Tuesday, November 17, 2015


by Ed Flack, ©2015

 “If anybody tells you that there’s only one way to hold the drumstick you have to look at them in disbelief. Because there is no more wandering thing than the fulcrum of a hand-hold when you are really playing loud one time and soft another time.”
— Jim Chapin(1)

The most fundamental aspect of drumming is how to hold the sticks. It is also the most flexible because there are so many effective variations that can be used. Like everything else in drumming, different kinds of grip methods produce different kinds of playing advantages.

The predominant record of how grip techniques were taught in America during the 19th century is specific to field drumming as it was played by
military fife & drum corps. Due to the hanging angle of a field drum, the grip used to hold the sticks was an asymmetric mix of grasping the left stick under-hand and the right with an over-hand. The elbows were held slightly away from the body resulting in a playing position described as “around the tree” or “around a barrel.”

During the early 20th century, for the purpose of drum corps competition, military drumming became known as the “ancient” style to set it apart from the drum & bugle style which became designated as “modern.” The principle characteristic used to differentiate between them was march tempo: ancient 110 BPM; modern 120 BPM.(2)

A review of 19th century drumming tutorials reveals that it was common for the right hand grip to be applied primarily by the little finger pressing the stick into the palm. This is a very strong grip which produces powerful strokes. A right-handed little finger grip is most effective when employing forearm rotation in a manner similar to the way in which the left forearm is rotated when using the underhand grip.

The traditional way of naming drum rolls is to identify them by the number of “strokes” that it takes to play a roll in a given count of time. This naming convention was established hundreds of years ago by military drummers using rope-tension drums. Double stroke rolls were played as two deliberate down-up motions by each hand in alternation (the double beat). The number of roll beats sounded was equal to the number of hand motions, or “strokes” required to play the roll.

Bouncing the stick was not a consistently reliable roll technique because the tension of a calfskin drum head is subject to the ever-changing conditions of temperature and humidity. In the available record of American and British drum method books published between 1780 to 1886 there is no evidence that stick bounce or “rebound” was used to explain roll technique. That said, rope drums do generate rebound and we have no reason to assume that drummers in the past never took advantage of stick bounce.

Drummers these days consistently play rolls using rebound double strokes (diddles). In other words, two beats produced from one down-and-up hand motion. The primary beat is played by a downward hand motion and the secondary beat is controlled using rebound energy.

Bounced rolls are still named by stroke numbers but the thing that is actually being counted is the number of beats sounded and not the number of hand motions it takes to play them.

“Now days, many traditional style drummers fit rope drums with plastic rather than calfskin heads. This has made it possible for rebound techniques to be routinely used on rope drums. Among the most hard-core of traditional style players, calfskin is still the preferred way to fit a rope drum and bouncing the sticks to play rolls is considered cheating.”
— James Clark.(3)

The following quotes regarding stick grip methods and how drum rolls were taught, are excerpts from drumming tutorials and official military music performance directives that were published between 1780–1886. These excerpts are presented without editorial commentary for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

James Longman and Francis Broderip (1780)
“The first thing to be learnt, is to hold the Sticks, which is a principal part in Drum-beating. The left hand Stick which is the most difficult, is to be held firm between the thumb and the upper joint of the fourth finger. The lower or right hand Stick, to be griped fast with the little finger, and to be held as a Man may use a Stick in Fencing.”

“The second is to learn to roll, which is to begin with the left hand beating two strong strokes, then two with the right, and so on quickening the time till the roll is closed.”

Charles Stewart Ashworth (1812)
“The first thing to be attended to by the Young Leaner is to hold the Sticks properly: the upper, or left hand stick is the most difficult to be managed at first: it must be firmly held between the thumb and two middle fingers, to rest on the third finger a little above the middle joint. The lower, or right hand stick must be held fast with the little finger, and be allowed to play with ease through the others, as a man may use a stick in fencing.”

“The next to be learnt is to close a roll: begin with two heavy strokes with the upper, or left hand, then two with the right, and so on, quickening the time till the roll is closed.”

