French grip is a playing position in which your left palm faces your right palm while thumbs are positioned on the stick.
This grip allows drummers to perform at speeds that would be impossible with any other type of grips; it’s perfect for finger playing but not so good for wrist play.
French grip (underhand grip) was invented to tackle two issues that traditional and matched grip did not solve; speed and finger control.
The main downside of the french grip is that it tires your wrist more than a traditional or matched grip, so be careful and listen to how your body feels to avoid wrist pain.
We’ll cover how to get started with this technique, how to practice it, what the purpose is etc.
However, not all practice is created equal, so below is a list of things you should be practicing.
There are also other types of grips that work perfectly well with the french grip, but we will only be covering how to play french grip as we have separate articles about how to use traditional grip or matched grip.
If you are ready to improve your speed and overall hand technique, let’s dive in.
Why do people play french grip?
French grip is developed for finger control and speed boost. There is no better position to control drum sticks than if you use a french grip.
It’s the most natural way to use your fingers. It gives you complete control over how you will play your drums, how fast, how hard it’s going to be and how loud you want your drums to sound.
When drummers reach a specific tempo that the wrist can’t handle, they switch grip to french and use of fingers.
How to play french grip
Step 1) Hold your hands like you are in the karate position, facing each other.
Step 2) Take drum sticks and put them into your hands.
Step 3) Squeeze the fingers (not too tight)
Now, you are in the French position. The finger fulcrum in this position is always between the thumb and index finger. Take your time and find the right balance point where the stick bounces the most.
Try avoiding any wrist motion while playing, which will reduce fatigue from unnecessary muscular tension during playing sessions.
Try to keep all rotation in the elbow, so stability provides greater speed potentials and accuracy when it comes to hitting the drum.
Let us show you the best way of perfecting this grip.
Tips for getting started with the french grip
Now when you know how to hold a drumstick in a french grip, it’s time to practice it and perfect your skills.
Take the stick and hold it between your thumb and an index finger. The wrist position is the same (palms facing each other). Make sure not to hold it too tightly so the stick can move freely.
All good? Ok, let’s proceed…
Now try hitting some surface, let’s say a practice pad, by controlling the stick with only two fingers. Don’t add other fingers until you feel you have enough strength with only two fingers.
After you get comfortable, switch control to a middle finger, then to the ring finger, and the little finger.
Now try controlling the stick with the index and a middle finger, then include the ring finger and bounce the stick with three fingers and a thumb.
In the end, include the little finger and bounce the stick by using all of your fingers.
It’s essential to emphasize doing this at a slow tempo, say 50 BPM, and increasing it after a while when you get comfortable.
Rudiments for perfecting the french grip
Now you know how to hold the drumstick in a french grip and how to practice this technique. Let’s move one and involve playing rudiments in french grip.
Here’s a couple of rudiments we suggest:
The obvious one, a single stroke roll RLRL. This is the most used rudiment, and by developing the french grip, you will directly influence the speed on a single stroke roll. Try alternating, meaning starting with both your right and left hand.
Of course, you can practice all sorts of rudiments like paradiddles, paradidledidles, doubles, flams, etc., but here is what we suggest.
Try practicing rolls:
- Five stroke roll – RLRLR and LRLRL
- Six stroke roll – RLRLRL and LRLRLR
- Seven stroke roll – RLRLRLR andLRLRLRL
- Eight stroke roll – RLRLRLRL and LRLRLRLR
- Nine stroke roll – RLRLRLR and LRLRLRL
These groups can include doubles:
- Five stroke roll – RRLLR or LLRRL or RLLRR or LRRLL
- Six stroke roll – RRLLRR or RLRRLL or RLLRRL etc
- Seven stroke roll – RRLLRRL or LLRRLLR or RLLRRLL or LRRLLRR etc
- Eight stroke roll – RRLLRRLL or LLRRLLRR or RLLRRLLR or LRRLLRRL etc
- Nine stroke roll – RRLLRRLLR or LLRRLLRRL or RLLRRLLRR or LRRLLRRLL etc
You can add as many notes as you want, but these are a few basic ones.
Also, pay attention to your dynamic while you are doing this exercise. If you play 5,7, or 9 stroke roll, try accenting only the last or the first stroke.
The second fantastic exercise is what we call the pyramid.
One hand is playing the quarter notes in whichever grip you want, while the other changes bar after bar.
First, it starts with eight notes, then switches to triplets, sixteen notes, groups of five, six, seven, and eight.
Let’s take fives as an example and see how it will look in terms of sticking.
R R R R
L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L
It’s very straightforward. Play metronome at 50 BPM and follow it with one hand while the other is filling it with a group of notes. Change it after four or eight bars.
This exercise will perfect your finger control and improve the timing and the sense of switching between different note values.
Benefits of playing with a french grip
- Finger control
What more can you ask than these two. French grip aims to master finger control and taking full advantage of it. So we like to call it a “finger grip.”
The wrist is for power while the fingers are for speed. They go hand in hand, and if one is not correct, the other will be useless.
Avoid injuries by avoiding playing fast tempos with your wrist. Also, don’t use french grip in slow tempos; you will lose control.
Mastering this grip is essential for your speed around the kit.
French grip vs matched grips (German grip, American grip)
The main difference is in purpose. The purpose of matched grip (overhand grip) is power, wrist control and is perfect for playing heavy music or slow tempos.
On the other hand, the french grip is designed for finger control, and the purpose is speed. Therefore, this grip is perfect for fast tempos.
If you are playing matched and feel your muscles cramp at a certain speed, it’s time to switch to french and go easy on them.
When playing french grip, you use your fingers to control how the stick is moving. The advantage of this is that you can fully flex and extend your fingers(like how you would do it with a pen).
Therefore the power comes from your fingertips instead of your wrist. Some players like to play fast using the matched grip, but we have found that by doing so, you are robbing yourself of speed and precision. 4
In both grips, right and left hands look the same as other versus traditional grip where left is entirely different.
French grip vs traditional (orthodox grip, overhand grip)
Each grip has its purpose; the purpose of french is like we already mention speed and finger control.
On the other hand, the traditional grip (underhand grip) was developed to suit the snare position of marching drummers but got a new purpose in jazz drumming.
This new purpose was the ghost notes. The angle of the stick in the left hand in traditional is perfect for getting subtle ghost notes.
That is something only traditional grip can provide, and it is perfect for playing jazz.
However, you can hear a lot of drummers playing the right-hand lead because everyone around them played like that. It is the same thing with grips; in the old days, everyone played traditional, not exactly knowing why.
Drummers who use french grip
French grip is not a “full-time” grip. Most drummers tend to use this grip but only when they need it. Let’s name a few drummers we saw use this grip more often than others: Manu Katche, Benny Greb, Jojo Mayer, Vinnie Colaiuta, Tony Williams, Todd Sucherman.
If you are familiar with some of these drummers, you know their technique level is pretty advanced. They learned to use this grip to their advantage, and that’s precisely what you should do.
Is not that french grip is better than german grip, traditional or any other.
Is made with the purpose of using only your fingers and improving the speed by doing so.
Your drum sound depends a lot on how you hold a drumstick. By using this grip, you’ll master stick control and learn how to use all the fingers.
Here is what you should not do with this grip:
- Don’t use too much wrist
- Don’t use it all the time
- Don’t use it in slow tempos
Maybe the most incredible showcase of this grip is Jojo Mayer’s DVD “Secret weapons for the modern drummer.” While there is plenty of material for free on YouTube, this DVD provides complete insights with a step-by-step approach.