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TheR0ver

John Bonhams Drumming Explained

37 posts in this topic

John Bonhams Drumming Explained

Rather a heady title I admit. I don’t think anyone can fully explain him. However I have been playing the drums for roughly 38 years, and I started out wanting to be like him at the age of 5. (And Ringo). So I thought some of you might want some insight from a drummer who has studied a master. Because after all, to become a master one must study a master. This could well be a 100 page essay, but in the interest of brevity I have selected a few songs hopefully everyone has access to, and noted time marks where applicable to illustrate my examples.

John Bonham could play with feel, a deep enveloping feel. He was a drummer where “feel” came first, time second. Whereas, in the case of Neil Peart for example, time is first, feel is second. Bonzo also had the amazing quality of being powerful, yet nimble. He also had swing, as is evident in Candy Store Rock, Kashmir, Out On The Tiles, just to name a few. It is easy to see his jazz/swing influences such as Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Joe Morello. In fact John Bonham borrowed a lot of of Joe Morello’s triplet ideas.

Dazed and Confused

Of course the most noticeable God like quality of his drumming was his speed. He could bend time. The good drummers can do this, our brains can move in nanoseconds, calculating what you just played, what you are playing, and what you are going to play all at once. The best example of John’s speed is the end of Dazed and Confused (from The Song Remains The Same). There have been fierce debates as to whether it is has been sped up, but I can assure it has not. The hand is quicker than the eye. I also know because I can play it.

Same song now, different example: Note at the 11:59 mark how Jimmy Page lets Jonesy and Bonzo take over in this rhythmic interlude. This is a great example of how fast and tight the rhythm section was, and how important it was to the success of the band.

Trampled Under Foot

Here is another example of the blistering speed at which he could play. And maintain throughout a 10 minute song. At the 4:36 mark we get a glimpse of John’s concentration, he is definitely “in the zone”, and as you can see, sweating and working very hard.

Moby Dick/Over The Top

Another great glimpse into the happiness and concentration on John’s face occurs at 4:56, 5:20, and 6:04. One of things I believe that made Zeppelin great was the happiness in their music.

The Song Remains The Same

The happiest and most swinging Zeppelin song, in my opinion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=he6TQsU8d6k

John has an interesting approach to this song where alternates the lead beat of the bar between the snare drum and the bass drum. Just another example of his jazz feel, and his attention to detail.

When The Levee Breaks

Some more interesting attention to detail here at the 1:35 mark. At one time I thought this was tape noise, but I’m convinced it’s John making the sound of water bursting through a small hole. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEKkJHSO8A0

Of course this is also one of the best known songs for capturing his drum sound. Although there were some interesting recording techniques used, the sound still came from the drummer. He played the first note on his bass drum with an accent (hitting it harder) then silencing his drum head with his bass drum mallet before striking the second note just after. Simple yet genius.

Here is a great example of his speed and nimbleness around the kit at 5:16, and his incredible foot speed at 5:26

We can also witness the sheer speed of his wrists with his machine gun drum rolls at 6:48.

In closing I want to say happy birthday to the most intelligent, powerful, soulful, nimble, quickest, passionate and and talented rock drummer of all time.

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The title caught my eye and I was wondering what I would find in here, so I clicked it! Beginning looked promissing. A guy who has been drumming for 38 years, widely influenced by godly Bonzo is going to explain some of his timings, swings, give us some insight into how was Bonzo awesome...!!! COOL!!! But then the article itself started and I got a little bit disapointed. All I got from it is.... BONZO WAS FAST... well, I knew that already, thanks... :(. I expected something more like the talking about When The Levee Breaks, where you explained the thing with his bass drum. That one was very nice!!! I didnt know that!!! I want more of these!!! :).

What about Kashmir. There is a lot to talk about I think when it comes to Bonzo... At the end, where he attacks his snare drum with such an imense power and in such a speed... somewhere I have heard, that he hits it somewhat off off timing or what, but fitting it precisely, which makes it a brutal masterpiece that not many can play like him... ???

There has to be a lot more remarkables in his plays, give us some, I am sure you know much more! :).

Anyway, WELCOME to the board, this is a great place to be...!