David Hazeltine (1817)
“The drum sticks should be held in the following manner; viz. the three last fingers of the right hand should be clinched round the stick to the hand, the fore finger should be loosely clinched round the stick to the thumb. The stick in the left should be held in the hollow of the hand between the fore finger and thumb, passing down between the great finger and the finger below it; the fore finger and the great finger should pass over the stick, and the other two should pass under it, the fore finger should be clinched also to the thumb. Being thus fixed so that the scholar may have the ablest command of himself, and standing easy he may proceed.”

“Long roll, is beat as follows, strike two strokes with the left hand, then two with the right hand, and continue striking in a like manner till it commences a close roll, by striking quicker and quicker.”

Sam L. Potter (1817)
“The first thing previous to a Boy practising on the drum is to place him perfectly upright and place his left heel in the hollow of the right foot. Then put the drum sticks into his hands the right hand stick to be grasp’d with the whole hand about two inches and a half from the top (or more if requir’d) as drum sticks are not all of the same weight, similar to grasping a sword or stick when going to play hack-sword: The left to be held between the thumb and fore finger of the left hand close in the hollow the top towards the wrist leaving the top of the stick as much out of the hand as the other resting, it resembling a pen when going to write, only with this except on between the first Joints of the second and third fingers.”

“In learning the long roll which is the foundation of drum-beating; The boy must strike the drum twice with each stick beginning with the left hand first, throwing his arms up between each as in the first position and gradually lowering them according to the closing of the roll. Be sure he keeps the buttons of the sticks as far as possible from the drum head between each time he strikes and both sticks should strike as even (i.e.) as near the same weight on the drum as possible.”

Alvan Robinson (1818)
“The stick in the right hand should be held naturally; that is, it should pass between the thumb and fore finger; the little finger should be loosely closed round it, and it should be held firmly with the thumb and fore finger. The Stick in the left hand should pass between the thumb and two fore fingers and over the third and fourth, the first and second closed round it to the thumb. Thus prepared, the learner may with an unshaken resolution and a full determination to accomplish his design.”

“The long roll is performed by striking one, two, light strokes with the left hand; three, four, with the right; five, six, with the left; seven, eight with the right, and so on until a close roll is performed by striking quicker and quicker.”

Levi Lovering (1823)
Lovering offers no advice as to how to hold the sticks.

“Strike the drum with the Left hand twice, the first very light, the second a smart full stroke ... then strike with the right hand in the same manner as with the left; taking care to throw the arm out briskly to the side of the body, and as high as the head, which will enable the learner to keep time: Care should be taken when the stick touches the drum, to have the elbow close to the side. Practice this beat, contracting at each stroke the distance to which the arm is thrown out till the arms remain close to the side, and it becomes a close roll.”

George D. Klinehanse (1853)
“The left-hand stick is the most difficult to use; it should be held firmly between the thumb and the two middle fingers, resting on the third above the middle joint. The right-hand stick must be held with the thumb and forefinger closed around it, allowing he stick to play through the hand with ease.”

“To close a roll, begin with the left hand, then the right, quickening the time until it is finished. It is necessary that strict attention should be paid that the pupil be not permitted to beat any lesson, except what is laid down in the book; and never undertake the second until he has learned the first properly.”

Keach, Burditt, and Cassidy (1861)
To explain stick grip, two illustrations are used. The first, identified as “Plate No. 1” shows a drummer with the hands raised high in a preparatory position and is described as “Position at Commencing.” The second, “Plate No. 2” shows a drummer holding sticks with the beads resting in the center of the drum head, and is titled “General Position.” (See image below.)

“The Roll is the foundation of all drumming. The Roll being to the beginner on the drum, what the gamut is to a beginner on either a wind or stringed instrument. The pupil should commence beating the Roll very slow, holding the sticks as in Plate (No.1) dropping each time gradually as the time increases, and beating within the centre of the head, as in Plate (No. 2,) in a circle of about two inches, increasing the time until a close roll is beat; then decreasing the time until he beats as slow as at commencing. In commencing the roll, two beats are made first with the left hand, (the second beat louder than the first,) then two beats with the right hand, (the second louder than the first.) In expressing the beats on the drum, different words are used by teachers. We shall use as the best, the words Dada, and Mama; Dada for the left hand, and Mama for the right hand.”

