Tuesday, October 5, 2021

STICKING METHODS: Rudimental, Natural/Straight, and Alternating

Sticking methods are directions for the efficient sequencing and coordination of hand-to-hand motions in drumming. They guide drummers in deciding which hand should “lead” a rhythmic phrasing considering the genre, tempo, and dynamics. There are three methods widely practiced for their successful sticking principles: rudimental, natural, and alternating.


RUDIMENTAL STICKING
19th-century military drummers, fifers, and buglers were responsible for all communications within camps, separate units, and battlefields. There could be no improvising. Beats, signals, and calls had to be accurate and consistently performed. Traditional American field drumming is a rudimental style because drum beats are composed and arranged based on a collection of lessons known as “rudiments.” Rudiments are short, memorable rhythmic patterns of accented and unaccented strokes arranged to a specified sticking sequence.


Rudimental lessons originated hundreds of years ago within European and American militaries. They are frequently named using onomatopoeias, which imitate the sounds they make when played. (e.g., paradiddle, ratamaque, pataflafla.) Rudiments served to narratively teach drummers the language and codes of communication and the musical rules and techniques required to play them. Narrative teaching uses no written notation. It is a one-to-one verbally shared experience requiring rote memorization.


We do not know the exact origin of every rudimental lesson. There is no complete and unbroken chain of written records before the late 18th century. However, during the 19th century, drum and fife tutorial books and several U.S. Military Camp Duty editions became widely available. By the early 20th century in the United States, the most well-known snare drum texts were The Drummer’s and Fifer’s Guide (1862), by George Bruce & Daniel Emmett; and Strube’s Drum and Fife Instructor (1869) by Gardiner A. Strube.


In 1933, the National Association of Rudimental Drummers (NARD) adopted the 25 rudiments of Strube’s book and added the single stroke roll to compile what they called the “26 Standard Rudiments.” NARD created this list to ensure that snare drum competition would be adjudicated fairly because the same “standards” would apply to all performers.


The Strube exercises adopted by NARD are not a complete collection of all American rudimental lessons, nor are they described the same way by sources other than Strube. For example, the paradiddle, as written by Strube, contains just one accented note. There are two accents in a paradiddle in many earlier publications, including Charles Ashworth’s 1812 Camp Duty, A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating.1


We will never know how many rudimental lessons were lost. However, in The Marching Drummer’s Companion by George Kusel, he collected descriptions of “The 49 Rudiments of Drumming” from primary source manuals published between 1810–1820.2


There are many “drum rudiments” circulating the world. In an interview in Percussive Notes (April 1996), percussion historian George Carroll estimates more than 200 rudiments. In addition to British and American rudiments, there are more unique contributions from French, Scottish, Swiss, and other European styles. That said, there are still only three basic stroke techniques: 1. single strokes, 2. double strokes, 3. coactive strokes (flams and drags.) Some believe that the unique nature of modern multiple-bounce press/buzz strokes may qualify as a 4th stroke technique. In 1984, The Percussive Arts Society logically divided an updated collection of “40 International Drum Rudiments” into groups as Rolls, Diddles, Flams, and Drags.


DOUBLE STROKE ROLLS, DIDDLES, AND DRAGS 

Each of these rudiments includes double strokes. Why not group all three under the single umbrella of doubles? Here is how they are different:


DOUBLE STROKE ROLLS are played in a hand-to-hand sequence with a specified musical time value to create the illusion of a long-held tone. The distinction between diddle strokes and double roll strokes is conceptual and based on the context of their use. All rudimental rolls are double strokes. They may commence or end on a downbeat, and they can lead with either hand.


DIDDLES are like roll stroke doubles, and they have designated time values such as 8ths, 16ths, and 32nds. Diddles facilitate lead hand changes. However, diddle rudiments (except for the paradiddle-diddle) do not pair with another diddle played by the alternate hand.


DRAGS The drag is a double-stroke grace note. Grace notes are ornamental embellishments closely connected to a stronger primary beat. In contrast to flam grace notes, drags are not played as close to the primary beat. They are played a little stronger than a flam grace note and from a slightly higher position.


FLAMS The flam rudiment is unique; it is a coordinated action of a strong primary stroke closely paired with a low grace note stroke. Flams may lead from the left hand or right hand.