And please dont take my "criticism" hard, I liked what you gave us after all and I am glad you stoped by to share your thoughts about Bonzo, the greatest rock and roll drummer of all time!!! ;).

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Hi Storm

Thank you very much for the welcome, and no offense taken, it is my first post, I was ina rush to get it online, and I didn't want to make it too technical. :)

And words are hard to describe...I would rather demonstrate on my drums!!!

Is there anything in particular you would like to know?

About Kashmir, it's a pretty straight forward drum beat, no real tricks or special techniques that I can see, however as Robert Plant stated once Bonzo's Kashmir drumming had swing, and gave us the "sense of motion". That in itself is a major achievement.

He does hit his snare drum in various different ways, utilizing different areas of the drum to produce different sounds. Or he hits it harder on some notes (accents), and creates more distance from the drum before impact . I believe an example of this technique can be found on The Wanton Song . You will notice a noticeable difference in the sound and pitch of the snare between notes.

Hmmm what else can I give you?

Ok heres one. Kind of hard to explain and maybe a little "ethereal". Mr. Bomham had a technique where he would kep moving his left hand in time even after the note had been hit on the snare. There are many reasons for that: to help keep time, to give the piece more feel, to utilize a single stroke roll with one hand, ( such as in Since I've Been Loving You) . However the main reason, in my humble opinion is to "complete the circle" as I like to call it. In other words, the right hand is moving, the left hand is moving, the left foot is moving, the right foot is moving. It is a "circle" of movement , or motion.

Does that make sense?

:)

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Hi I'm new here, was wondering Rover if u could explain the drum solo at the end of rock and roll( the song remains the same) just when I thought I was getting better and had learned the studio version along comes bonzo and rips it up, it's the bit after the herta that has me confused its just insanely powerful

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How about a video demonstration?

38 years is a lot of playing. I admire your dedication. Hell, I'm 38 years old...you've been playing my whole life.

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Hi Back Beat

For that solo at the end of Rock and Roll try practicing your one handed buzz rolls. Bonzo used these a lot obviously. The strength for those comes from the wrists. Another good way too practice is too play his hand movements on one drum, or practice pad even. Then move to the drums on the kit. The bass drum note is the first note of every bar. The solo from TSRTS is essentially much like the studio version, albeit much faster.

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Hi Angamie

Thank you for your comment, I enjoy playing and learning more every day.

I can put up a video, just may take some time...lol

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What is the story behind Four Sticks? Only recently when I saw a tribute band in the UK the drummer played with 2 sticks in each hand and finally understood the title. Was there a reason for using 4 sticks or was this just a gimmick?

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Well it was more than a gimmick, two sticks in each hand obviously produces a louder and different sound from the drum

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What is the story behind Four Sticks? Only recently when I saw a tribute band in the UK the drummer played with 2 sticks in each hand and finally understood the title. Was there a reason for using 4 sticks or was this just a gimmick?

"Four Sticks", I remember, we tried that on numerous occasions and it didn't come off until the day Bonzo who was just playing with two sticks on it and we tried all different things, then one day he picked up two sets of sticks, so he had four sticks, and we did it. That was two takes, but that was because it was physically impossible for him to do another. I couldn't get that to work until we tried to record it a few times and I just didn't know what it was and I still wouldn't have known what it was, we probably would have kicked the track out, but then Bonzo went and I'm not going to repeat the language he said at the time, but it was nothing to do with the fact that it was taking a long time. We had actually gone in to try on a fresh occasion and he just picked up the four sticks and that was it.

Jimmy Page,BBC interview.

gimmick

Bonzo wasn't into gimmicks.

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Plus, I'm just gonna put this here: I could give you a few other things that I've personally taken from Bonham's work. I'm 27 now, a British drummer, and have been listening to and learning from Bonham since I was 15. To me he is the master, and I was his student, now disciple, as I feel his soul is within me (not literally!), but I have essentially picked up the banner he once carried, and seek to carry to until my death.

There is something holy, or unholy about Bonham's playing, whatever it was, it transcended time, and was completely immortal. Though us lesser mortal men are able to learn and de-construct his tracks so that we may play them accurately, and with his spirit, we still can not even hope to come close to what that demi-god of a man achieved in his short time here on Earth. 

