Footprints and shoe prints.

Drummers play in all types of footwear.  Some don’t use footwear at all.  Instead, they play in socks or bare feet.  It seems that there is a growing trend of drummers playing sans shoes. 

Is there a benefit to playing without shoes?  It comes down to the drummer’s comfort and technique.  Some drummers say that they have greater flexibility and feel more connected to the instrument when playing barefoot.  Drummers who use a sliding technique on the pedals often prefer to play in socks.

The aspects of playing barefoot, playing in socks, and playing in shoes will be discussed below. 

Playing Barefoot

Should drummers play in bare feet?  That question is answered best by each individual drummer after considering the potential advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • Greater flexibility and range of motion – The drummer does have a shoe or other piece of footwear hindering the natural motion of the foot.
  • Unimpeded sense of touch – The drummer may feel more connected to the pedal since the it is being touched by bare skin.  This unimpeded sense of touch is a key reason many people give for playing barefooted.
  • The drummer’s feet may feel cooler – Many drummers enjoy the initial feel of cool, metal footboard under their feet.  The drummer’s feet will also be cooler when playing without shoes or socks.

Disadvantages

  • Drummers may be walking on dirty, sticky floors – While drummers may be comfortable being barefoot in their own home, many do not care for being barefoot on a stage. Stages may be dirty, as well as sticky from gaffer’s tape and spilled drinks.  Drummers who play barefoot often have a pair of slip-on shoes nearby to avoid walking on dirty floors.
  • Drummers may stub their toes or step on small objects – Stages are often dark before and after performances.  If a drummer does not slip shoes on before and after playing, he or she could stub their toe on a stand, speaker cabinet, or similar item.  There may also be small items that could be stepped on, causing injury to the drummer’s foot. 

    Drummers have complained about getting splinters when walking up to the drum set.  These splinters are often from small pieces of wood that chip off the sticks during practice or performance. 

    Other drummers who experimented with playing barefoot have experienced injured toes from their foot sliding up too far on the pedal and hitting the chain.  
  • Dress codes could require shoes – Many clients and performance venues have dress codes.  For example, if a band is performing at a black-tie function, the band members are required to be properly dressed from head to toe.  Tuxedoes are usually the required attire for these performances.  The drummer may be in the back of the stage, but the drummer’s limbs are still quite visible. 

    Many contemporary bands will play nightclubs, where the dress code is relaxed.  However, these bands may be asked to play the occasional wedding or corporate function.  Proper attire is usually required for these events.

Playing in Socks

Some drummers feel uncomfortable playing in shoes, yet do not want to go barefooted.  These drummers may consider playing in socks.  A few points to consider are below.

Advantages

  • Ability to slide on the pedal – Some drummers like to use a sliding motion on the pedal.  This technique is often used when playing double strokes on the bass drum.  It can also be used on the hi-hat pedal when flanging (alternating between muted and splashed notes).  Many drummers comment that socks allow for a smooth, sliding motion. 
  • The drummer has full range of motion – Socks tend to not restrict range of motion, so the foot’s flexibility will be virtually unimpeded. 
  • The drummer’s foot still feels connected to the pedal – Even though the skin is not physically touching the pedal, the drummer can still feel the surface of the pedal.

Disadvantages

  • Drummers may stub their toe or injure their foot – Socks do not add much protection to the foot compared to playing in bare feet.  As mentioned, stages are usually dimly lit before and after performances.  If the drummer does not slip his or her shoes on immediately after playing, there is the chance of injury.
  • Dress codes may require shoes – As previously mentioned, musicians sometimes need to follow dress code requirements.  Drummers who practice in socks may feel awkward when performing in shoes.

Playing in Shoes

Many drummers choose to play in shoes (or similar footwear). Some benefits and drawbacks to playing in shoes are listed below.

Advantages

  • Practice and performance will have the same feel – There is a saying, “Practice the way that you play.”  In other words, drummers who wear shoes while practicing will obviously feel comfortable performing in shoes.
  • Drummers can control the amount of grip on the pedal – Drummers who prefer their foot to stay on the same spot on the pedal’s footboard may wish to play in shoes with rubber soles.
  • Drummers won’t be as concerned about a dress code – If the drummer is comfortable playing in shoes, he or she can play a gig with an informal dress code.  For this the drummer may use footwear such as tennis shoes.  For a performance with a strict dress code, the drummer may wear dress shoes.
  • The drummer may find a shoe that offers flexibility and protection – Many drummers want the freedom of movement that comes with playing in socks or bare feet.  However, they want the look of shoes.  For that reason, drummers will often wear wrestling shoes, skate shoes, dance shoes, and special barefoot shoes (shoes that attempt to mimic a barefoot type of feel).  Many of these allow for greater range of motion compared to the average, everyday shoes.

    Drummers who use a sliding technique on the pedals may find dress shoes with soles made of leather (or synthetic leather substitute) to have a nice feel.  These shoes don’t offer as much traction, making walking on smooth surfaces more difficult.  However, the limited traction allows the drummer to slide along the pedal.

    Drummers who do not want their foot to slide on the pedal may choose shoes with a rubber sole and aggressive tread pattern.

    Once shoes are found that offer the drummer the desired feel, he or she may wish to wear them for all drumming occasions.  For this reason, a black shoe is often chosen because it can blend in with black, formal clothing.  That color also works well with many informal outfits at well.

Disadvantages

  • The drummer’s feet are not in direct contact with the pedal – Both the sock, and sole of the shoe, are between the foot and the pedal.  Some drummers have found the sensation analogous to typing with gloves.
  • The drummer’s feet may get very warm – Compared to playing barefooted, playing in shoes can cause the drummer’s feet to get hot.  Drummers with this issue may want to try shoes made with breathable fabric.

Footwear Suggestions for Drummers

As mentioned at the beginning of this article.  A drummer’s footwear is an individual choice.  Choices, however, will be best made when examining the options. It is recommended to take the advantages and disadvantages of each method of playing into consideration.

Drummers who currently wear shoes may want to attempt practicing in socks or bare feet.  This will allow the drummer to see just how freely the feet can move without the obstruction of shoes.  The drummer may want to consider these natural motions when choosing a shoe.  Perhaps the drummer may change to a shoe that allows the feet to move in a more ergonomic fashion.

Drummers who currently play in bare feet or socks may want to experiment with shoes that allow their feet to move in a natural way.  This is not necessarily suggesting a permanent switch from bare feet (or socks) to shoes.  It will, however, be a way for drummers to feel more comfortable during performances that have a strict dress code.

Conclusion

A drummer’s choice in footwear is determined by a number of factors, including comfort, playing technique, and dress code. Experiment with a number of the footwear choices in this article to find the right solution for your specific situation.

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