Col. H. C. Hart (1861)
“The right hand stick should be held snug, with the whole hand closed, the ball of the thumb against the side of the first finger joint, the stick just balancing where the thumb and first finger grasp it. The left hand stick should rest in the hollow of the thumb and first finger, between the first and second joints of the second and third fingers, and held by the thumb and the two first fingers – the ball of the thumb against the side of the first finger joint, and this stick should balance where it rests between the second and third fingers.”

“The most particular thing to be observed is uniformity in beating, and I wish the pupil to bear this in mind, as it will not be separately explained with every beat or roll. First, commence slow and always with the left hand; let every blow be distinctly heard and continue to beat faster and faster until each separate roll or beat is closed smoothly and fine, and wherever a break or an irregularity in beating occurs while closing down the rolls or beats, commence back again where you can beat them plain and even, and so continue to practice, closing them down until perfected in a close roll, and until you have become practically acquainted with the several beats and their changes from hand to hand...”

George B. Bruce (1862)
“The next thing to be attended to by the pupil, is a proper management of his arms and the drum sticks. The left hand (which is the most difficult to manage at first,) should grasp the stick firmly but not too tight, between the thumb and first two fingers, passing over the third, and resting a little below the middle (or large) joint; the thumb in the mean time resting on the fore finger. The stick in the right hand should be held between the thumb and fingers lightly, with the little finger pressing it, so as to play through the hand, as a man would use a stick in fencing. The arms must be habituated to move with the greatest ease, while the shoulder joints and wrists are exercised in performing the principal part. It is absolutely necessary, that the learner should first practice the Long roll until he can close it smoothly, then commence the next lesson and perfect himself in that ... The learner should be careful and not raise the sticks too high having brought the roll to a close; he should also beat in the center of the head, within a circumference of about two inches.”

“The first lesson of the pupil ...  will be the Long Roll, or as it is more familiarly called, Da-da, Ma-ma. The upper beats (or notes) are made with the left hand, and the lower ones with the right hand, commencing with the left very slow, and gradually increasing in velocity until closed down to a roll. The first stroke of each hand should be made somewhat lighter than the second.”

Elias Howe (1862)
Howe’s United States Regulation Drum And Fife Instructor, is a thorough and comprehensive collection of music and instruction for the fife, drum, and bugle. However, Howe’s instructions on holding the sticks and playing a long roll are word-for-word the same as written by Alvan Robinson in his book, Massachusetts Collection of Martial Musick. Note: Elias Howe the musician, is not the same Elias Howe who invented the sewing machine.

Gardiner A. Strube (1869)
“The position of the Pupil should be, as near as possible, that of the soldier as explained in Upton’s Tactics. The drum should hang naturally from a belt placed about the neck, and should rest against the left leg, a little above the knee. The left-hand stick, which is the most difficult to manage, should be held in the hollow of the hand between the thumb and first two fingers, passing over the third between the first and second joints. The right hand stick should be held with the thumb and all fingers closed around it; the little finger should press it harder than the rest, so as to allow it to play through the hand when beating.”

“The first lesson of the Pupil will be the Long Roll or Double-Stroke Roll. The Pupil will commence this lesson, as below indicated, by making two hard strokes with the left hand, then two hard strokes with the right hand, and so continue, alternately changing from hand to hand, and gradually beating faster and faster until perfected in a close, smooth roll. The Pupil will endeavor to beat in the centre of the head, within a circle of about two inches.”

John Phillip Sousa (1886)
“The right hand should grasp the stick at about two inches from the end, the thumb well under; and the left hand should hold the stick lightly, between the thumb and first two fingers, passing over the third, and resting on the first joint, the thumb on the fore-finger. Care should be exercised in keeping the first and second fingers bent slightly towards the palm of the hand. The stick should be held about three inches from the end. There should be a slight space between the elbows and the body, the fore-arm and hand somewhat elevated so that when the button of the stick rests on the drum-head, the arm will be in the form of a letter L reversed.”

