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.

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