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Grip, or how to hold drumsticks

Traditional or matched grip? This is the (false) dilemma. But first of all, what does “grip” mean? The word grip refers to the way you hold something (in this case drumsticks) and in this video I’ll exactly talk about how to hold, or grip actually, drumsticks.

The most important points will be:

  • The difference between matched and traditional grip and the reasons why I prefer and teach the matched grip;
  • How to introduce the matched grip;
  • German vs French vs American matched grip.

Let’s see every topic more in detail.

 

MATCHED VS TRADITIONAL

The main difference between matched and traditional grip is that in the traditional grip the “weak” hand (the left hand for right-handed people, right hand for left-handed people) holds the drumstick and moves differently from the “strong” hand. In matched grip, on the other hand, both hands hold the drumstick in the same way.

Traditional GripThe difference of the two hands that characterizes the traditional grip was born to assure a relaxed position (the importance of the relaxation is a big concept I explained in the lesson about posture) to the percussionist during the march, when the drums were carried at an angle. In this way, instead of stretching your arm outwards and playing in an uncomfortable position, you can turn your wrist inwards and maintain a more natural position of the body.

Now, since drums are no longer carried at an angle (apart from rare cases or in specific contexts as in marching bands) is no more necessary to learn the traditional grip which seems to be unfavorable for at least three factors:

  1. Because of the two hands move and hold drumsticks in different ways, the traditional grip is more difficult to learn at the beginning;
  2. Involving different muscles of the limbs is less easy to produce a similar sound with the two hands;
  3. The traditional grip can’t be reproduced with other percussion instruments.

And with this last point we end this discussion. The different techniques used with percussion instruments are too many and they are are very different so it doesn’t make sense losing time from the beginning to learn a grip that actually isn’t reproducible on any other instrument when, on the other hand, the matched grip can be used also with timpani, drum set, keyboard percussion and other orchestral instruments.

 

HOW TO INTRODUCE THE MATCHED GRIP

The matched grip is easy to understand and natural to play, for this reasons I don’t waste too much time explaining the theoretical details and I go on with the practical demonstration which is easier and more efficient.

  1. I lay the drumsticks on the snare drum or on a smooth surface;
  2. I ask the student to hold them. He/she probably will do it in a quite correct and natural way;
  3. I explain that the drumsticks must be held at more or less one third of the drumstick length between the thumb (that presses with the whole fingertip and not only with the top of the finger) and the index finger which must place in a way that the drumstick lays between the first and the second joint;
  4. FulcrumIn this way we create a fulcrum or a balance point which is the most important factor to obtain a strong and functional grip. Once discovered this “magical” point on the drumstick, I sign it with a marker pen so that it’s easier to find it (attention: we’ll see that the fulcrum is a “mobile” concept, that’s to say that it can move from thumb and index finger to thumb, index and middle finger);
  5. Middle, annular and little finger fold up to roll up gently the drumstick, without closing it too much.

 

GERMAN VS FRENCH VS AMERICAN GRIP

Now we have to talk about the position of the palm in relation to the ground. Talking about this we use to divide the matched grip into three more variations. Here you are a quite functional distinction which I personally use often.

  • German: it’s characterized by the position of the palm which is totally parallel to the ground. In this way the wrist has a wide mobility upwards and downwards and this simplify the articulation;
  • French: the palm of the hand is perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to the ground. The thumb is in a vertical position. With this grip the wrist has a minor simplicity of movement and for this reason fingers have more emphasis;
  • American: this is a middle way between the German and the French grip. In the american grip indeed the palm is at 45 degrees in respect to the ground, giving a lot of importance to the articulation of the wrist as well as to the fingers.
German grip

German grip

French grip

French grip

American grip

American grip

That said, what variation of the matched grip do we have to use? The answer is: it depends. What I can say is that, at least at the beginning, we have to avoid the French grip to learn how to articulate the wrist. So the German and the American grip are the grips we can use at the beginning of our studies.

The choice between the German and the American grip, instead, will depends on your physical characteristics. Someone may prefer the position with the palm in a parallel position, someone else may find impossible this kind of position and they will choose the American grip. The substance doesn’t change, the important thing is to give emphasis to the wrist articulation at the beginning (see the next lesson about strokes).

Anyway the French grip is very used in the finger technique as well as we play the drum set and it’s the favourite grip of many timpani players (but it’s not my case).

 

TIME TO PLAY!

Ok, we’ve finally concluded these three introductive lessons and now we can review the most important points:

  1. In the first lesson we talked about the four things you need to start playing percussion, that’s to say a snare drum (or a practice pad), a pair of drumsticks, a metronome and a measure of goodwill;
  2. In the second lesson we talked about the posture and we introduced some concepts like the relaxation of the body, the area of the percussion, the height and the distance from the instrument;
  3. In this third lesson we’ve seen how we have to grip the drumsticks and we have explained the differences between the two principal grips: the traditional grip and the matched grip, how to teach it to a student and finally the difference between the German, the American and the French grip.

Finally in the fourth and last introductive lesson we will start playing and talking about some fundamental strokes for all kind of percussion. We’ll also start studying some specific exercises to develop these strokes.

For the moment I ask you to leave here some comments. I know that the issue “matched vs traditional” has all along been argued and I’m a fan of some drummers who principally use the traditional grip (someone like Vinnie Colaiuta and Stewart Copeland) but this doesn’t change the reflections I’ve just discussed.

Enjoy my video and see you at my next lesson!

Question: what kind of grip do you use to play percussion? Matched or traditional grip? And why? Leave a comment here.

PART 1 - FOUR THINGS YOU MUST HAVE

PART 2 - POSTURE

PART 4 - FIRST EXERCISES

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