Some of my favourite songs of his to play (and I love playing them all) are:

 

Achilles Last Stand:

For years I struggled to play this number, and simply would not practice it as much as some of the others, mainly because my bass drum foot speed and power was not quite up to it yet, and it was a total drain on my stamina to try and play a song that lasts for roughly 10 minutes straight without a stop, and I had decent stamina too! It is only in recent times that I have found the confidence and the ability to play this mighty beast, and attempt to do it justice.

When I was younger, I had little wrist and kick technique, as I mentioned, and these were the main components holding me back with this song. I read a story somewhere recently that allegedly, after recording the drums for this song, Jimmy Page increased the tempo of the track. If this is true, then it's an amazing revelation to realise that this blistering beat was not recorded at the tempo we have all been playing along to for so many years, but a big part of me hopes it isn't so. Anyway, the galloping rhythm is what really makes this song, equalled with the strong, and consistent back beat - two things I eventually got down, and couple that with my newfound wrist and kick strength, I am now fully able to appreciate and play this song as it should be done.

A few other things to note about this song are:

The drum fills. They are the simplest, yet most powerfully executed fills you will ever hear. There is one fill that comes in at 1:17 that is a blindingly fast single stroke 16th note roll that goes around from the snare, to the two other descending toms. It's played with a smoothness that almost can't be fathomed. Some argue that it is in fact, a buzz roll, but I disagree after having mastered this particular roll, I can say that it is performed as your average, even handed single stroke roll, but counted in triplets and with an exceedingly fast execution, and the secret? Light touch.

The next set of fills are the most insane out of the lot. They're hard to explain though, ha, but a short version of the two fills comes in at the 2:30 mark, and at that tempo is quite hard to pull off without having fast arms and leg, I'm telling you. The next one is in my opinion, one of the hardest John Bonham fills to execute of all time, and it is the same as the former drum fill, but is repeated 4 times in succession, and that comes in at 5:27, even I struggle to play that correctly at that tempo. Either way, this song is hands down one of Bonham's greatest compositions as a drummer, and is completely peerless in it's execution.

I even did a drum cover of this recently:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0jru1P9BW8

 

I will post some other songs shortly, but I'm high right now and don't have the mental capacity to think too critically :lol:

 

 

 

Edited by Mr. Hudson
Typos and such.

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^ Whoa!,fantastic cover Mr. Hudson!!

I think you've eclipsed Chad Smith's version which he performed at Bonzo Bash a while back and was the standout cover for me.

It was a better idea to YT your cover rather than the Dropbox DL too.

Enjoy your highness,it's well deserved :)

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A key element to Bonzo's sound was the fact he tuned his drums very high, (like Jazz Drummers). The sound projected farther.

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Great post, and all the attempts to somehow encapsulate Bonzo's drumming skill. I would place him

in a running tie with Hendrix as the greatest rock'n'roll musician ever. Fact is that other than sometimes

letting his enthusiasm speed things up, whatever style or genre he would or could try would be ultimately

successful. Forget Ginger Baker.....a great drummer, but if Bonzo wanted to go that route, eventually

he could do it. Lack of Bonzo was a tremendous problem for Jimmy when Zep ended. Nice try from

everyone, but getting Hendix properly would be 300+ pages(as Bonzo) and truth be told there are many

things which can only be learned from playing live.

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^ Whoa, fantastic cover Mr. Hudson!!

I think you've Dropboxd Chad Smith's version which he performed at Bonzo Bash a while back and was the standout cover for me.

It was a better idea to YT your cover rather than the Dropbox DL too.

Enjoy your highness,it's well deserved :)

Thank you very much! :)

You're completely right by the way, I'm not fond of using Dropbox to link songs but at the time of posting my cover originally, I was on my phone and couldn't upload the audio file anywhere; not YouTube or Soundcloud unfortunately.

