In recent months, we’ve looked at ergonomic factors relating to technical execution on the drum set. We have established that an understanding of natural laws, both physical and mechanical, can help in our quest for a controlled, efficient and relaxed technique. This month, it’s time to pay closer attention to some specific hand techniques, with particular reference to the natural rebound. As always, it’s important to remember that any study and practice of technique should be undertaken with an understanding and awareness of all the issues highlighted throughout the recent Rhythm series on Drumming,
Ergonomics and Posture.
ACCEPTING THE REBOUND
Stick bouncing is an essential skill for drummers, and recent articles in this series have stressed the importance of allowing the stick to bounce naturally, without physical, or mechanical, restriction – a technique that’s referred to as ‘accepting the rebound’. In all stick-bouncing techniques – and there are many – we need to be aware of mechanical and physical ergonomic principles. Let’s briefly remind ourselves of a few key issues: mechanically, it helps to have an understanding of basic scientific principles in terms of how the stick actually rebounds. Also, the jargon of dynamic levels, natural volumes and natural velocities should now be part of your everyday vocabulary. On the physical side, stick-bouncing techniques can incorporate the combined, or separate, use of all upper body joints, depending on the range of movement needed to achieve the desired pattern and sound on the drum set. Basically, physical movements in stick-bouncing techniques will naturally originate from the larger joints (shoulders, elbows), although they tend to be ultimately controlled from the more flexible, smaller joints (wrists and fingers). With this in mind, it’s now time to examine
some common stick-bouncing techniques, with a view to highlighting some key mechanical and physical ergonomic issues.
in a number of ways. One common method, and a good place to start, is the ‘single motion’, or ‘straight bounce’ technique, whereby the wrists generate and control the bounce through flexion and extension. The term ‘single-motion’ might appear to be contradictory, given that flexion and extension are two movements. However, there is a significant physical and sonic difference between this particular technique and other ‘multiple-motion’ methods; to be discussed further in coming months. Photograph number 1 shows the hand in a palm-down position, wrists extended, and with drum stick placed at a dynamic level of approximately 60 degrees. To initiate the bounce, the stick is pushed down (be careful not to lift the stick back before pushing down). It impacts, and then returns to the original dynamic level (again, be careful not to stop the stick at a lower dynamic level). This action is repeated to sustain the bounce. When practicing this technique, pay special attention to the return journey of the stick, because the downward motion is primarily dictated by gravity and does not normally pose much of a mechanical or physical problem. Photograph number 2 shows the position of the stick immediately before impact. This is a crucial moment in the short life of a rebound because, at this stage, we must prepare to unlock the wrists, enabling the stick to continue, restriction free, on its perilous northern-bound journey.
In finger-bouncing techniques, the physical emphasis is on the fingers, rather than the wrists. This technique relies on the physical opening and closing of the fingers (again, extension and flexion) to generate, control and sustain the natural rebound. Photograph number 3 shows the hand in a palm-down position, fingers extended, and with the drum stick placed at a dynamic level of approximately 75 degrees. To initiate the bounce, the stick is pushed down (not back) by flexing the fingers so that they move towards the palm of the hand. The stick impacts, and returns to the original dynamic level (not lower than this level). Photograph number 4 shows the flexed position of the fingers immediately prior to impact, ready to be extended again. This action is repeated in order to sustain the bounce. Again, the return journey of the stick is crucial and the fingers must extend freely, allowing the stick to travel without restriction. With this technique, it’s important to keep the wrists reasonably steady so as not to counteract the movement of the fingers. Having said this, you may notice that the wrists become more flexed and articulated as you play faster, to accommodate the
increased momentum. Photograph number 5 shows the hand in a palm-down position, during a finger bounce. Notice how the wrist is slightly more flexed than in photograph number 3. There are numerous mechanical and physical similarities between wrist and finger-bouncing techniques. Both techniques operate on similar principles of natural rebound laws and, physically, it’s essential to have a relaxed grip, with the fingers maintaining sufficient contact with the stick, working
with the natural rebound and not against it.
THE GRIP FACTOR
The photographs in this article show the hand in a palm-down position, but it’s perfectly feasible to use wrist and finger-bouncing techniques in all of the common grips. However, there may be physical reasons why one grip is more suitable than another, in terms of wrist or finger-bouncing techniques. Previous articles in this series have shown that the palm-down (matched) grip offers the most physically efficient range of movement. As such, it is better suited for wrist bouncing techniques than the French or traditional grip. However, the French grip may be more effective for finger-bouncing techniques, given the position of the thumb on top of the stick, and the substantial, comfortable contact between
fingers and stick. Traditional grip is the least physically efficient and, in terms of finger bouncing techniques, is the most difficult to master, given the position of the stick in the hand, together with limited finger contact. Obviously, these are just a few observations. As with all techniques, there are many drummers who demonstrate a superb control of wrist and finger bouncing in any grip. Don’t shoot the messenger!
WRISTS OR FINGERS?
There is a healthy debate about the use of wrist and finger-bouncing techniques but it’s hard to say which
is more preferable as we must consider factors such as speed, power, control, feel, touch and dynamics. Physically, the wrists are stronger than the fingers and it’s common for drummers to use the wrists for increased power, volume and endurance. Conversely, it’s often claimed that finger bouncing is faster thanwrist bouncing, because it is physically easier to move the fingers faster than the wrists. And many drummers will convert from wrists to fingers in order to play faster rebound techniques, such as single-stroke rolls. There may be a great deal of validity in all of this, although the main consideration should be one of music and emotion. Find what works for you through practice, experimentation and experience. Play in different musical genres and contexts, and with different grips. There are no hard and fast rules,
only natural laws…
As always, please note that the study and practice of technique is best understood and appreciated through means of practical demonstration, observation and discussion. The aim of this series is to highlight and address a number of key technical issues and should accompany and supplement your general technical studies. In addition, you may also wish to refer to the following list of recommended reading and viewing.
Dave Weckl – A Natural Evolution. How To Develop Technique
Steve Smith – Drumset Technique, History Of The US Beat
Dom Famularo with Joe Bergamini – It’s Your Move, Motions
And Emotions (Wizdom Enterprises)
Thomas Lang – Creative Control (Hudson Music)
Jim Chapin – Speed, Power, Control, Endurance (DCI Music)
Joe Morello – The Natural Approach To Technique (Hotlicks
Paul Elliott – Technically Speaking (RSJ Groove Productions/
You may also be interested in contacting the International Society for
the Study of Tension In Performance (ISSTIP) located at 28 Emperor’s
Gate, London SW7 4HS.
The ISSTIP is an organisation dedicated to the study of music
medicine. They have many fine journals