“The action of the arms in rolling or beating must be limited as much as possible to the fore-arms and wrists. The buttons, or heads of the sticks should strike about the middle of the drum-head ... To acquire suppleness of the wrists, a good plan is to hold the sticks together about three inches from the buttons and turn them, at first slowly, and gradually increasing the movement until great rapidity is attained.” 

1.    Speed, Power, Control, Endurance, performed by Jim Chapin (1992; Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Music Publishing Co., Inc.). Videocassette.
2.    Jeff Hartsough and Derrick Logozzio, “Timeline of Marching and Field Percussion: Part III,” Percussive Notes 32/6 (December 1994): 30-32.
3.    James Clark, Connecticut’s Fife & Drum Tradition (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), 120.

Ashworth, Charles Stewart. (1812). A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating. Boston: G. Graupner.
Bruce, George B. & Emmett, Daniel. (1862). Drummer’s and Fifer’s Guide. New York: Firth, Pond & Co.
Hart, Col. H. C. (1861). New and Improved Instructor For The Drum. New York: H. C. Hart.
Hazeltine, David. (1817). Instructor In Martial Music. Exeter: C. Norris and Co.
Howe, Elias. (1862). Howe’s United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor. Boston: Elias Howe.
Keach, Burditt, and Cassidy. (1861). The Army Drum And Fife Book. Boston: Oliver Ditson and Co.
Klinehanse, George D. (1853). The Manual of Instruction for Drummers. Washington D.C.: G.D. Klinehanse.
Longman, James & Broderip, Francis. (1780). The Young Drummers Assistant. London: Longman and Broderip.
Lovering, Levi. (1823). The Drummer’s Assistant for the Art of Drumming. Philadelphia: J.G. Klemm.
Potter, Sam L. (1815). The Art of Beating the Drum. Westminster: Henry Potter.
Robinson, Alvan. (1818). Massachusetts Collection of Martial Musick. Hallowell: E. Goodale.
Sousa, John P. (1886). The Trumpet and Drum. (Reprint Chicago: WFL Drum Co., 1954). Washington, D.C.: Sousa.
Strube, Gardiner A. (1869). Strube’s Drum and Fife Instructor. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 

If you are interested in learning more about the evolution of the American snare drum style, and would like to see the original publications, an excellent resource where reproductions of many historic drum method books can be found is through Mr. Edmund W. Boyle, at his website: http://www.beafifer.com/

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Snare Drumming, The Little Finger Grip Method

by Ed Flack, ©2015

In the ancient style of American military field drumming, the right hand stick is held between the little finger and palm. The thumb and forefingers remain loosely closed to guide but not grasp the stick. This method was prescribed by Charles S. Ashworth (1812), and George B. Bruce (1862).(1)

Sanford G. Moeller, endorsed the little finger grip in 1925. According to Moeller, “... the attention might be drawn to the fact that the right stick is held almost entirely with the little finder ... When the stick is placed on the drum the other fingers are closed around the stick, but very lightly, if touching at all. This gives a most powerful and safe grip, but not rigid, and at the same time anatomically correct, allowing a comfortable hang to the arm, preventing stiffness, cramp and fatigue.”(2)

To employ the little finger grip, the hand is positioned over the stick with the palm down, but rather than bending the wrist (flexion and extension), momentum for this stroke generates primarily, from forearm rotation (supination and pronation).

Ashworth and Bruce wrote their grip instructions for military drumming as it was played on rope-tensioned field drums fitted with calfskin heads. Rope drums do not produce the level of stick rebound that modern drummers are accustomed to. In those days, it was more important for military drummers to play with power than speed. The tempo of common time march beats was slow by modern standards, a stately pace of 75 to 90 steps per minute.(3)

A typical rope drum has a wood counter hoop that is much taller than the metal counter hoops of modern screw-tensioned drums. Consequently, the playing position of the hands relative to the surface of the drumhead (strike angle) need to be high enough for the strokes to clear the hoop. A higher playing position in conjunction with a right hand little finger grip ensures that the sticks will not inadvertently strike the tall counter hoop of rope drums.

