started out heel down and then some change to raise the heel as-and-when for extra power. Most said they play a combination of the two. Heel-down seems to be more comfortable. – user2808054 Feb 12 '15 at 9:49
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I am able do this by suspending my foot over the bass drum pedal with my heel up, and using only my toes to contact the pedal. The technique is shown in this video (not my video). Experiment with spring tension changes as well.

  • Hi, thanks - the video you posted is the same as in two other answers, but you're confirming that this is a way of doing it so ta. – user2808054 Feb 11 '15 at 17:53
  • @user2808054 I was the one that posted that video initially in a comment and I'm responding to what you wrote in your comment "If you post it as an answer I'll give it an upvote". It doesn't have to be mine, but if you find one of the answers is correct you should select it as the accepted answer. – Matthew James Briggs Feb 11 '15 at 17:55
  • Brigg Wise words. I'll wait to see if any further answers crop up, but thanks - and my apologies, I hadn't made the connection that it was you originally – user2808054 Feb 12 '15 at 9:45
  • Sorry- SE cut the @Matthew bit off somehow. – user2808054 Feb 12 '15 at 9:50
  • @user2808054 - SE will do that automatically if the @ person would get the notification anyway. In this case, as poster of the answer. Unless, as you discovered, you put the @ in the middle of the msg rather than at the start. – Tetsujin Feb 14 '15 at 14:05
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I can't say that I know his technique in particular but have a couple thoughts for you. I would suggest looking into the heel-toe technique. I'm not a drummer so I can't really explain how it is accomplished but I've understood it to be a technique to increase speed on the kick. The drummer in my band has been complimented repeatedly by people liking his "double bass" work but he only has one foot running the kick. He has explained to me that he likes to set up his kick pedal to be very tight/high tension. This makes the beater pull back quicker, which allows the pedal as a whole to be ready for the next attack quicker.

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    The heel-toe technique is mostly used together with triggers, since the force becomes quite weak and uneven with this technique. I don't think that's what John Bonham used... – Meaningful Username Jan 27 '15 at 14:46
  • Yeah, I have no reason to think that Bonham used this technique. I have certainly heard of triggers being used but I know a lot of drummers that use this technique and do not use triggers. I have heard that it's hard to get consistency of dynamics and I imagine a triplet is significantly harder to accomplish than just the duplet. I really only added it as answer because I was exceeding the comment character limit. – Basstickler Jan 27 '15 at 14:56
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    It's definitely not a technique I have heard is easy to pick up, so it should take some practice. It is particularly hard to control dynamics, like you are suggesting that the second attack is heavier. I would definitely take the suggestions that drummers bring to the table a bit more seriously. – Basstickler Jan 27 '15 at 17:48
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    On my phone so not going to flesh out a full answer right now, but experiment with 2 methods. 1st - keep heel on pedal, flap foot. I find that one uncomfortable so I use 2- ball of foot on front of pedal, heel slightly raised, bounce knee. Light beater, lots of spring tension. A trick - beater post length changes natural swing period - experiment with different lengths. – Tetsujin Jan 29 '15 at 21:24
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    @Tetsujin I've read your comment after a bit of practice and you've just underlined what I've been discovering. I usually play heel down and can flap the foot fairly well but not quite that quickly. Heel slightly up worked better (but makes leg ache unless I rest beater against the drum periodically), and bouncing the knee resulted in unpredicable wobbling at first but once I got it under control, showed promise, if slightly comical at present competence. Thanks for the tips - if you post as an answer I'll give an upvote – user2808054 Feb 11 '15 at 9:47
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Great input all around...I've been a heeltoe, player40years 54 going on 30 can do what ever double stroke roll with my feet that i can do on top. Developing the technique to go beyound that into 5,7,9,11. Stroke groupings reaching 32 note and 64 note patterns. That's when people half your age are looking at your feet and asking what the hell are you doing. Givin the right sound system it sounds and feels like a freight. train. Point being regardless of your choice of technique it takes dedication and hard work for most of us to achieve that level unless of course your names Buddy Rich (God rest his soul). Stay loose and dont foget about the space between the beats.

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There's really no technique. I've been playing for 15 years, can do the Bonham GTBT triplet but not everything Zeppelin yet. It's about just improving YOUR technique. Only reason I can do it is I've played for so long. But also, Bonham was a rhythmic genius too. Those crazy crossover triplets in Moby Dick is all meticulously planned out but almost impossible to replicate just cause of how he played.

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    This is a "non-answer" -- i.e. your response is "there is no answer", which is dubious given the other high quality answers. – Dave Mar 19 '15 at 14:01
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Simply, he had a fast foot. Put in your 10,000 hours and you'll be fine. There is no special technique here other than strength, dexterity, and grace.

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    I don't really think this is such a helpful answer. What if I'm practicing with bad/inappropriate technique? I totally take some of your point though: It takes paractice. – user2808054 Feb 11 '15 at 9:44
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    Outliers continues to be misunderstood... If you are left handed but practise the guitar right handed for 10 000 hours you will most likely be a less accomplished player than if you practised it left handed for the same amount of time... – Meaningful Username Feb 11 '15 at 14:37
  • Are you trying to say there's a quicker way to get your speed up? I'm not sure what it is you disagree with – Mike Jr Of-Britt Feb 12 '15 at 5:34
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    hi- you seem to be saying technique is irrelevant. I think it is relevant. So yes - it'd be quicker to learn this with better technique. – user2808054 Feb 12 '15 at 13:14

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