In terms of playing it almost exactly to the track, then yes I would say I eclipsed Chad Smith haha, but he was improvising the whole thing! Which by far eclipses what I did! I appreciate your  compliment though :D

Edited by Mr. Hudson

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A key element to Bonzo's sound was the fact he tuned his drums very high, (like Jazz Drummers). The sound projected farther.

 

I would have quoted you in the same post as the last but I can't do it properly via this phone, I really hate it! Haha.

But yeah, you're right on the money with that. The other good thing (in my opinion) about his tuning the drums higher is that you get a much better response time from your sticks. 

The bottom skin is known as the resonant head, and if you tighten that right up (which many don't, either for preference or because they don't know any different) then what you get is more resonance of the tone, but faster reaction time and sensitivity on the top head meaning you can do much faster rolls and more eloquent and subtle notes too.

The top skin, or batter head, is mainly used for tone and Bonham would have his around medium high - he definitely tuned it to a particular key. I know that. I tune it to the same key, but I'm not sure what that key is yet, I just know it by ear haha. It is a beautiful tone though.

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Yes, must point out the rather excellent attempts to mimic Bonzo. Being a musician myself, If I remember

correctly my drummer said tuning the drums higher is sort of like tuning a guitar higher or using heavier

strings. Your arms, wrists, fingers, etc. are going to have to make more effort, that is why other drummers

may not tune higher ??? True, or not ??. Actually he sort of compared it to the "blowback" from a 

powerful rifle.

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Hey, thanks Mithril ;)

I would say that it is the other way around. The lower tuned you have the drums, the more resistance you get when striking them. That's what I've found anyway. Like I said, the higher the bottom skin is tuned, you get less resistance and more sensitivity, or bounce for your stick which means you play much faster and with more ease.

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Well obviously you being a ace drummer I must have mixed something up, but what about the "blowback"

from more heavily tuned drums ?? From a physics standpoint your wrists, hands, etc.(snares, toms, etc.)would have to absorb more energy not from the "hit", but from the "blowback". But I'm certainly

Not a drummer.

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I get what you're saying. I would have to conclude that to avoid any wrist injuries, just learn a better technique haha.

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A most excellent thread, thanks to OP for starting and Mr Hudson for his ALS cover, which is mightily fab. Not often we get in-depth discussion about technique and drum tuning (the latter is a dark art which took me years to learn).

As mostly rock-style drummer meself (say that in a Dublin accent), Bonzo has been a huge influence. Other 60s/70s rock drummers have their influence too, such as the Stones' Charlie Watts, The Doors' John Densmore and Queen's Roger Taylor. But even they would agree, I'm sure that John Bonham was the greatest rock drummer (certainly Roger Taylor, though perhaps not Charlie Watts, who was more jazz-influenced). Not wishing to repeat what has already been said above, here are a couple of thoughts about his style.

1. Snare rim/skin hit technique: This one is important. Bonzo would habitually hit the rim of the snare drum when he hit the snare skin. Bottom of the stick (above the hand) hits the rim while the tip hits the skin. It's a tricky angle to get every beat, because you need to have your wrist at the right angle. What it does is make the whole drum shell explode with sound as you hit the snare skin as well. I think he tended to do this on the toms as well. The other band members repeatedly comment on how loud Bonzo was. This snare rim/skin technique was, I believe, one of the reasons why so few drummers can replicate his signature sound - the actual volume was at a level which recorded differently; the drum and skin would reverberate differently and have a different attack, sustain and decay to any other drummer's style. It also explains the differing snare sound he could get on songs like The Wanton Song, as in alternating between doing a rim/skin hit and a normal skin hit. But of course, being Bonzo, you can never foretell when he'd do this, because as the other bandmembers often said, it's what he did and what he didn't do which made him so unique.

2. Drum rolls & fills. Further to Mr Hudson's astute observations about Bonzo stick techniques, his drum rolls are uncanny, as he pointed out in ALS. They're like press rolls, which John Densmore liked to do on Doors songs like Wild Child and their live version of Who Do You Love (I think Elvin Jones was a big influence on Densmore). Further examples can be found on In My Time of Dying studio version and the 1977 versions of No Quarter (you can hear Dave Grohl copying that snare-tom-snare-tom fast roll on Queens of the Stone Age's No One Knows, during the instrumental crescendo).