The little finger grasp point is only about two inches from the butt end of the stick. Setting the fulcrum point far from the stick bead produces a powerful mechanical advantage that is like swinging a baseball bat or a golf club. In exchange for power there is some sacrifice of speed and control when finesse is required.

The little finger grip is not in common use anymore, but for some traditionalists seeking to authentically perform nineteenth-century military music, it is considered to be period correct. 

1. Charles Stewart Ashworth, A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum-beating
(Boston: G. Graupner, 1812), page 1.
George B. Bruce and Daniel D. Emmett, The Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide
(New York: Firth, Pond & Co., 1862), page 5.
2. Sanford A. Moeller, The Art of Snare Drumming (Chicago: Ludwig Music Publishing Co., Inc., 1925), page 4.
3. Frederick William Baron Von Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States (Boston: 1794), page 13.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Poing Stroke

by Ed Flack, ©2015

Ancient drum notations often include a special mark to identify a rudiment known as the “pong stroke” or the “poing stroke.” The following information, gathered from original sources, offer conflicting interpretations of exactly how the pong, or poing is to be played.

James Longman and Francis Broderip, The Young Drummers Assistant (London: Longman and Broderip, 1780), page 2. In The Young Drummers Assistant, there is a symbol under the heading, “Explanation of Marks,” that shows a symbol labeled “pong stroke.” It is shown only to be played by the right hand. The exact meaning is not explained.

Charles Stewart Ashworth, A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating (Boston: G. Graupner, 1812), 4. Included with Ashworth’s collection of rudiments, is a symbol described as “Poing Stroke, Hard.” It is allowed to be played as a left or a right hand rudiment, with no further explanation. "Poing stroke hard” is illustrated in close proximity with two other symbols: “Hard but not so hard as poing stroke” and “Faint Stroke.” The faint stroke is shown with a hollow note head, like a half-note, but it has nothing to do with time value. These are indications for dynamics: poing stroke hard, is a forte beat, or accent; hard but not so hard as poing, represents beats played at mezzo forte volume; and the faint stroke is played relatively soft.

Alvan Robinson, Massachusetts Collection of Martial Musick, 1818, 7. “Poing stroke is performed by giving a flam and striking each stick upon the head of the drum, lightly touching the hoop at the same time.” Robinson gives only narrative descriptions of drum beatings and offers no written symbol for the poing stroke.

David Hazeltine, Instructor In Martial Music (Exeter: C. Norris and Co., 1817), 5. “Poing stroke, is beat by giving a light flam and strike each stick nigh the hoop of the drum, lightly touching the hoop at the same time.” Hazeltine explains all drum beats narratively and he shows no symbol for the poing.

Levi Lovering, The Drummer’s Assistant for the Art of Drumming (Philadelphia: J. G. Klemm, 1823), 9. “The Poing Stroke: Is beat in the following manner. Strike the head about three inches from the lower side with a smart sliding stroke; throw up the hand as directed in the first lesson.” Lovering uses a bird’s-eye symbol that looks like a fermata to indicate where a poing stroke is to be played. Lovering’s poing notation symbol can apply to either hand.

Elias Howe, Howe’s United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor (Boston: Elias Howe, 1862), 5. “Poing stroke, is performed by giving a flam and striking each stick upon the head of the drum, lightly touching the hoop at the same time.” Howe’s book is written using drum notation that had clearly evolved since Ashworth’s time and is more easily interpreted by reader’s of modern drum music. He did not offer a specific symbol for the poing stroke, electing to designate it narratively.

Howe dedicated two pages of his book under the title, “The Old Style of Drum Instructions, Used in 1812.” On those pages he shows the poing stroke as Ashworth wrote it. Howe explained, “It is called the Drummer’s Notation, and is the Old English style. It will be seen that the Half, Quarter, Eighth, and 16th notes, are used simply to express the force of the beats, and without any regard to their relative value as to their length.”

Note: Elias Howe, the musician, is not the same person as Elias Howe Jr., inventor of the sewing machine.

Robinson, Hazeltine, and Howe describe the poing as a flam stroke but Lovering does not. The Young Drummers Assistant shows the pong stroke as a one-handed technique which eliminates the option of flam sticking.

