BY WALLY SCHNALLE
Develop a good grip early on, and it will serve you well for years to come. There are several ways to hold drum sticks, and they typically fall into two categories — matched and traditional. When in action, both of these grips allow you to employ the five parts of every drum stroke: arm, wrist, fingers, bounce, and gravity. You can find drummers in all styles of music that play one way or the other. So don’t let idiom be your deciding factor when you settle on a particular style.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: See part 2 of the video lesson below.]
Most people start with matched grip. The obvious benefit for the beginner is that you have to deal with only one set of rules because both hands grip the stick identically.
There are two basic flavors of match grip. They are called German Timpani grip and French Timpani grip. Some claim that there is an “American” grip, but it is basically a hybrid of the German and French grips with the hands at about a 45-degree angle. There are four features to this grip, and all should appear in both hands no matter what position they are in. They are the fulcrum, the stop, the control fingers, and space.
As described in the dictionary, the fulcrum is “the point or support about which a lever turns.” Those of you still wondering what a fulcrum is can think of a seesaw or teeter-totter. The point in the middle where it tilts back and forth is the fulcrum. The stick should work like that in your hand.
To create a fulcrum in your hand, you first have to find the balance point of the stick by balancing the stick horizontally on the end of your finger. Now that you’ve found the center of gravity, move the stick tip slightly further away from your hand to create a little more weight towards the tip of your stick. This distance will vary, as not all sticks are created equal, but it’s usually about 1/2″ to 3/4″. The extra weight will help create bounce. Too much weight will kill the bounce. Too little and the stick doesn’t want to return back to the drumhead after rebounding. So play around with this a bit and find just the right spot.
Place the sweet spot between the thumb and first joints of the first two fingers so that you can see wood on the top and bottom of the stick. The biggest trap inexperienced drummers fall into is wrapping the index finger around the stick and locking it in with the thumb. The problem this creates is that, while it may feel safe and secure, you’ve bound up the stick. It’s kind of like shock mounting the stick in a way that absorbs all the bounce that the stick is trying to give you. And believe me — you want that bounce for both speed and tone.
The fulcrum will move between the index finger and second finger depending on how you approach the drum. Typically, the fulcrum is at the index finger in French Grip and at the second finger in German Grip. And so it stands to reason that in the American style it’s a bit of both fingers.
The “Stop” is at the back corner of the palm, next to the wrist, which is where the stick should come back to rest after each stroke. This is called the “bye-bye motion”—imagine waiving bye-bye like a little kid.
The “Control Fingers” are the rest of the fingers we haven’t discussed up until now, which include the pinky, ring finger, and the second finger. The second finger actually has split duties between fulcrum and control finger. The stick should lie on the first pad or first knuckle of each of these fingers. If the stick starts to lie next to the second knuckle, you wind up with the same problem that occurs when you wrap your index finger around the stick. So, don’t go there.
And finally, “The Space.” This appears between the thumb and index finger and actually runs all the way into the back of the hand along the length of the stick. Whether you’re playing or at rest, you should be able to stick two fingers from your other hand in this space. This serves a couple of purposes. It keeps us from binding up the stick with a tight grip, which would kill all the rebound the stick is trying to give us when it contacts the drumhead. And as the stick is maneuvered with the first pad of our fingers (the furthest knuckle from our hand), we wind up with longer levers to work the stick, which gives our fingers more power.
I’ve heard traditional grip referred to as the “jazz grip,” but it actually has more to do with marching traditions. Traditional grip was developed many years ago to accommodate the steep angle a parade drum must assume since it’s slung over one shoulder with a strap. With the left stick held this way, you can play the drum comfortably at that angle. There are several advantages and disadvantages to using this grip at a drum set, but those are a topic for another article. The stick is held in the right hand exactly the same as matched grip, but the left hand is a whole different story.
This left-hand grip also employs a fulcrum, so you should first identify the balance point of the stick just as we did with matched grip. Place that spot in the webbed space between your thumb and index finger. The thumb should gently grip the stick but will also be employed as a control finger at times to use the bounce.
Curl your ring finger under the stick to become a “stop” as well as a support that can lift the stick, which should rest between the first knuckle and tip of the ring finger. Some players rest the stick between the first and second knuckle, but if you keep the stick further out on the finger you have a longer lever, which can do more work for you.
The index finger comes over the top of the stick and connects with the stick at the first knuckle. The index and ring fingers work as “control fingers” traveling in tandem in and out along the length of the stick. The middle finger usually just goes along for the ride, except when the hand rotates in to an almost palm down position. And here it, too, can become a control finger.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It might be uncomfortable at first to make your hands conform to these positions, but it’s a good start. You must then develop the muscles and muscle memory to use them. So put some time in every day with a focus on technique. Practice in front of a mirror from time to time, since bad habits can creep up on you. These grips will serve you well in gaining dexterity and fluidity as you develop your voice and vocabulary on the instrument.