I find one of the most illustrative examples of Bonzo's stick technique is on the outro build-up of the DVD Knebworth version of In The Evening, where he delivers a bunch of unique fills which display absolute control, creativity and sheer bloody brilliance. Note the fast single-stroke roll that goes from fast to slow. What makes Bonzo even more amazeballs is how his fills, no matter where he started or finished them, never (or very rarely) went out of time, and rarely were repeated in the same sequence (the end of studio version of In My Time Of Dying also has a great run of different fills - from "And I see them in the streets..." to "I just wanted to have some fun..."). The finale of In The Light is another example of inventive fills and flourishes.

Finally, as mentioned above, Bonzo didn't just hit the snare on the 3rd beat (in 4/4 time). He had lots of little things going on, almost imperceptible, but it all added up to his overall sound. In the 1990 MTV documentary, John Paul Jones sums it up, saying that Bonzo had all these subtle colours going on, and that this is why so many other drummers trying to copy Bonzo never got it right. "It's all BOOM-BASH-BOOM-BASH", I recall him saying as he waved his arms about stiffly.

3. Kick (bass) drum technique. This is quite widely-known. The story goes that Bonzo was a big fan of bands like Vanilla Fudge, and would copy their drummer's kick drum style. Problem was, Bonzo didn't know at the time (1967/68) that Carmine Appice used two kick drums for his fast kick drum triplets, quadruplets and rhythms. So he copied those fast beats on only *one* kick drum. Numerous examples: Good Times Bad Times, Trampled Underfoot, For Your Life.

Further to his kick drum technique, Bonzo had two drum heads on his kick drum, which was common in the 1970s but is quite rare nowadays. This gave his kick drum a woofy, woolly sound which could hammer hard when he wanted but also allow softer beats to fill the rest of the bar. It's similar to his stick technique. This is at odds with the dry thuddy kick drum sound which tends to be more popular for rock and metal drummers. Yes, this is louder for a single note, but you sacrifice subtlety and ability to vary the loudness. I'd find Primus' Tim Alexander to be a good example of someone who uses the drier kick drum sound with imagination and variation.

 

Finally, a point about the OP's observation about Bonzo's apparent concentration during the DVD clip of Trampled Under Foot: the 04:36 mark that you reference is actually a shot stolen from Moby Dick! Nearly of all the close-ups of Bonzo on Disc Two of DVD are taken from his drum solo, and edited into the footage to give the impression that it's from the track you're hearing. Standard live music video editing using a limited source of footage. If you look closely at these shots you can see his hi-hats bopping up and down which is what he did during Moby Dick. Also, the lighting colours and tones often differ from the actual track being played.

That's all from me for now. Hope this adds to the discussion.

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Boy, rather excellent descriptions, without losing the laypeople(I am a musician). Same problem with

putting Hendrix or Page in a convenient sized box, a describable shape can't contain all the influences

and forces at work.

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A most excellent thread, thanks to OP for starting and Mr Hudsis thn for his ALS cover, which is mightily fab. Not often we get in-depth discussion about technique and drum tuning (the latter is a dark art which took me years to learn).

As mostly rock-style drummer meself (say that in a Dublin accent), Bonzo has been a huge influence. Other 60s/70s rock drummers have their influence too, such as the Stones' Charlie Watts, The Doors' John Densmore and Queen's Roger Taylor. But even they would agree, I'm sure that John Bonham was the greatest rock drummer (certainly Roger Taylor, though perhaps not Charlie Watts, who was more jazz-influenced). Not wishing to repeat what has already been said above, here are a couple of thoughts about his style.

1. Snare rim/skin hit technique: This one is important. Bonzo would habitually hit the rim of the snare drum when he hit the snare skin. Bottom of the stick (above the hand) hits the rim while the tip hits the skin. It's a tricky angle to get every beat, because you need to have your wrist at the right angle. What it does is make the whole drum shell explode with sound as you hit the snare skin as well. I think he tended to do this on the toms as well. The other band members repeatedly comment on how loud Bonzo was. This snare rim/skin technique was, I believe, one of the reasons why so few drummers can replicate his signature sound - the actual volume was at a level which recorded differently; the drum and skin would reverberate differently and have a different attack, sustain and decay to any other drummer's style. It also explains the differing snare sound he could get on songs like The Wanton Song, as in alternating between doing a rim/skin hit and a normal skin hit. But of course, being Bonzo, you can never foretell when he'd do this, because as the other bandmembers often said, it's what he did and what he didn't do which made him so unique.

