What approaches are there to how the bass drum beater should be placed when in rest when playing a drum kit? Should I let it bounce back freely and rest in air, or should I rest it on the skin?
I've been playing the drums for almost 18 years now, so here's my two cents:
This is definitely a matter of preference, and has to do with how you use your foot to strike the bass drum. Generally there are two styles, heel-up and heel-down, and they're pretty much how they sound:
Heel up players (generally found in more aggressive styles of music such as rock, punk, and metal) will generally lift the heel of their foot off the ground and then bring the ball of the foot down sharply. Since the heel is lifted, the calf is already partially contracted, which generally allows for more power to be delivered to the strike.
Heel-down players will rest their heel on the baseboard of the pedal during the strike. This is a much more relaxed way of playing. It conserves more energy, but doesn't deliver as much force or attack to the head.
What does this have to do with the beater?
Heel-up players will generally play with the beater resting against the head. This allows for the drummer to just quickly lift their foot and bring it back down, using almost entirely the calf muscle alone.
Heel-down players will also use the calf, but will either
- use the muscle at the front of the shin (the Tibialis anterior) to lift their foot
- rely on the spring tension of the pedal
to lift the beater away from the head.
As far as sound goes, there are pros and cons to both methods, once again depending on the style of music you're going for, and have to do with whether you let the beater bounce back from the head after striking or not.
Allowing the beater to bounce back lets the bass drum resonate and gives you more of a rounder, fuller sound, whereas keeping the beater against the head gives you a bit more of a tighter, dampened sound (another reason this technique is popular with drummers of heavier music).
As far as which method you should choose? My personal suggestion is to go with whatever feels more natural, relaxed, and allows you to play easier and enjoy it more while getting the sound you want. I personally come from a metal background and find the heel-up approach (resting the beater against the head pretty much all the time except for when striking) much more natural.