This tip profoundly changed the way I conceptualize and execute keeping time when playing a kit. I think I first read about this in a Modern Drummer article with/by Steve Smith many years ago. Derek W. if you're reading, it may be in that musty stack of MD mags I gave you last year ;-)
Time from Your Toes
Drummers usually keep time with their hands. Right handed drummers primarily with their right hand. In other words, of the 4 appendages a drummer plays with (exception Rick Allen), our dominant focus is our hands. And we tend to keep time, in our minds and physically, with the sticks. In essence, our feet follow the lead of our hands.
In this article I encourage you to flip that: Keep time with your feet. Or another way to say it, play from your "feet up."
Thinking about keeping time with your kick drum and hi-hat will "shore up" those looser appendages. Your foot playing will become more solid. As a result, your overall playing will improve. Not to mention that in any mic'd-up rock situation, the kick is the most dominant part of the kit. Loose feet = loose grove. Tight feet = tight groove.
You probably don't think about it, but it's likely your hands and feet are playing slightly different time. Unless you've worked on it a lot, your right foot is developmentally behind your hands. Why? Because drummers are always working on having fast hands.
As I've been mulling over this post, John Bonham came to mind. Think about a a Led Zep song like "All My Love." Bonham seems to drive his time with his kick drum. And his overall time-keeping always sounds rock-solid.
Here's an applicable example of "feet up" playing. When you're playing a song and a fill in bar 8 is coming up, what do you think about? Your hands. You think about what you're going to play between the snare and toms. Your kick drum is an afterthought.
Keeping time with your feet will change how you think about and play fills; which is great, because our timing tends to suck when we play fills.
Also by thinking of your feet more and incorporating them into a fill, will make for more interesting and impacting fills. Now speaking of timing...
The biggest problem among drummers is we keep bad time. This is our #1 problem.
Ladies and gentlemen, this has got to stop. We have no chords or scales to memorize, no transposing to do. So let's get serious about this.
If you don't have a metronome you can listen to with ear phones, get one. Turn it on and start playing--from your feet up.
Once you start feeling comfortable with it, slow it down. It just got harder. Why? It takes more control to play slow. Your feet (and hands) have to be more precise when the tempo is slow. Playing really slow tempos, in rock-solid time, is a phenomenal exercise!
Work that metronome from super slow to fast and everything in between. I promise you, the first time you put the metronome on, you'll swear it's not keeping steady tempo. Trust me, the error isn't with the metronome.
So, conceptually and physically, play from your feet up. It will help lock all 4 of your appendages into the same groove, which will make your time more solid, which will help you better serve the song and the band.
Coming up: Pt 3: "I must Decrease" (it's prob not what you think it is)