NOTES
1. Ashworth, Charles S., and George P. Carroll. A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating (Williamsburg, VA: Geo. P. Carroll, 1966), 4.

2. Kusel, George. The Marching Drummer’s Companion (Willow Grove, PA: George Kusel, 1970).






NATURAL STICKING
Edward B. Straight was a prominent Chicago drummer who wrote several books on “modern drumming.” In 1923 he published his most important and enduring work: The Straight System, The Natural Way to Play Drums. Straight’s strong influence in popularizing natural sticking is why it is often called “Straight Sticking.” In the opening pages of his book, he listed the following principles of natural sticking.1


• Always commence every measure with your RIGHT hand.

• Always have your right hand come on the count ONE, TWO in every bar.

• Always play sixteenth notes SINGLE tap. RLRLRLRL.

• Always play the same beat the same way.

• Always flam (grace note) with your LEFT hand. (Except the hand-to-hand flams.)

• Always play the NATURAL WAY. (Never change hands.)


Straight further elaborated on the virtues of his Natural Way, writing: “Your rolls will be EXACTLY the right length, because most all of the rolls start and end on an eighth note, and with your right hand coming down on every eighth in the measure ... With this system, you will find that it is a very easy matter to play in rhythm as you control every count with your RIGHT hand ... This SYSTEM omits all the unnecessary hand-to-hand beats and hand-to-hand flams, which are so hard to execute at any reasonable TEMPO.”2


A potential downside of natural sticking is that strong hand dominance and practice mean the weak hand could remain weak. The antidote to that side effect is to invest time practicing natural sticking exercises with a left-hand lead. Continue to work on traditional rudiments and dedicate an extra portion of practice time to weak hand exercise.


In 1956, Earl Sturtze included a section about natural sticking in his book, The Sturtze Drum Instructor. Under the heading of “Which Stick To Strike,” he says, “To drum scientifically, a system of sticking must be employed. One must know when to strike with the right and when to strike with the left.”3

Sturtze describes sticking derived from “natural factors” as “orchestra drumming,” which he explained by writing: “In orchestra drumming the right-hand takes the lead and strikes on the first beat of the measure, and also on the first beat of each even group of notes... The numerical counts are the downbeats; the ‘ands’ are the upbeats.”4


SUMMARY OF THE NATURAL STICKING METHOD
Was Straight advocating for the end of rudimental sticking? The answer is no. Straight was intimately familiar with American rudimental drumming. He served an active role in preserving and standardizing that system, as evidenced through his contributions as a founding member of NARD. However, he considered rudimental drumming as military-style field drumming and that theatre, concert, and double-drumming required an alternative system.

“Double-drumming” was a term used during the early 20th century to describe a new class of drummers using bass drum foot pedals so that one drummer could simultaneously play the parts of two.


In addition to promoting his Natural Way system, Straight endorsed a controversial roll technique called the “press roll.” Nowadays, drummers accept the press roll as an essential drumming skill, but buzz rolls were criticized and resisted as a non-legitimate technique during Straight’s time. Straight wrote, “Your rolls must be closed up, then they are effective. No OPEN ROLLS in theatre work.”5


Does natural sticking dismiss modern drummers from the need to study and practice rudimental drumming? That answer depends on the individual. It is not essential to be a rudimental expert to play most music. According to Benjamin Podeminski, author of Podemski’s Standard Snare Drum Method, “The conductor and listener do not care how the instrumentalist executes various technical strokes as long as the proper result is achieved.”6


However, each traditional rudiment pattern learned requires the mastery of specific stroke techniques to be performed effectively. One of the great benefits of studying rudiments is the acquisition of new technical skills. Expanded technical skills through rudimental practice will improve a drummer’s ability to express musical ideas.


NOTES
1. Straight, Edward B. The Straight System of Modern Drumming – The Natural Way to Play Drums (Chicago: Straight, 1923), 5.

2. Ibid: 6.

3. Sturtze, Earl. The Sturtze Drum Instructor (Ivoryton: reissued by The Company of Fifers and Drummers, Orig. 1956), 29.

4. Ibid: 29.

5. Straight, Edward B. The Straight System of Modern Drumming – The Natural Way to Play Drums (Chicago: Straight, 1923), 6.