Ashworth’s book contains a specific notation that explains the flam as two simultaneous stroke motions. He uses no similar markings and makes no comment that would indicate the poing should be played like a flam.

The pong stroke of The Young Drummers Assistant, and the poing stroke of Ashworth’s and Lovering’s books are probably the same technique. With the limited information available, this supposition cannot be absolutely confirmed.

The name “poing” evokes an onomatopoeia sound association. A strike played off the head’s center, toward the edge could make a poing-like sound. Rimshots played on the wooden hoops of a rope drum may also produce a poing sound.

In the opinion of this researcher, it seems reasonable that for those now seeking to explain and perform ancient style drum beats, it may be useful to employ two designations: the “poing stroke” meaning a light rimshot, and the “poing stroke flam” played as light rimshot with a flam.

Example notation, click image to enlarge.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


by Ed Flack, ©2015

Earl Sturtze said, “The three basic rudiments of drumming are the Single Stroke Roll, the Long Roll, and the Flams. All other rudiments are derived from different combinations of these three.” He also said, “Some experts claim that, since the ‘flam’ is a derivative of the ‘single stroke roll’ there should only be TWO basic rudiments.”
Many years later, Thom Hannum made a similar observation when he wrote, “There are three beat patterns which form the basis of most rudimental and orchestral passages: single, double, and triple beats.”
[2] Hannum does not specifically name the flam among the three beat patterns, which he also called the “three keys.”

Sturtze’s case for distinguishing the flam as independent from the single stroke roll is strong because flamming requires a collateral action between hands to combine a high primary stroke with a low grace note. Furthermore, the individual stroke by each hand can be either a high-to-low, or low-to-high motion, whereas roll single strokes are played at equal heights. With this in mind, learning to control two-height accent-to-tap, and tap-to-accent strokes is the gateway to advanced flam execution.

There are four widely-known exercises that form the core of a successful warm-up and practice routine because they engage all the basic beat patterns identified by Sturtze and Hannum: 1. eight-on-a-hand (one-height); 2. bucks (two-heights); 3. Sanford double beat; 4. Sanford triple beat.

Each foundational exercise is designed to be practiced one hand at a time. The advantages of working each hand in isolation is to allow focused attention on specific motions, grip and playing positions until all actions are performed consistently and without flaw. Once each hand has those motions programmed into muscle memory, you can bring both hands together to coordinate specific sticking sequences with a much better chance of achieving an even balance in hand-to-hand motions and sound.

Another way of using one-handed exercises to build balance and fluidity is to practice them as simultaneous double-stops. With both hands playing the same thing at the same time you can precisely match stroke motions, stick heights and volume. When all aspects of a pattern match up in unison they should blend beautifully when played in alternation.


1. Earl Sturtze, The Sturtze Drum Instructor (Ivoryton: Reissued by The Company of Fifers and Drummers, orig. 1956), 10.
2. Thom Hannum, Championship Concepts for Marching Percussion (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 1989): 8.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Local musicians unite to form a new Highland-style pipes and drums band

CEDAR FALLS, IOWA (July 12, 2014) – Local pipers and drummers stepped up to fill a void in the 2014 Iowa Irish Fest opening ceremonies after the Iowa Scottish Pipes & Drums of Des Moines regretfully declined this year’s invitation due to a scheduling conflict.

With the Iowa Scottish Pipes & Drums unavailable, Irish Fest committee members needed to look no further than Cedar Falls to enlist the talents of experienced piper, Ross Schupbach.

Schupbach has played the pipes for about 15 years. He previously marched with the Thunder Mountain Pipe Band at Grand Junction, CO. Since moving to Cedar Falls, he has played at many local venues and community events, often performing as a duo with Russ Clarke, another Cedar Glen Pipes & Drums member with 10 years piping experience.

Rounding out the piper corps are Greg McConoughey, a veteran of the Detroit Caledonia Pipe Band, and two of Schupbach’s bagpipe students, Mike Knapp and Pat Morrissey.

“I knew at our first meeting we would be the best damn pipe band in town,” recalls Knapp.

“True, but we’re also the only pipe band in town,” testified Morrissey.

