Get a grip, but make sure it’s a grip with which you feel comfortable
So far in this series, we’ve discussed a number of physical and mechanical (ergonomic) principles surrounding the drummer’s stick grip. We’ve looked at the importance of the fulcrum, the role of the diners, the direction of the stick and the tension of the grip.
Furthermore, we have established that there are two main types of grip (matches and traditional) and highlighted the need to be aware of their respective anatomical positions, physical variations and feel (kinaesthetic).
With this in mind, it’s time to highlight some key issues and provide some different perspectives in relation to the great grip debate.
As always, please 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.
Historically, the traditional grip is associated with techniques used in military snare drumming (dating back to the Middle Ages) and was created as a natural physical response (early ergonomics!) to the tilted position of the snare drum as it hung from the body strap. Nothing wrong with that, I hear you cry. Maybe not, but this can be a bone of contention among many drummers, who tend to question the logic of playing the contemporary drum set with a grip originally designed for military snare drumming.
This is a general observation and one that partly derives from the fact that matched grip, mainly palms-down position, was actually in existence long before the traditional grip and used by percussion-playing cultures around the world. How, then, did traditional grip, rather than matched grip, become synonymous with the drum set? Well, quite simply, the traditional grip evolved from military snare drumming to the drum set in the form of early jazz drumming (in the late 19th and early 20th Century) and has survived the test of time, having inevitably been passed down and emulated by subsequent generations of players and teachers.
Matched grip has grown in popularity (on the drum set) over the last 40 years or so and has evolved alongside changing musical number of physical and mechanical trends and drumming techniques. Nowadays, (ergonomic) principles surrounding it seems that nearly all young drummers are the drummer’s stick grip. We’ve using matched grip and it’ll be interesting to looked at the importance of the see what the future holds – both musically and fulcrum, the role of the fingers, the technically. Will traditional grip survive amongst
direction of the stick and the tension of the grip. the drumming masses? Will anyone be using traditional grip in 50 years time? Why not? Are there really significant differences between matched and traditional grips?
THE QUESTION OF SYMMETRY
In matched-grip positions, the hands are essentially symmetrical. This has the advantage of being able to compare both hands in terms of movement and feel – which is important in terms of practice – and to the speed and effectiveness of the learning process. Also, learning matched grip for drum set playing will transfer easily, should you wish, to other instruments in the percussion family. In view of this, it’s rational
to question the asymmetrical nature of the traditional grip and to ask: “Why do something different with both hands?”
Indeed, the drum set is the only instrument in the percussion family where the player tends to use a different grip in each hand. Almost without exception, non-drum set percussionists in cultures worldwide play with matched grip. It makes sense that both hands should do the same thing. Having said this, have you ever seen anyone playing predominantly with both hands in the traditional grip? Why not?
Earlier in this series, we mentioned that musical genre is sometimes viewed as being synonymous with the use of certain techniques, as well as with certain attitudes towards the role of technique
in drumming. It’s true that drummers typically adopt certain grips in relation to different musical genres. The reasons for this are ultimately personal but may generally stem from the feel (kinaesthetic) of the stick in relation to the stylistic and sonic demands of the music. For example, the majority of drummers who play predominantly jazz use the traditional grip. On the other hand (no pun intended!), the majority of drummers who play predominantly rock (or similar styles) use matched grip. What are the reasons for this?
Generally, most drummers would agree that the role of the left hand (in genetically right-handed players) plays a significant part in grip preference. In jazz, the left hand is required to play with a wide dynamic range in an irregular and spontaneous way, to meet the improvisational nature of the music. Many drummers say that the feel of the stick in the traditional position, as it lies across the palm, offers more comfort, control and touch for the purpose of jazz drumming. In rock (and in many other styles of music) the repetitive nature and constant, louder dynamic of the snare backbeat requires a certain physicality, and many drummers claim that matched grip, particularly the palms-down position, feels physically more efficient and provides more power than the traditional grip.
Of course, much depends on personal preference and it’s true that many great jazz drummers use matched grip, while many great drummers use traditional grip in rock and other styles. The grips are not mutually exclusive but there are important physical factors to consider.
PHYSICAL COMPARISONS AND CONSIDERATIONS
Perhaps the most important consideration when comparing grips is that of physical efficiency and movement. We’ve
seen in previous articles that the arms, wrists and hands are anatomically naturally positioned in any of the matched or traditional grips. However, it’s important to look at the range of movement of each grip. Compare photograph 1 (wrist extension in a palms-down or Germanic position) with photograph 2, (wrist extension in a ‘handshake’ or French position). Similarly, compare photograph 3 (wrist flexion in a palm down position) with photograph 4 (wrist flexion in a ‘handshake’ or French position). You can see that the palms-down (Germanic) position offers a greater range of movement, in terms of flexion and extension, than the ‘handshake’ or French position.
In comparison to any of the matched positions, the traditional grip demands a greater degree of wrist rotation (supination and pronation) and relies less on flexion and extension. This has physical consequences. Dr Ammar Al-Chalabi, leading neurologist, drummer and good friend of Rhythm, claims that the movements performed in the traditional grip demand increased neurological and muscular activity, stating that flexion and extension offers more physiological control than supination and pronation. Put simply, the traditional grip is, physiologically, a more demanding grip – more demanding to learn and more demanding to
use. Matched grip is the most physically natural grip, with palms-down grip offering the most versatility in terms of the range of movement, and to the physiological demands of the movement. The range of movement offered
by each grip is an important consideration in the execution of specific techniques and this will be explored in further detail throughout the remainder of this series.
The great grip debate is ongoing, and, in many respects, the jury will always be out on this.
Of course, it’s possible to mix and match (again, no pun intended!) the grips, and it’s common
to see drummers using a combination of grips during performance. There are no hard-and-fast rules on grip preference and it’s difficult to state categorically that one grip is better than another (whatever that might mean), given that there are countless drummers demonstrating technical and musical virtuosity in all of the grips.
Hopefully, this article, along with previous articles in this series, has helped raise your awareness of some key issues and ergonomic principles surrounding the drummers’ grip. All in all, it seems reasonable, based on this awareness, to suggest that you experiment with the different grips in order to find what works for you physically, mechanically, musically and in sonic terms. The choice is yours… Good luck.
Join me next time when I’ll be putting on my white coat and looking at how some basic laws of physics can affect technical execution and sound production. See you then…