6. Podemski, Benjamin. Podemski’s Standard Snare Drum Method (New York: Mills, 1968), 18.

7. Goldenberg, Morris. Modern School For Snare Drum (New York: Chappell & Co. Inc., 1955), 72.





ALTERNATING STICKING
Alternating sticking is just exactly as the name implies: every stroke alternates hand-to-hand regardless of the rhythm. When playing the alternating sticking method, sometimes a rhythm will be played using a right-hand lead stroke, and later the same rhythm may repeat under a left-hand lead.


By contrast, when a particular rhythm repeats, it is always played the same way using natural sticking. Natural sticking is a reliable method and is nearly always the right choice for either binary or ternary meters, if not already specified as rudimental sticking.


However, any measure between two points in time is divisible by any number. Alternating sticking is the go-to option for playing odd meters, mixed combinations of meters, and artificial note groupings. Alternating sticking is often the best way to play fast rhythms when there may not be enough time between beats to follow natural sticking or rudimental sticking conventions.


RUFFS • SHORT SINGLE STROKE ROLLS
Historically, the rudimental names “drag” and “ruff” have frequently been interchanged. George Bruce included a three-stroke rudiment in The Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide (1862) and called it the “tap ruff,” which he notated as three single alternating strokes with the third one accented.1


Charles Ashworth’s 1812 book on drumming includes the identical three-beat pattern that Bruce named the “tap ruff.” However, Ashworth gave it no name; he labeled it “Quick Like A Drag.”2


In 1853, George Klinehanse replicated Ashworth’s rudiments in his Manual of Instruction for Drummers. Klinehanse labeled Ashworth’s three-stroke rudiment “Ruff.”Elias Howe’s Drum and Fife Instructor (1862) describes a four-stroke single rudiment that he called a “Rough.”4 


The National Association of Rudimental Drummers list of “26 Standard Rudiments” (1933) identifies rudiment number 8 as the “Ruff,” written with a double-stroke grace note on the left hand, followed by a primary stroke on the right hand. 


In 1942, Buddy Rich and Henry Adler wrote, “All short, single-stroke rolls are known as ruffs.”5 According to them, a three-stroke ruff is three single alternating strokes, but if played using a double-stroke grace note slightly ahead of a single accent stroke, it is called a “half drag.” Whether we agree with Rich and Adler’s terminology or not, mastering the skill of short single-stroke groupings is fundamental to good drumming. They are an excellent platform for hand speed and control.


All single-stroke rolls are alternating. However, some short single-stroke rhythms benefit by using the rules of Straight’s natural sticking.

The three, four, and seven-stroke ruffs are among the most universally known and commonly played short single-stroke patterns. Alternating sticking allows the accents to migrate (grid style) naturally. Ruffs have found renewed popularity among hybrid rudiment enthusiasts. However, the word “single” or “singled” is used rather than ruff (e.g., single-3, single-5, and single-9.)


NOTES
1. Bruce, Geo B., and Dan D. Emmett. The drummer’s and Fifer’s Guide (New York: Wm. A. Pond & Co., 1862).

2. Ashworth, Charles S., and George P. Carroll. A New, Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating (Williamsburg, VA: Geo. P. Carroll, 1966).

3. Klinehanse, George D. The Manual of Instruction for Drummers (Washington D.C.: G.D. Klinehanse, 1853)

4. Howe, Elias. Howe’s United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor, for the Use of the Army and Navy (Boston: Howe, 1861). 

5. Rich, Buddy and Adler, Henry. Buddy Rich’s Modern Interpretation of Snare Drum Rudiments (New York: Amsco Publications, 1942).




Thursday, April 29, 2021

BOOK LAUNCH: "The Ancient Art of Modern Drumming"


I am delighted to announce the publication of my new book, The Ancient Art of Modern Drumming.

The Ancient Art of Modern Drumming is a coffee table book for people who keep a practice pad and a pair of drum sticks at their coffee table. It is a snare drum method book interwoven with a historical context of how the American snare drum style originated and evolved. Contained within, the drummer will find many practical skills-building exercises and etudes accompanied by thorough narrative explanations of techniques and their theory.