To compliment the piper corps, a drum corps needed to be assembled. Iowa Irish Fest committee member, Greg Tagtow, just happened to know a guy who could help. Tagtow contacted Ed Flack and introduced him to Schupbach.

Flack has performed three seasons as a concert drummer with the Waterloo Municipal Band and has an extensive background in field drumming through drum & bugle corps, high school and college marching bands, and the traditional American fife and drum style. He jumped at the opportunity to explore the Scottish Highland snare drum style which is famous for its rhythmic complexity and challenging techniques.

Drummer Elizabeth Collins brings two years of pipe band experience as a snare drummer with the Chesapeake Caledonian Pipes & Drums. Her understanding of the Highland drum style has helped enhance the drum section’s musical interpretation of traditional tunes.

Bass drummer Tom Blankenship supports the band with a steady current of low-end pulse. Blankenship has considerable drum and bugle corps experience and can play any drum in the line. Most recently, he played with The Drumslingers, an independent drum line from the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area.

Completing the drum corps midsection is Bill Brown on tenor drum. Highland tenor drumming is unique in the world of marching percussion in that it involves a complex series of mallet spinning techniques called “flourishes."

The Cedar Glen Pipes & Drums uniform consists of a Scottish cap called a “glengarry.” The glengarry worn by the pipers is solid black, while the drummers wear black trimmed with red and white dicing. Individuals add badges to their glengarry to represent a clan affiliation, military experience, or other preferred Celtic symbolism.

Each band member wears a white shirt and black tie. The kilt patterns, or “tartans,” are also an individual choice, usually representing a clan affiliation or military experience.

According to Pipe Major Schupbach, “In the beginning, my only concern was that we could all pull this off to a level that would sound decent to the average sober parade watcher.”

Band members now agree that in the short time since coming together, the group has exceeded all personal expectations.

“It’s amazing how well we have pulled it together,” said piper, Russ Clarke.

The members of the Cedar Glen Pipes & Drums feel honored and excited to perform at the 2014 Iowa Irish Fest. The band will lead the Opening Ceremonies Parade on Friday, August 1, at 4:00 PM.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


By Ed Flack ©2014

In the broadest of terms there are two ways to hold a drum stick: overhand and underhand. When both sticks are held with the same kind of overhand grip, it is called a “matched grip.” When the left hand holds the stick using an underhand grip while the right hand holds the stick with an overhand, it is called traditional, conventional, asymmetric, or mixed. Beyond this general description, the details of grip become more complex.

Holding the stick below the hand will allow maximum wrist-turning range (extension and flexion). It also allows a 180-degree range of forearm rotation, from the palm facing down all the way over to the palm facing up (pronation and supination). There are many ways the pivot point, or fulcrum, of an overhand grip can be applied. Two practical methods in common use are the index finger grip, and the middle finger grip.

Using the thumb and index finger creates a pivot point behind which the rest of the fingers are aligned to exert leverage by pulling up on the stick. The pivot point should be established slightly behind the stick’s center of balance (about 1/3 the distance from the butt end). This is an excellent grip for wrist and/or finger techniques. Switching between wrist and finger control is a simple matter of opening and closing the fingers behind the index finger fulcrum point.

WRIST: Lightly closing the fingers behind the grasp of the thumb and index finger will transfer control of the stick from the fingers to the wrist. The closed finger grip must not be too tight; the stick needs to have enough free play to bounce.

FINGERS: The finger control position of the overhand grip is established with a relaxed downward bend at the wrist. This allows the fingers to open and extend while minimizing wrist action. The stick pivots at a fulcrum point between the thumb and index finger with the middle finger and/or ring finger pulling upward in response to rebound.

The index finger grip is well-suited for lighter playing such as in concert bands and orchestral settings because it makes it easy to lightly squeeze the stick for pressed techniques. This grip also offers precise rudimental control for field drumming because it is effective at braking rebound and for controlling taps, diddles, and grace notes.

Setting the stick’s pivot point at the middle finger was taught by Haskell W. Harr, Earl Sturtze, and many others.[1] It is sometimes called the “Spivack Grip” in honor of Murray Spivack (1903–1994). Spivack was a Los Angeles-area percussion teacher who did not invent this technique, but did a lot to help promote its use. Among his many successful students are jazz luminary Louie Bellson and funk aficionado David Garibaldi.

