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.
Choosing between different drum stick grips
Now that you know more about how to hold drum sticks and the various drum stick grip types, there are a few things that will help you choose between them. Of course, trying all of them is critical. Practicing each type of grip to see which one feels most comfortable is the only way to identify the drum stick grip that best suits you.
There are a few other factors that should also be taken into account, though. For example, the style of music you play more often has a word to say, as well. If you play background jazz, you might feel more comfortable employing the French grip, whereas players engaging in heavy rock performances might do better with the German grip type.
The volume your performance requires also counts when it comes to the drum stick grip you go for. Small venues usually require a lower volume and thus a lighter touch as far as the drum sticks and the sound they make when hitting the drums are concerned. That’s why the French grip might be more suitable for such cases.
However, if there are no volume limitations and you can play loudly, the German grip is probably a more suitable option. Some drummers might even choose how to use the drum sticks based on the part of the drum kit they’re playing. When playing the hi-hats, for example, the German grip might provide you with greater comfort.
Types of drum sticks
Using the right drum sticks for your hands and playing style will also influence the grip you feel most comfortable with. Drum sticks come in different types and sizes, which means that if the ones you go for are too long for you, you might have difficulties in using the correct way to hold the drum sticks. It might simply be too uncomfortable to play with them, and thus highly unlikely to advance toward becoming an expert.
When buying drum sticks, you will have to consider their length, weight, and diameter. You will see that they are divided into various sizes, and their description should include a number and letter, such as 5A and 2B. The lower that number is, the thicker the drum stick. The only exception is the 2B stick model, which is the thickest you will find. On the other hand, the 7A is the thinnest drum stick available.
Now, you might also wonder about the significance of the letter included in this series. These letters were introduced in the 1900s. ‘A’ was thus used for orchestra, ‘B’ for band, and ‘D’ for dance band. Nowadays, they are used just to designate a certain model of drum sticks.
As far as drum stick thickness is regarded, this feature may differ from one brand to another, even if not by much. Most brands should provide you with the following sizes, though.
7A drum sticks are the thinnest and thus make a good option for jazz and similar music genres. The sticks in this category are responsive, light, and quick, features that render them appropriate for drummers with small hands.
You will find similar drum sticks as far as thickness is concerned yet longer, and such items are described as 8D models. Speaking of length, the longest drum sticks you will find are the 1A models.
The 5A drum sticks are known as standard drum sticks since their weight and diameter fall into the medium category, which makes them suitable for various music styles, highly versatile, and sturdy. Then there’s the 3A model, which is thicker and slightly longer than 5A, and 5B drum sticks, which are thicker and shorter than 3A.
The 5B drum sticks are durable but heavy, so they make a good choice for pop and rock. 2B drum sticks are the thickest drum sticks you will find, as we’ve said above. They are extra heavy, and they thus produce a loud sound, so they are often employed for heavy metal.
Before purchasing the drum sticks you’ve set your eyes on, it is best to take a closer look at the size chart provided by the product’s manufacturer. Such a chart should include information regarding the length, weight, and diameter of the drum sticks based on their size.
Final thoughts on match grip vs. traditional grip
As a drummer, you are likely to change your interests over time. You might start playing music genres that require a traditional drum stick grip more than a matched grip and switch to a different genre later in life and go for the other type of grip.
Still, there is no right or wrong drum stick grip, as long as you are satisfied with the sonic results you get and the comfort you experience. All types of grips have their advantages and disadvantages, and understanding them will help you develop as a drummer and know how to make the best of each grip whenever needed.
Plus, don’t worry if you don’t succeed in holding the drumsticks correctly from the first try. The good thing is that the first drum lessons will help you learn more about the anatomy of these items and how to hold a drum stick. Moreover, good teachers won’t let you go to the next stage without mastering this first and essential skill.
Expect to spend the first few good hours learning more about holding a drumstick and trying the various grips we talked about. The first few lessons should also help you learn more about the common mistakes beginners make, and that should thus be avoided.
Plus, holding the drumsticks correctly also involves not only a certain hand and arm position but also a specific instrument position. Perseverance, the right drum sticks for you, a good teacher, and constant practice will help you learn to use the proper drum stick technique.