Last time, we looked at some general terminologies and physical principles surrounding the drummers’ stick grip. We saw that there are two main categories of grip – matched and traditional – and stated that different grips are typically labelled in relation to their respective anatomical positions. This month, we continue with our exploration of the grip by examining further physical and mechanical (ergonomic) factors affecting the feel, movement and direction of the drumstick. As always, remember that any study and practice of technique should be undertaken with an awareness of the issues highlighted in the Rhythm series on Drumming, Ergonomics and Posture.
Last time we looked at a simple exercise, which demonstrated that the hands and arms can rotate naturally from a palms-down position (pronation) to a palms-up position (supination). In addition, the wrists and fingers can naturally move in other directions, physiologically known as flexion and extension. For example, from a palm down position, flexion is the movement of the wrist downwards and outwards, while extension moves the wrist upwards and inwards. From a French or traditional position, flexion is the movement of the wrist downwards or inwards, while extension moves the wrist upwards or outwards. You can see examples of this in the photographs opposite. An awareness and understanding of pronation, supination, flexion and extension is beneficial in relation to the study and practice of various stroke techniques. For the moment, it’s enough to say that every grip can adopt a number of physical variations that, in turn, will affect the position, direction, feel and response of the drumstick.
MATCHED GRIP VARIATIONS
In matched grip, the position and direction of the stick is sometimes referred to as following the natural body-line or is said to represent a natural extension of the arms, or, more specifically, the forearm. We need to look at this in further detail, with reference to palms-down (Germanic grip) and palms-facing (French grip) positions.
It’s possible to maintain a comfortable and physically efficient palms-down position but change the direction of the stick, with little or no change to the position of the hand. For example, photograph number 1 shows a typical palms- down position. You can see that the direction
of the stick follows or extends along the outside of the forearm. In this position, all the fingers have sufficient contact with the stick (trust me!)
Photograph number 2 shows a slight change in the position and direction of the stick with the stick now moving slightly out from the body-line of the forearm. This is a natural and comfortable position and you should still feel sufficient contact with the fingers in this position.
Photograph number 3 shows that the direction of the stick has moved further away from the body-line. In this position, the fingers lose some contact with the stick and the stick loses some contact with the palm of the hand. The physical position is still natural and comfortable, but may prove to be less comfortable and less mechanically efficient given the full range of movement when drumming. This will be discussed in further detail later in this series.
Photograph number 4 shows that the wrist is slightly flexed (pushed outwards). Notice how the direction of the stick has changed in relation to the forearm. This position is generally not as comfortable as the previous examples and you may find that the fingers (particularly the little finger) lose some natural contact with the stick.
In a typical French grip position, the direction of the stick follows the body-line and, again, represents a natural extension of the arm. This can be seen in photograph number 5, which shows a physically natural and relaxed position with fingers sitting comfortably beneath the stick.
Photograph number 6 shows that the wrists are slightly extended, which changes the direction of the stick. Again, this is generally a comfortable and relaxed position, with the fingers maintaining good contact and support.
Photograph number 7 shows the wrists to be very extended and this is not generally a comfortable or efficient position for drumming. Photograph number 8 shows that the wrists are slightly flexed, which again changes the direction of the stick in relation to the forearm. This may still feel physically comfortable as a static position, but is generally not recommended as a playing position.
Traditional grip positions are significantly physically different to matched-grip positions. This is primarily due to the position and the direction of the stick as it sits between the middle and ring fingers and lies across the palm of the hand. Photograph number 9 shows a typical traditional position (left hand) with the wrist slightly flexed. Notice the direction of the stick and the position of the fingers. This is a comfortable and natural position and a good place to start with this grip. Photograph number 10 shows that the wrist (left hand) is more flexed and this has changed the direction of the stick so that the stick almost forms a 90-degree angle with the forearm. This may feel physically comfortable, but may feel difficult to maintain. The same goes for photograph number 11, which shows the hand in a supine position.
Obviously the photographs can only show a static or starting position and do not cover the full range of movement or possible physical positions. Furthermore, even certain positions that feel comfortable and relaxed can have physical and mechanical limitations, and we’ll be discussing this in further detail throughout this series. For the moment, you should experiment with the above examples and maybe try playing some basic rhythms on the drum set.
When doing this, ask yourself the following questions: does the grip feel natural and comfortable? How easy is it to move hand and arm? Are you feeling any physical tension? If so, where? How much contact do your fingers have with the stick? In which direction does the stick lie? How does the stick respond on the drum set? And remember not to grip too tightly!