The Ancient Art of Modern Drumming is now available in paperback from Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578958597?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860&fbclid=IwAR0RlqJv_4jbsjVWB46RGGC2-LbvOerzSG_oAnVgRi0T_H5MwBlUYQxXTks


Excerpts from the book. 

PREFACE:

Heritage is experiences, knowledge, and culture, given meaning and value by past generations and inherited by those in the present. Tradition is the way heritage is honored, practiced, and preserved. Traditions are malleable and fluid. Every new generation or group of enthusiasts who celebrate a tradition will imprint on it their unique interpretation. Traditions evolve and change, but as long as they are observed and practiced, the heritage survives.


Our present-day snare drumming traditions originated from Swiss Mercenary Regiments during the late medieval age. Through their successful service to many foreign states, Swiss fighters popularized the fife & drum’s military use throughout Europe. America’s snare drum heritage is from Europe (broadly) and Britain (predominantly.) The first United States Colonial Army copied much of its fife & drum repertoire directly from the British military. Since Independence, traditional American drumming has undergone many changes to make it modern and unique. The tradition evolves, but its heritage remains strong.

Ed Flack, 2021


Sample Pages










Thursday, March 4, 2021

DRUM ROLLS, SKELETAL PATTERNS

The beat of a single tap is fundamentally the only note a snare drum can produce. The tap and other strokes’ limitation is that a single snare drum beat’s sound cannot be “held.” To play extended beat values (i.e., to hold the sound), drummers must use the roll. The drum roll, also known as the “drummer’s long tone,” is a deliberately timed series of single strokes, double strokes, or pressed buzz strokes.

Roll Timing: Drum rolls can be played by rapidly alternating single strokes in a timed series, by doubling stroke taps, or by pressing strokes to create multiple bounces. The various techniques of alternating and controlling roll strokes are essential. Still, the necessary condition common to all roll methods is timing. Timing in music means that beats or rhythmic patterns synchronize to a musical composition’s pulse and tempo.


Roll Naming: 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 drummers who used rope-tensioned drums. Double stroke rolls were played as two deliberate down-up motions on the one hand and then the other. The number of roll beats sounded was equal to the number of individual hand motions, or “strokes” required to play the roll.


The tension of a calfskin drum head is subject to the ever-changing conditions of temperature and humidity. Bouncing the stick was not a consistently reliable roll technique before the introduction of mylar plastic heads. Research of American and British drum method books published between 1780 to 1886 reveals no evidence that the concept of stick bounce or “rebound” was introduced to explain the roll technique. (See Roll History)


To deal with slack calfskin head tension due to humidity, drummers would place drums next to campfires or hot stoves. By the 1920s, when electricity became more widely available in the United States, drummers could use electric heaters installed inside drum shells to dry the heads.


Modern drummers learn to play rolls using rebound double strokes. A rebound double produces two beats from one down-and-up hand motion. A downward hand motion plays the first beat, and the second beat generates from the rebound energy of the first. The number of strokes still dictates the names of bounced rolls, but the thing counted is the number of beats sounded and not the number of hand motions used.


Skeletal Pattern: The number of individual down-and-up hand motions is the underlying framework of a roll played using rebound double strokes. The framework of hand motion is also called the “skeletal pattern” of the roll.1 Studying the skeletal patterns of rolls is useful for understanding roll counts and timing.


“Nowadays, 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.2


NOTES

 1. Coffin, James. The Performing Percussionist (Oskaloosa: C.L. Barnhouse Co., 1972), 24.

 2. Clark, James. Connecticut’s Fife & Drum Tradition (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2011), 120.








Wednesday, March 3, 2021

DRUM ROLLS, TAP-RATE

The sound of a single drum tap is what it is. It cannot be “held,” nor can it be cut short. The only component of drum rolls that can lengthen or shorten is the interval of time between each tap.

The range of tap-to-tap time intervals between a relaxed and open-sounding double-stroke roll and a fast closed-sounding double-stroke roll is relatively limited. Tempo, coupled with timing, creates the conditions where the space between roll taps reaches the point where our ears perceive the drum roll sound. If the interval is too long, we no longer recognize them as roll sounds.


The number of roll strokes played in a given count of time is determined by tempo. Faster tempos = less time between pulse beats, resulting in a roll with fewer taps per beat. Slower tempos = more time between pulse beats, allowing a roll with more taps per beat.


