Within the drumming world, there are people who like the traditional grip and others who prefer the matched grip. Some drummers switch back and forth between the two. I tend to play mainly palms down these days, with a few exceptions. There is no right or wrong here, but here’s my initial take on it. (I’ll write more on this subject in subsequent posts.)
First of all, I prefer the term “hand position” over “grip.” To me, the word grip implies that I’m holding onto the stick firmly. I don’t play this way, nor do the masters of the instrument. The dictionary talks about “the act of grasping” when looking up this word. That’s not what I do.
My first drum teacher played and taught the traditional grip, so that’s what I first learned. A few years later (while in high school) I found myself playing a slightly larger drum set (more toms, basically) and needing more power. I started experimenting with my hand positioning — both palms facing down. My palms tend to face slightly in — as if I’m bouncing a ball — not as though I’m about to do a pushup. Bring a basketball into where your drums are set up and bounce it a few times while looking at your hand position. Then, go and replicate that at the kit.
I started liking this “new” hand position and it worked well for the music I was playing at the time — rock and jazz/rock (or fusion). Not only did I have more power, but getting around a bigger drum kit was much easier. The drummers I was listening to at the time were also playing in this fashion. I was also playing percussion in the school’s orchestra, and the palms down approach allowed a nice way to approach the mallet instruments.
Take the time to look up the history of where the traditional grip (or orthodox grip) originated and stayed tuned for more on this subject.
There have been times while playing music that I have felt inspired, and then other times when I’ve felt less so. My goal is always to perform to the best of my ability on any given day. If a certain night seems lacking in energy and/or inspiration I try to simplify things and focus on the basics. If I’m able to focus on locking in with the bass player, e.g., then perhaps the music will start to feel more energetic and alive. It also seems to help if I can focus on the other players in the band. Let me be as supportive as possible of the guitarist (during a solo, e.g.) and from there, the music has a chance.
When practicing, I focus on staying relaxed, getting a nice sound and groove. I find that when I’m at the gig, there are times when the sound is out of my control. This could be due to playing on a “house” drum set and/or a louder than usual band situation. When that happens, my groove feels different and I can end up less relaxed. I have found that the best thing for me to do at that point is to let go of wanting to hear things exactly one way or another. Even though I tend to start being less in control and less relaxed, I very much need to be even more relaxed to stay in control. It seems to be a bit of a paradox, yet it seems to be what helps me in those situations. I’m not always successful at this, hence, I practice more. At the gig, I try to call on my muscle memory to guide me.
Happy New Year to everyone! I have some pretty big plans for the coming year, and will try to keep people posted on my drumming activities as much as possible. Be well and keep playing the music that lifts your spirit.
It has been my experience when playing in any musical situation that if the bass player and I can lock in and play well together, then the rest of the group will feel our groove. I’m always listening to the other players, but I’m also aware that my primary focus is on creating a danceable feel — regardless of the genre. I believe that any music and any tempo can be felt as dance music. Peter Erskine talks about his jazz ride cymbal pattern and making it “dance.” That has stayed with me, and it’s something I’m always trying to achieve.
On December 5, 2013 I had the pleasure of attending a Dave Weckl drum clinic at The Toad Tavern in Littleton, CO presented by Rupp’s Drums.
Here were the main things Mr. Weckl talked about:
- Stick position: middle of hand — not the front. This would mean using the middle finger for the fulcrum — not the index finger. It’s something that I’ve been doing for while and really enjoy.
- Traditional Grip (left hand): thumb is doing most of the work.
He stressed that most problems arise from not spending enough time working on independence. He then gave some cool exercises:
- Independence: eighth note triplets with the feet (hi-hat followed by two bass drum notes); (1) the hands play a single stroke roll on top of that; (2) the hands play three notes each; (3) the hands play four notes each, etc.
- Independence: Same three note idea with the feet (hi-hat followed by two bass drum notes), however, think in sixteenth notes now (not eighth note triplets; (1) the hands play a single stroke roll on top of that; (2) the hands play three notes each; (3) the hands play four notes each, etc.
He recommended two books:
- Gary Chester — The New Breed; and
- John Riley — The Art of Bop Drumming
He also talked about the importance of transcribing, saying that it helps in learning how to read music.
Yes — Drummers are musicians. This is not always reflected in other people’s attitudes towards us.
I was preparing for subbing for a gig and the leader put lyric/chord charts into a cloud folder for me (along with mp3′s, as well). The charts had notes that related to the arrangements. These were not written out on staff paper, so I still had plenty of homework to do. Part of the email said, “I know the chords are useless to you…” There is an assumption being made here that, because I’m a drummer, I don’t understand these things. It’s been my experience that making assumptions can lead to problems, and it’s something I try very hard not to do. I responded, “chords are not useless to musicians who happen to be drummers.”
Alan Dawson made a point of stressing that he was a musician first and a drummer second. We are musicians who happen to play the drums. Thinking like a musician means learning music. Don’t be put off by this idea — embrace it. I would encourage every drummer to learn the piano.
It’s not very often that I break drum sticks. I find that if I go back to my old ways and hold my sticks too tightly, then the sound gets choked and the greater the chance of me breaking something. By relaxing and focusing on fluid motions, my sound gets bigger and fat. This doesn’t necessarily mean louder — just full sounding.
I let my snare stick move as much as possible — even if I’m playing a backbeat and nothing else (no other snare notes). The same goes for my dominant hand which is usually playing the hi-hat or ride patterns. I don’t waste motions, but I don’t try to grip the stick either. The sticks want to move, so I let them move. After that, I have to decide what will happen next. That’s where the fun begins!
I am almost done reading The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life – Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process by Thomas M. Sterner. I highly recommend checking this out.
While the concepts in this book are not new to me, it seems helpful to be reminded of certain things at times. Embracing the process as compared to focusing on the goal is one of the main components. This is something that I’ve been incorporating for years in my teaching practice, and it seems to help my drum students. However, it’s not something that I necessarily use in my everyday life. I will try to change that now, and while doing so, enjoy the process.
I have been drawn to the music and drumming from New Orleans for quite a while now. It’s really at the heart of so many things — including being the birthplace of jazz. The various cultures that came together created the one place where it all could happen.
Regardless of the style of music being performed, I love how every drummer I hear from the Crescent City has “that thing.” I’m talking about that certain feel that makes everyone want to dance. It’s not too swingy, but it’s certainly not straight. Stanton Moore talks about “playing between the cracks.” When I listen to music that really is groovin’ I hear it. The New Orleans groove is infectious and has crossed many borders!