What a great post, feller. You've highlighted some of the simple aspects that truly were the secrets to his sound.

I particularly can concur on your observation of the way he played the snare drum as I do exactly the same thing. I also habitually rim shot the snare drum, and have done since I was a kid, but for that habit I'd have to thank the influence of Dave Grohl(of whom is also a massive Bonham fan), but it was when I began listening and learning from Bonham's playing that really taught me to play that way with finesse.

The difference between those two examples; Grohl and Bonham, is exactly that. Grohl plays with as much power as Bonham did, but he lacks the finesse element, in my opinion. He's more on the beat, like a machine, although this is not to criticise him as I was heavily influenced by his playing, most particularly his creative drum fills, and pure power.

Bonham was a diffirent bag altogether though, and I had actually discovered him through Grohl when he cited Bonham as an influence. So began my lifelong devotion to a newfound master, who's playing was not only raw power and creativity, but subtlety as well, and he really could push and pull the feel of each song like he was truly in control, and a leader in his own right, but I digress.

John Bonham's technique on the snare was far more honed, and he had incredible control, wrist and finger technique to go hand in hand with the power of those rim shots. It's not as though he rimshot his entire way through a song, rather, he would only do it to serve as a powerful accent to the back beat. You can often hear and feel his use of ghost notes between the back beat, which was proof that he was not just a BOOM BASH drummer. This is an example of the colouring in John Paul Jones mentioned - the dynamic control.

And with as much skill and technique, he provided the same on his bass drum too. Again, not just BOOM, and BASH. Granted, his bass drum was huge and he utilised it to it's loudest, but also it's fullest potential. A lot of players play the kick drum with a heel up technique, with your toes firmly planted onto the kick drum pedal. This technique is popular in rock music mostly, as it provides the power and sometimes the speed necessary in rock music. There is another kick drum technique generally used elsewhere or in jazz, and/or gentler styles of music depending largely on ambience and that is the heel down technique which basically is the opposite. Rather than kicking down the toes, you are pivoting your toes down from the ankle, which doesn't give you as much speed or power but provides a nice warm tone as it allows the beater of the kick drum pedal to essentially bounce off the skin of the bass drum, allowing for resonance and tone.

This is the key differences in sound between those two previously mentioned techniques. Heel up usually forces the beater into the skin of the drum, or as it's usually called: burying the beater. This chokes the sound of bass drum, providing a more deadened tone, and less resonance, whilst heel down provides the opposite, but lacks in speed and power.

I used to play heel up because I wanted to get as much speed and power as possible in order to emulate my hero, but to no avail. I had the attack down, but I was burying the beater without realising I was doing so. It wasn't until I noticed this that then began trying to learn by playing heal down, and it sounded a lot closer to the sound Bonham would get from his bass drum, but I realised that I was struggling to play with as much speed and attack this way. To compensate for this, I would play harder and harder from the heel down position, which eventually strengthened the muscles in and around my ankle, as well as the muscles I had developed using the heel up until I finally discovered the magic formula! Huzzar!

Bonham's technique was actually a combination of the two! (A quick Google check could have confirmed this for me, but I learnt the hard way, I'm grateful to say). The two different muscle groups I had developed altered my footing position entirely, and what I now play is Bonham's heel-toe technique. His foot I imagine sat the same as mine on the pedal; neither heel up, nor heel down, rather resting at the centre of the pedal board sort of floating. This technique allows for greater speed, and power, but also efficient use of the beater on the skin, and actually allows for the use of bass drum ghost notes!

Funnily enough, after developing this alone, I discovered this video which not only demonstrated what I already knew, but explained it in a way I couldn't at the time:

https://m.youtube.com/results?q=bonham heel toe bass drum&sm=3

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