The inverse relationship between the number of individual roll taps sounded per beat and the number of beats per minute is the “tap-rate.” To calculate tap-rates use this formula: the beats per minute x taps per beat = tap-rate.


The following examples explore the tap rates of duple pulse rolls and triple pulse rolls played at different tempos.


At a tempo of 80 bpm, a 32nd note triple pulse roll has 12 taps per dotted quarter note. The tap-rate is 80 bpm X 12 taps per beat = 960 taps per minute.


At a 120 bpm tempo, a duple pulse roll played as 32nd note double strokes have eight taps per quarter note. The tap-rate is 120 bpm X 8 taps per beat = 960 taps per minute.


As we can see, even though each roll’s tempo and duration differ, the tap-rate and the actual hand speed required to generate each is the same.




Sunday, July 26, 2020

NICHOLAS C. ATTANASIO, 1922–2018

My first exposure to the Les Parks grip method was through my friend, Dave Moyer, a talented former snare drummer with the Colts Drum & Bugle Corps (Dubuque, Iowa, the late 1970s.) I noticed his traditional left-hand grip was unique. He kept his little finger curled under the ring finger; I asked him about it, and he explained its advantages.

My next exposure to the Parks technique was through my friend, Dave Nicholas. Also, an excellent former Colts snare drummer (early 1970s.) I noticed that Nicholas used the same unusual grip technique as Moyer. I asked him about it, and he explained it the same way. 

Moyer and Nicholas never mentioned any connection between their grip method with Parks or Thompson. “That’s just how we did it in the Colts” is all they knew of its history. At that point, I assumed that it must have been something unique to the Dubuque Colts.

Years later, I discovered photos on-line of elite drummer Steve Gadd demonstrating the curled finger grip and read comments attributing the technique to Bobby Thompson.

I followed up by searching for more information about Thompson. I quickly learned that he had been a member of The Sons of Liberty F&D with Les Parks, Jay Tuomey, Bob Redican, and a bass drummer named Nick Attanasio.

Mr. Attanasio’s innovative and ground-breaking bass drum playing style during the 1950s earned him induction honors in the American Patriots Rudimental Drum Corps Hall of Fame, the World’s Drummers Hall of Fame, and the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.1

I often discussed drumming with my cousin, Mike Flack, who had grown up playing in drum corps. I mentioned to Mike what I had been learning about the Sons of Liberty.

By a remarkable coincidence, Mike told me that he had recently been in contact with Nick Attanasio.

Mike was promoting his custom-designed reed-style brush drum sticks called “Flack Wackers.” He had been reaching out to various contacts. Modern Drummer Magazine featured a brief review of his product in the April 2013 issue.

During Mike’s marketing efforts, he came in contact with Attanasio. They hit it off well and talked several times by phone, sometimes to discuss drumming and sometimes just to “shoot the breeze.”

Mike was a deeply empathetic person and a good listener. Nick was comfortable talking with Mike and opened up to him about his grief over recently losing his son.

Mike gave me Nick’s phone number and arranged an introduction so I could talk with him. On October 24, 2013, I picked up the phone and called him.

Mr. Attanasio was happy to take my call and to answer my questions. I found him to be entirely amicable and very eager to talk about his drumming experiences.

He told me that Parks was “the leader of the Sons,” and the style they all played, including Bobby Thompson, was “directed by Les Parks.” He told me to play snare drum with the Sons, “You had to adopt the Parks method. All snare drummers used the same grip and techniques.”

According to Attanasio, Parks directed a playing position with the elbows closer to the body, enabling the right wrist to bend slightly to the outside (ulnar deviation.) Both hands were positioned low, just above the drumhead level.

That adjustment aligns the drumstick as an extension of the forearm. From that orientation, the right stick can be raised and lowered by bending the wrist in a hinge-like fashion (flexion and extension.)

At one point in our conversation, I ignorantly asked Nick if he knew Earl Sturtze and how his teaching compares with the Parks’ method. There was a cold silence on his end of the line; then, he told me that there had been “No love lost between Parks and Sturtze.”

Apparently, at some point, Earl Sturtze said words to the effect of “All the best drummers are from Connecticut.” The Sons of Liberty were from Brooklyn, NY. Earl’s comments did not sit well with them. Not well at all.

