BY STEWART JEAN
Even though we play on the same surfaces with both hands, our left and right hands play different roles on the drum set. When playing grooves—the majority of what we do behind the kit—isn’t each limb functioning in a different capacity? The answer is obviously yes. Clearly the right hand is the “ride” hand and the left hand is the “backbeat” hand (lefties, of course, might reverse these roles). Let’s take a closer look at the role of the right hand and hone in on some common fundamental technique problems.
The right hand spends most of the time on the hi-hat crossed over the left hand (Ex. 1). This immediately poses a problem as the right hand crossing over the left can seriously restrict the flow of the left hand as it travels towards the snare drum for a backbeat. This can easily be alleviated by lifting the right hand along with the left hand to allow for a strong backbeat.
Let’s suppose you need to play unaccented notes quietly while still hitting a loud backbeat. One option is to slightly push the right elbow away from the torso and move the palm into a downward (German grip) position (Ex. 2). You want to have this sort of flexibility when playing the hi-hat. Remember, we do not need to be in a fixed position when playing the hi-hat.
Another tactic is to pull the arm all the way in toward the torso, to the point where the right hand is completely crossed over the left arm, thereby allowing the left hand to have a clear and unobstructed path (Ex. 3). These two techniques may feel odd at first but they will give you options and help build strength and flexibility in the wrist.
The right hand also spends a lot of time up on the ride cymbal. I tend to play with my thumb up (French grip) and make sure I can feel the butt end of my stick nestled in the fleshly part of my palm with my ring and pinky finger cradling the stick (Ex. 4). This helps me to avoid too much of a pinch between the index finger and thumb or my fulcrum. Think of the stick pushing sound out from the bottom of the cymbal, playing “through” the cymbal. As it moves away from the cymbal, the stick should remain parallel to the surface of the cymbal as opposed to moving away at a 90-degree angle. I feel this technique allows for a looser grip, a fuller ride sound and a woodier tone.
When playing the bell of the ride, you should be toggling between the tip of the stick tapping the surface of the cymbal a few inches away from the bell and the shoulder of the stick striking the bell (Ex. 5)—literally a flick of the wrist.
Please keep these small yet important aspects of technique at the forefront of your mind the next time you sit down at a kit. I am sure you will make small adjustments that will help you play more relaxed, produce a better sound, and groove harder.
Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.