Becoming a great drummer has a lot to do with having the proper tools and practicing the best techniques. In our recent post, we’ve talked about the importance of finding an adequate metronome. Next, we are going to cover an essential technique and that is how to hold drum sticks. You will find that there are basic principles that apply to everyone, but different styles.
Knowing how to hold drum sticks is very important because it helps you play the drums effectively, with enough power, but also helps you have plenty of control. When you master the right technique, you will be able to learn how to drum quicker and become better at it. On the contrary, if the way you hold drum sticks is incorrect, the entire learning process will be slowed down.
The technique of holding drum sticks properly is actually one of the most complex issues when it comes to drumming. That is why learning it from a teacher can be vital, in order to start out correctly and have a good foundation. People who are self-taught can make certain subtle mistakes that will be difficult to correct later on. Also, regular practice is very important.
If you are in the process of learning how to play the drums, it’s advisable to do your research and find out as much as you can about the right way to hold drum sticks, then practice as often as possible. Here are some of the most important things regarding different styles of holding drum sticks, to get you started.
First things you need to know about holding drum sticks
Before diving into the different styles of holding drum sticks, let’s talk about the basics. These include your posture and hand movement. It seems that anyone can sit behind the drums and pick up the sticks, because it looks so natural. In fact, there are precise rules and principles that need to be followed.
Good posture is the first important step. The key when it comes to properly sitting behind the kit is that your back needs to be straight at all times, while every other part of the body stays floppy. Don’t slouch, don’t sit too low and allow your diaphragm to move freely. It’s very important for beginners to learn to sit up straight, as otherwise, they will have a permanent tendency to slouch.
Your legs should always be relaxed and slightly apart. Your hands also need to be relaxed. Give them a shake before getting started. The trick is to also keep your wrists relaxed so that they can naturally move the same way as your arms. You don’t want rigid wrists and hinged moves. Your hands, wrists, and arms should flow in harmony.
This flow is essential for properly holding a pair of drum sticks. Keep your lower arms horizontal and your hands relaxed. This should be your position every time you hold drum sticks. If the drum sticks are parallel to one another, it means that the position of your hands is wrong. The sticks should be pointing at each other and forming a slight 90 degrees angle.
Matched grip is the most common style of stick grip. As its name suggests, the right hand and the left hand grip the sticks and move in the exact same way. That is why this style is recommended for beginner students, as it is easy to learn and practice. Plus, another advantage is that the matched grip is adequate for all percussion instruments and most music styles.
For practicing the matched grip style, you need to hold the stick between the front of the thumb and the first joint of the index finger. Your fingers should be at approximately four inches from the butt end of the stick. Then, curve the index finger around the stick, in order to hold it. This technique of pinching the stick between the thumb and the index finger is called a fulcrum.
Establishing the right fulcrum is essential for the matched grip. That is why, after first determining that spot, it’s a good idea to mark it, either by using a piece of transparent tape or a marker. This will help you hold the drum sticks correctly every time, without having to determine the fulcrum again and again.
After you have determined where the fulcrum should be, you can wrap the rest of your fingers around the stick. Keep in mind that you should never squeeze the stick, but hold it gently, with your fingers relaxed. Next, try to hold the other stick in the other hand, in the exact same way. For the matched grip, both hands should hold the drum sticks identically.
Keep your hands flat, not raised, with no space between the fingers. This is a strong fulcrum, that is perfect for full control and achieving a higher volume. When the stick is gently held, with a gap between the index finger and the thumb, the fulcrum is weaker, which could be adequate for music styles with softer drum playing, but is generally not recommended.
Another important thing to remember is the position of your arms. Don’t keep them so tightly close to your body, that the drum sticks form a smaller angle, neither so wide apart that they form an angle that’s larger than 90 degrees. These positions are both incorrect and uncomfortable. The idea is to have no tension in your shoulders, arms, and wrists.
If you can, try to have a mirror in front of you, when you are practicing the matched grip. This is a very easy way to notice if your posture is wrong, if your arms are too close or too much apart and, also, if your hands have the same movements. Remember, with the matched grip, the left hand and the right hand should mirror each other.
Variations of the matched grip
The three main variations of the matched grip are the German or Germanian grip, the American grip, and the French grip.
The German grip is very popular and mostly used in rock drumming. The drum sticks are held at the fulcrum, also known as pivot point or balance point, between the index finger and the thumb. The particularity of the German grip is the angle in which the drum sticks are held. This is the 90-degree angle. Holding the drum sticks at this angle gives the drummer more power.
The American grip is considered the most commonly used style of holding the sticks, because it feels comfortable for most drummers. The American grip allows a more relaxed position of the arms. Instead of a 90-degree angle, the sticks are held at a 45-degree angle. Your arms don’t stick out, they simply fall in a natural manner and have the same movement.
The French grip is the most different grip style variation because it changes the position of the hands. The arms are relaxed and your palms are facing up, instead of down. This makes the sticks become almost parallel. The French grip is great for speed, but it doesn’t allow powerful strokes.
The traditional grip is also called conventional grip or orthodox grip. Unlike the matched grip, where the hands had the same position, for this technique, the right hand has an overhand grip, while the left hand has an underhand grip. This style was developed by military marching drummers because they were unable to use the matched grip on their snare drums.
Due to their specific drum placement, the only way they could comfortably play was to place the hand underneath the stick. Later on, this grip style became very popular in jazz drumming and other music styles that are softer. It’s not the best style for rock drumming, because it doesn’t allow powerful strokes. Also, you could hurt your wrists if you don’t hold the sticks properly.
For the traditional grip, your right hand should have the same position as for the American matched grip. The left hand should be extended in front of you. The stick is not pinched between the index finger and the thumb, but sits in the webbing between them. Also, it rests on the last two fingers, while your middle finger and index finger are placed on top of the stick.
Try to practice all the different ways to hold drum sticks, to determine which is right for you.