Nick Attanasio died on November 5, 2018. He was 96 years old.2 I am very grateful for the honor of speaking with one of the iconic figures of traditional American drumming. I wish I had the presence of mind to ask him more about some of the other great drummers he knew.

I have fully embraced the Les Parks grip method. Initially, it was challenging. It takes a concentrated effort to keep the little finger cocked back. With persistence and resolve, it soon became ingrained to the point where not curling the little finger now feels unnatural to me. I’m glad I learned it.

Ed Flack, 2020.


NOTES

1. “Attanasio, Nicholas.” WDCHOF, March 21, 2018. https://www.wdchof.org/members/attanasio-nicholas/; “Apples for the Teachers.” Drum Corps International: Marching Music`s Major League. Accessed May 9, 2020. https://www.dci.org/news/apples-for-the-teachers.

2. “Obituary for Nicholas C. Attanasio at Joseph V. Leahy Funeral Home, Inc.” n.d. Www.Jvleahyfh.Com. Accessed July 26, 2020. https://www.jvleahyfh.com/obituary/nicholas-attanasio.

GEORGE P. CARROLL, 1932–2020

GEORGE P. CARROLL, 1932–2020. I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. George P. Carroll (March 3, 2020.)1

The beautiful rope drum on this book’s cover is one that he made for me in 2007. I was fortunate to speak with George many times by phone. We exchanged several messages regarding drumming’s history and techniques—of which he was a highly respected authority. 

George played a crucial role in establishing the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps in 1960. The fife had been absent from U.S. Army bands since 1875 and reinstated through his efforts.

He was born in Canada, and at the age of 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy. He graduated from the Canadian Navy School of Music. Upon completing his five-year service, he became the Drum Sergeant of the Black Watch Military Band. He successfully auditioned for the U.S. Army Band and enlisted in 1958.2

In January 1961, he was in the Army Band that played for the inauguration of JFK. George told me he was sitting 20ft from President Kennedy when he made his inspiring speech—challenging all Americans to contribute to the public good.

While in the Army Band, Carroll recognized that the Army needed a standard drum beat for funeral duties. His “slow beat” was played in the escort of President Kennedy’s funeral caisson through Washington’s streets in 1963.

Among his many accomplishments, Mr. Carroll helped create the Colonial Williamsburg Fife & Drum Corps, the International Association of Field Musicians, and the Yorktown Fife & Drum Museum.

In 2009, my wife and I were in Washington, DC, and we stopped to visit him at his drum shop in Alexandria, VA. George was very hospitable, extremely friendly, smart, and talented. He shared his impressive collection of drums with us, including a Civil War contract drum and a beautiful Sanford Moeller “Grand Republic” rope drum. The drum was designed by Moeller and hand-made by Buck Soistman in 1959 for The U.S. Army Band (after Gus Moeller fell ill and could not complete the build order.)

George was supportive of my endeavor to learn more about the history of American drumming, and he directed me to many historical source documents and additional reading.

He was happy to share what he knew. He told me that as traditional drummers, “We have to share what we’ve learned or it will go with us to the ground and be lost forever.”

I wish I could talk with him again. I still have many questions.

Ed Flack, 2020

PHOTOS:

George Carroll rope drum featuring the “Bunker Hill” tack design.

George Carroll, proudly displaying his Gus Moeller designed “Grand Republic Drum.” Made by Buck Soistman.

Ed Flack and George Carroll, in front of Carroll’s drum shop in the old Wise’s Tavern building, Alexandria, VA. The place where George Washington was first publicly addressed as “President of The United States.” 

Union Army, "contract drum," Civil War era.






NOTES

1. “George P. Carroll « Bucktrout Funeral Home and Crematory.” n.d. www.Bucktroutfuneralhome.Net. Accessed July 26, 2020. https://www.bucktroutfuneralhome.net/obituary/george-p-carroll/.
‌2. “George P. Carroll.” The Company of Fifers & Drummers, March 21, 2020. https://companyoffifeanddrum.org/news/remembrances/george-p-carroll.

