Drum Technique & Ergonomics Part 6 – The Physics of Drumming

Paul ElliottBlog, Drum Technique & Ergonomics, DrumsLeave a Comment

In recent articles, we’ve been looking at various physical and mechanical (ergonomic) issues surrounding the drummers’ stick grip. As a result of this, hopefully you’re all now the proud owners of comfortable and tension free-grips! This month, we take stock, look at the bigger picture and prepare the way for greater
things to come by introducing some key ergonomic issues affecting hand and foot techniques, with particular reference to some basic laws of physics and the natural rebound.
As always, please remember that any study and practice of technique should be undertaken with an understanding and awareness of all the issues highlighted throughout the recent Rhythm series
on Drumming, Ergonomics and Posture.


There are many different hand-and-foot techniques in drumming and it’s neither possible nor practical to suggest that
one technique suits all. We use different techniques for different purposes and if
you plough your way through the labyrinth of educational materials, you’ll come across many different terms and methods relating to technique – all of which may be perfectly valid. Despite the various labels and descriptions given to certain hand-and-foot techniques, it’s safe to say that all the techniques relate to, and are affected
by, similar principles.
In general, we can refer to all hand-and-foot
techniques as strokes or stroke techniques.
In turn, all strokes produce a sound (dynamic) by means of related physical movements and mechanical reactions. In view of this, it makes sense to be aware of the physical principles (how the body moves and feels), mechanical principles (how the sticks and pedals relate to natural laws on the drum set) and sonic principles (the sound produced from the drum set as a result). Ultimately, an awareness of physical, mechanical and sonic principles will help you master any number of techniques. That’s the good news!


While it’s not necessary for drummers to have formal qualifications in physics, an awareness of some basic scientific principles can help you to understand the mechanical theory behind various stroke techniques, together with related physical movements and sound production. Einstein was a great drummer, you know! So blackboard at the ready because here comes the science bit…
In order to produce sound on the drum set, the stick, or pedal must follow a stroke path (trajectory) and impact after starting a certain distance away from the surface to be struck.
This starting position is commonly known as
the ‘dynamic level’ and is typically structured, for practice purposes, in 15-degree increments – 15, 30, 45, 60, 75 and 90 degrees. Newtonian physics state that force = velocity x mass. Translating this to drums, the trajectory starts from a dynamic level, which determines the volume of the stroke, as a result of force (acceleration), which equals velocity (speed) x mass (stick or pedal).
Of course, the dynamic level can be any distance from the surface and it’s best not to get too hung up about this or the theory behind it! Ultimately, we only need to be aware of dynamic approximations and the respective differences in sound and physical feel (kinaesthetic). However, an appreciation of the scientific principles can speed up the learning process, particularly in relation to various techniques used in generating, accepting and controlling the natural rebound.


Generating and controlling the natural rebound can be a difficult concept to grasp and many drummers can experience problems when, for example, playing single and double stroke rolls or multiple strokes on the bass drum. Most of the problems associated with this relate to either physical tension and/or a lack of knowledge in relation to how the stick and pedal mechanically bounces, which brings us back to the physics! Ironically, the tension may be caused by the lack of knowledge, and even with the knowledge, any tension will more than likely restrict the bounce. So, how does the stick or pedal bounce?
Perhaps the best way to explain rebound is to think of a bouncing ball. Watch a basketball player dribble and you’ll notice that in order
to sustain multiple bounces, he pushes it down after it bounces back up. In order to sustain and maintain the quality of the bounce, he executes the rebound through natural processes of physical feel (kinaesthetic), timing, trajectory, force, velocity and mass, in relation to the distance of the ball from the floor. All this,
just to bounce a ball! In theory, the player
is calculating the natural rebound through complex cerebral and physiological processes but, in practice, he/she is simply just feeling it, based on knowledge and awareness, coupled with correct technique. As drummers, we must follow similar principles and learn to accept and feel the natural rebound, rather than to restrict it. We’ll be looking at this in further detail next month.


We’ve stated that the volume of a stroke is dependent on the force of the stick or pedal,
in relation to the dynamic level. paul-part6For example,
if you play a single–stroke roll at a given tempo and subdivision (For example, semiquavers
@ crotchet = 100 bpm), from a dynamic
level of 45 degrees, then the roll (if executed correctly) will produce a natural volume – this being a volume proportionate to that specific dynamic level, and to that specific rate of notes.
If you play the same exercise but want
to increase or decrease volume, natural laws dictate that you should simply play from a higher, or lower, dynamic level, respectively. Alternatively, if you want to increase or decrease volumes while playing from the same dynamic level, then natural laws dictate that you should simply increase or decrease the rate of notes, respectively. Therefore, in the above example, playing semiquaver triplets would increase volume, while playing quaver triplets would decrease volume – all from the same dynamic level.
Although this appears to be quite obvious and simple in theory, it can sometimes prove to be difficult in practice, for several reasons. Many drummers typically put in too much effort than is necessary to accommodate the natural rebound and natural volume. This effectively counteracts the natural laws and the roll will more than likely feel physically uncomfortable and sound uneven. The key consideration is to put in only the amount of force required to achieve the desired volume, which ultimately provides physical, mechanical and sonic control – that has to be a good thing!
Okay, that’s enough science for now and well done if you made it this far! Some of these theories can sound confusing but there’s no need to be alarmed. While it pays to have an awareness of the various theories, you’ll find that what really matters is how everything feels and sounds and, with good practice, you’ll find yourself feeling physically comfortable and sounding great – all quite naturally, of course! Now, time for a nice cup of tea…


Join me next time for a more detailed look at the natural rebound with reference to specific hand techniques. See you then….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *