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Drum Technique & Ergonomics Part 5 Get A Grip

Paul Elliott / February 28, 2015 /

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Get a grip, but make sure its a grip

with which you feel comfortable
So far in this series, weve discussed a number of physical and mechanical (ergonomic)
principles surrounding the drummers stick grip. Weve 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, its 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
(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
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 drummers stick grip. Weve using matched grip and itll 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?


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, its 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. Its 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 righthanded 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 its 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


Perhaps the most important consideration when comparing grips is that of physical
efficiency and movement. Weve (

seen in previous articles that the arms, wrists and hands are anatomically naturally
positioned in any of the matched or traditional grips. However, its 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

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.
course, its possible to mix and match (again, no pun intended!) the grips, and its common
to see drummers using a combination of grips during performance. There are no hard-andfast rules on grip preference and its 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.
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 Ill 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

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