BOBBY THOMPSON and LES PARKS UN-TRADITIONAL SNARE GRIP



AN UN-TRADITIONAL GRIP
New drummers find the traditional method of holding the left-hand drumstick challenging to learn, and many have abandoned the style in favor of matched grip. The truth is that right-handed people will always have difficulty getting the left stick under control, regardless of grip technique. Let us assume that you have overcome the stereotypical resistance and have discovered for yourself the joy of playing traditional grip—this information is for you.

There is a uniquely American innovation to the traditional left-hand grip that is alien to most drummers. The method is often referred to as “the Bobby Thompson grip” because he did so much to promote it through his performance as a drummer with the Sons of Liberty and instructor for the Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights. Thompson developed the method while working with Les Parks when they performed together in The Sons of Liberty fife and drum corps from Brooklyn, New York (1947-1968.)

Les Parks was the founder and director of The Sons Of Liberty; he was a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, where he studied percussion under Morris Goldenberg.1 Les Parks instructed the St. Vincent Cadets, Garfield Cadets, the Hawthorne Caballeros, the New York Skyliners, and many others during his career.

The concept behind this unique grip method was to better facilitate left-hand stick control by using more of the index finger and less of the thumb. A palm-up, flat-handed thumb grip could not deliver the kind of precise control and power needed for competitive rudimental drumming.

The Thompson/Parks method resembles the traditional left-hand grip in every respect except that the little finger is curled back, supporting the ring finger. The middle finger extends alongside the stick to balance and guide the strokes, but it does not touch it. The index finger acts as the primary controlling digit by pushing down or pulling in. The thumb lightly meets the index finger, creating a narrow fulcrum point for the stick to balance on.

As a drummer with The Golden Knights, Marty Hurley learned from Bobby Thompson; he said, “When the pinky finger is back, it forms a better bridge for the stick to rest on. The ring finger is less likely to move. Les and Bobby spent hours perfecting the technique. They wanted a method that had the left hand under more control.”2

Hurley was the percussion arranger/caption head of the Phantom Regiment (1976-1992.) He was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame in 2012.

According to Marty Hurley’s brother, Jim Hurley, curling the little finger under the fourth finger was “Bobby Thompson’s idea, not Les Parks.” Jim Hurley also said, “The elbows are positioned about one fist width out from the body ... stroke power originates at the shoulder.” JH remembers Thompson as mild-mannered and kind. “You never heard Bobby curse or saw him angry. All the kids in the corps loved him, they would do anything for him.”3


CHARACTERISTICS OF THE THOMPSON/PARKS
LEFT-HAND GRIP

1. The forearm is rotated with the thumb to the top creating a narrow fulcrum point where the stick balances.

2. The curled little finger acts as a natural pendulum, which helps rotate the palm to position the thumb topside. More arm muscles can then be involved to enhance power, control, and stamina. The forearm has a more outward rotational range available to play full strokes and accents.

3. Upward support from the curled little finger enables the ring finger to work as a springboard under the stick; this creates a more secure grip by helping the left-hand muscles apply pressure where needed.

4. It helps ensure that the left-hand stroke motions are more direct and not moving in an elongated elliptical path.

The Thompson/Parks method does not require the player to deviate from the correct underhand technique’s established principles. However, it enhances awareness of how one uses it, helping the drummer focus and burn the underhand grip habit into the muscle memory until it becomes a natural and unconscious act.

The traditional underhand stick grip has been with us for hundreds of years, and the Thompson/Parks technique is genuinely a modern American drumming innovation.


NOTES

1. Mazur, Ken. “Who Took the Drum Out of Drum Corps?” Who Took the Drum Out of Drum Corps? | RudimentalDrumming.com. Accessed January 19, 2013. http://rudimentaldrumming.com/node/17.

2. Mazur, Ken “The Perfectionists: The History of Rudimental Snare Drumming from Military Code to Field Competition,” Percussive Notes 43, no. 2 (April 2005), 10-21.

3. “Jim Hurley Explaining Bobby Thompson Techniques.” Telephone interview by author. July 28, 2021.
Jim Hurley, and his brother, Marty, were snare drummers with the Blessed Sacrament, Golden Knights under the instruction of Bobby Thompson.







STICKING METHODS: Rudimental, Natural/Straight, and Alternating

Sticking methods are directions for the efficient sequencing and coordination of hand-to-hand motions in drumming. They guide drummers in de...