In this blog post we explore whether to play drums barefoot vs play wearing shoes; the debate rages on!
Why don’t we start off by getting you to answer the questions below?
Question: Would you wear
Jeans to the bath or shower?
Thick winter gloves to eat dinner at a fancy restaurant?
A traditional Mexican sombrero to run a marathon (London Marathon aside, of course)?
Sleep in a sleeping bag under your duvet under regular circumstances?
You’ve probably guessed which way I prefer to play, but read ahead as I think there are good considerations to explore.
WHY WRITE ABOUT THIS?
By some sheer coincidence, I’ve recently been teaching a lot of my students the Heel Toe technique to play fast doubles on the bass drum. Indeed, as I demonstrate it to them, they usually notice that I play barefoot (or with socks). To which, surely, enough I get the “why do you play drums barefoot?” question.
Below I wanted to summarise my views on this subject as I think there’s value in discussion. Consequently, remember that there’s no right or wrong, only what works for, and feels good to, you! Of course, it’s worth giving both ways a genuine good go, as it will help you make an informed choice. Similarly, learning to be comfortable playing both ways (barefoot and with shoes) can only make you a better player.
MY JOURNEY TO PLAYING DRUMS BAREFOOT
I’ve gone through the whole journey to arrive at my conclusion that playing drums barefoot was the way for me. Previously, I used to swear by playing drums with shoes on. Paradoxically, I was always looking for the lightest and least intrusive shoes I could find.
Classic slip-on Vans, Converse Chuck Taylors, Vivobarefoot shoes, etc, I tried them all! Subsequently, they were all great options until they weren’t any longer! At which point it was time to ditch the shoes altogether.
This new unencumbered feel of the pedal was, for me, a breath of fresh air. In contrast, the difference was night and day… Like I had been knitting wearing ski gloves! Getting fully acquainted with the new feel wasn’t immediate, it took a little bit for it to feel second nature.
Here’s a summary of the some of the benefits of each I can think of, as objectively as I can.
BAREFOOT / SOCKS
True and accurate feel and feedback from the pedal
Added weight and mass to the foot can help with speed and control
Natural foot movement on the pedal(s) unrestricted by the shoe’s mass and sole
Sole of the shoe provides grip on the pedalboard
If you’re not wearing your “drum shoes” and have to play, just take your shoes off and go
Practical when playing outdoors and its cold to keep your feet warm
You don’t have to spend extra money getting “shoes for drumming”
Can expose stinky feet, or embarrassing socks (but come on, there’s no such thing as embarrassing socks, or is there?)
Having a think about what we’ve covered so far, the drive to find the most comfortable drumming shoes is a journey that most drummers go on. Accordingly, the idea of accurate feedback from the pedal and unrestricted movement were key in switching to play drums barefoot… Indeed, you can’t get any lighter than no shoe at all, right? As silly as the questions at the beginning of this post were, they reflect my need to go as natural as possible.
However, there are other drummers who go another way. Jojo Mayer, who plays with shoes on, modifies his shoes to have a leather sole in order for his foot to move freely on the pedal. Similarly, if you ever noticed the design of his signature pedal, it is completely smooth in order to facilitate alleviate unwanted grip.
Furthermore, in the mid-nineties, Vic Firth and Dave Weckl collaborated in developing the completely crazy Vic Firth Kickers Drum Shoes. Let me invite you to bask in this 1995 advert’s intense cringe glory. Personal tastes aside, the idea of this shoe was a good one, yet whilst it was aiming for something lightweight, it was still donning a sticky sole. Not sure when these might have been discontinued.
My point here is that we’re searching for the most comfortable solution, which seems to be the least intrusive and lightest one. Be it retrofitting your favourite shoes with a leather sole, or going to great lengths to develop, mass produce and market a light, breathable drumming shoe. Why not just go barefoot (or wear a a pair of socks)?!
To sum up, there are no rights or wrongs in how you choose to play; you have to try both ways and make your own mind up. Personally, I think it’s worth a try if you’ve been curious to do so. However, whatever you do, avoid those Vic Firth Kickers Drum Shoes.
If you want to learn more about the Heel Toe or some one-to-one lessons to help you troubleshoot or nail it, check out my drum lessons and get in touch! You can also check out my drum tuition book Concepts to help you create your own awesome grooves and fills!
Thanks and enjoy! 🙂