Spivack explained the grip as a three-finger hold that begins by cradling the stick beneath the palm in the crook of the first joint of the middle finger. The hand is turned palm down and the stick is allowed to pivot freely with a seesaw-like motion. According to Spivak, the fulcrum point needs to be as narrow as possible because “The narrower the fulcrum or balance point, the better the stick will rebound.”[2] With the middle finger established as the fulcrum point, the thumb and first finger are then brought together to guide the stick, touching it very lightly. The third finger (ring finger) and little finger remain relaxed in their natural curl around the back end of the stick, but not touching it. Do not allow the little finger to stick straight out.

This grip has a very loose and relaxed feel, allowing an uninhibited rebound that produces a good quality of sound from the drum and a lot of power when higher volume is needed.

Being comfortable with grip variations will prepare you to adapt to different musical situations. Some grip methods are best for powerful playing, and others are better for speed. Changing grips as you play will distribute physical effort over a range of muscles to increase endurance and reduce the risk of repetitive-use injuries.


1. Haskell W. Harr, Drum Method: For Band and Orchestra, Book Two (Chicago: M. M. Cole Publishing Co., 1938), 70;  Earl Sturtze, The Sturtze Drum Instructor (Ivoryton: Reissued by The Company of Fifers and Drummers, orig. 1956), 6;  Wm F. Ludwig, Sr. and Wm F. Ludwig, Jr., W. F. L. Drum Corps Manual (Chicago: Ludwig Drum Co., 1948), 6.

2. Murray Spivack: A Lesson With Louie Bellson, performed by Louie Bellson and Murray Spivack. Director: Sandy Feldstein, (1995, Van Nuys: Alfred Music Publishing Co., 2010). DVD.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


By Ed Flack, ©2014

I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Nick Attanasio a few months ago (10/24/13). A former member of the Sons of Liberty, Attanasio played bass drum in that group with Les Parks, Bobby Thompson, and Jay Tuomey. His innovative and ground-breaking bass drumming style during the 1950s has earned him a place in the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.

I’ve read about the Parks stick-grip method and the playing positions he taught in articles by Ken Mazur (a student of Jay Tuomey). I was looking for more information about the way Parks used the right-hand grip. My cousin, Mike Flack, had been in contact with Mr. Attanasio and arranged an introduction so I could talk with him.

Nick told me that Parks was “the leader of the Sons” and the style they all played was “directed by Les Parks.” He told me that to play snare drum with the Sons that “you had to adopt the Parks method.” All snare drummers in that group had to use the same grip method and playing techniques.

Parks was of the “modern school” of drumming. A graduate of Juilliard, he was a fine concert/symphonic percussionist as well as a dance band drummer. Modern stylists believed the elbows should be closer to the body to increase power by drawing the weight of the hands, sticks, and forearms toward the center of gravity.

Ancient stylists (1800s military origin) used a wider playing position, desribed as “around the tree” with the elbows away from the sides. The strike angle of the hands is a little higher than the modern style. Ancient stylists use some right-hand wrist-bending, but stroke power is primarily generated through forearm rotation (pronation and supination).

During the early 1950s, Parks took the modern theory to its ultimate conclusion by positioning the elbows not only closer to the sides but also to the back of the back (when the sticks are lowered to their horizontal playing position). This affected the angle at which the sticks approached the center of the drum by making it more narrow. Another Parks innovation was to bend the right wrist slightly to the outside (ulnar deviation) just enough to align the stick in a more direct extension of the forearm.[1] With this orientation, the right-hand stick can be raised and lowered by bending the wrist in a hinge-like fashion (flexion and extension).

Parks and The Sons of Liberty called this system of bone alignment and summation of muscle groups (from shoulder to elbow to wrist to fingers) the “S” or “power train.”[2].


1.  Ken Mazur, “The Perfectionists: The History of Rudimental Snare Drumming from Military Code to Field Competition,” Percussive Notes 43/2 (April 2005), 20.

2.  Ibid.