Monday, December 18, 2017


by Ed Flack, ©2017

During the 1970s when the “matched grip only” school of thought began to propagate, arguments were made in support of its presumptive superiority. Here are some of those old arguments against traditional grip with counterpoints:

1. You can never achieve a hand-to-hand evenness of sound unless both hands are holding the sticks the same way.

Really? If that is true, then why do so many matched grip players exhibit such an uneven hand-to-hand sound? The primary reason for an unevenness in sound from hand-to-hand is that the strong hand tends to strike with more authority regardless of what grip method is being used. To achieve an even hand-to-hand sound, the same kind of strokes must be played with equal intent and velocity from an equal stick height. The bead of the stick from either hand should impact the drum and rebound with controlled and directed energy and not in the manner of a sloppy, glancing, ricochet. This can be achieved using a variety of grip methods including traditional grip. When all components of each stroke are precisely and correctly applied there will still be differences in left to right sound for the simple reason that the strokes impact the head from opposing angles. A realistic goal is to minimize hand-to-hand sound differences to the least perceivable level. The ability to do that using either matched or traditional grip is equal as long as the strokes are properly executed.

2. There are more muscles used to turn the wrist using an overhand grip than to rotate the forearm with an underhand grip.

Is that true and if so who cares? If your body needed “more muscles” to rotate the forearm than it uses to turn the wrist then it would have them. What makes using “more muscles” a good thing any way? Indeed, the point could be made that using “less muscles” is an indication of greater efficiency. Beyond that, wrist turning is not the only muscle groups used to play drum strokes. Many other variables including the fingers, forearm and upper arm muscles can be involved depending upon constantly changing musical requirements like dynamics and tempo.

3. Matched grip is “more natural” than traditional grip. This statement is often followed by the observation that when a pair of drum sticks are handed to a child or to a non-drummer that the recipient will “naturally” assume the matched grip.

Yes, it is true that a child or a non-drummer will usually grasp drum sticks with something kind of, sort of, like matched grip but it’s really more as if they’re grabbing a hammer than a drum stick; good for pounding nails but not for drumming. There is nothing unnatural about a mixed underhand and overhand grasp. Violinists hold their instrument with the left hand under the neck while drawing the bow overhand with the right. A guitar is held by the left hand under the neck while picking and strumming is done with a right overhand. Does anybody believe those hand positions are “unnatural?”

4. Other than snare drum or drum set, all percussion instruments are played using matched grip: tympani, timbale, vibes, etc.

No rebuttal here, that is a pretty darn good argument, but nobody is saying you should not learn or never use matched grip. Serious percussionists must learn matched grip. Serious percussionists also know that there are secrets to be unlocked by learning traditional grip.

Traditional grip makes you think differently about what you play and how you play it resulting in a broader understanding of your art. Mastering traditional methods with a left underhand technique will enhance your awareness of how strokes need to be played when using matched grip too because you will develop a more universal and intuitive understanding of the physics that underlay the drum strokes.

You can blindly follow the dictates of those who would claim “there is only one way to play” and be done with it. In fairness, perhaps the drummers who make such claims have studied, experimented and practiced to find that truly, matched grip is the best way for them to play. Even so, does that make it true for everybody?

Inevitably your style, techniques and creative approach will change over time. Hopefully you will make an honest effort to explore a variety of methods and make your own conclusions through study, practice and experience.

“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 comment:

Scott M. said...

I agree with all your statements.
I would add to those that the traditional grip has a unique role in marching drums, where drums are usually slung at a fairly steep angle to facilitate easier marching. This grip naturally places the angle of the stick evenly for both hands when the drum is in this position. I believe that the old VFW rule was a 45 degree angle. With this kind of pitch ONLY traditional grip will give you an even sound.

Also, it's cool.