The Secret To Playing Traditional Grip On The Drums
The Secret to Playing Traditional Grip
The number one question I am asked aside from “how to play faster on the drums” is how to play traditional grip. It’s an excellent question with a not so simple answer. I learned how to play traditional grip first when I started playing the drums. It was a rite of passage- the only way to truly hold the sticks. The drummers I admired all played that way; Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Tony Williams etc. Of course, this is not true, but it seemed that way for many years. Traditional grip became a lost art if you will. It was not the grip taught by most teachers, and it wasn’t until Jojo Mayer in my opinion re-popularized the grip in the early 2000’s, that a resurgence in interest of playing traditional grip emerged. Now with so many drummers being able to show their stuff on Instagram and Youtube, you’ll notice many are adopting the grip and burning up the skins with it. But before I tell you the secret to playing traditional grip, here’s a little back story.
WHY PLAY TRADITIONAL GRIP
There is definitely good reason to play traditional grip. For one, when played correctly it can prevent injury due to the amount of shock the area where the grip lays can handle. The meaty part of the hand between the thumb and index finger is very tough, and that’s where the shock is absorbed. But that particular reason really doesn’t get people’s attention. It’s not very sexy. Perhaps just to honor tradition is why some drummers choose traditional grip. I don’t find that to be an acceptable reason though. Traditional also grip created a stigma for those watching a drummer who played traditional grip, that he or she was a superior player. Of course, this is not true, but the grip does have some unique benefits.
The main benefit to playing traditional grip is “touch”. For certain styles of music, mainly jazz, traditional grip lends itself to a unique touch on the drum. There is a finesse about it, if you will. Also, depending on the drummer, playing traditional grip may allow you to execute certain patterns you couldn’t execute as well playing matched grip. I find in my playing there are certain ideas that I can only play with traditional grip. Typically, it always boils down to pull-out accents in which the grip is perfectly suited for, as well as the Moeller Technique.
HOW TO PLAY TRADITIONAL GRIP
Now that we’ve briefly discussed some history and reasons to play traditional grip, how do we actually hold the drumsticks in order to play traditional grip? This tends to be a bit awkward and tricky for most drummers in the beginning. But, like anything else, good form and lots of practice can have you playing the grip in a relatively short amount of time. The reason however this article is titled “The Secret to Playing Traditional Grip” is because there is a little-known secret that is most often overlooked when learning traditional grip. Are you ready to learn the secret that will completely change your ability to master the traditional grip? The secret my friends is the thumb. That’s right the thumb, not the index finger, or the middle finger. Remember when I said I learned how to play traditional grip from the beginning, well I was playing it all wrong. Although I never took formal drum lessons, I had several teachers over the years, and NONE told me about the thumb. It’s like it was some mystery how to really get the grip to perform. I assumed the entire thing was based on the writ and index finger mainly. As I progressed and got more interested in playing faster and developing traditional grip finger control in my left hand, I noticed the index finger wasn’t really cutting it anymore. I couldn’t get the speed and power needed to execute what was in my head. For years I watched videos and tried to catch a glimpse of what the hell was going on with this elusive grip. Even after watching Jojo Mayer’s video dozens of times it still wasn’t making sense. It wasn’t until I discovered Scottish pipe drumming that I made the connection of just how important the thumb was in the grip.
SO WHAT DO I DO WITH THE THUMB?
The thumb in conjunction with the wrist motion is the main driver of the stroke. The following steps are the basic fundamentals of how to properly execute a stroke with traditional grip:
Assuming you’re playing traditional grip with your left hand (follow same steps for right hand traditional grip)
- Extend your left hand outward as if you were preparing to shake someone’s hand
- Place the stick directly in the web between the thumb and index finger.
- Allow your index finger as well as thumb and middle finger to gently rest on top of the stick
- Now that the stick is supported you are ready to strike the drum
Here is where the trick comes in. In order to really hone in on this technique, you need to play the stroke with only the thumb, and remove the other fingers from the equation. In other words, squeeze the stick with the fleshy web of your hand and thumb just firmly enough to control it. Now while holding the stick in the web and thumb only, completely open your hand so the rest of your fingers are all pointing in the handshake position. To execute the stroke, turn your wrist so your palm faces to the ceiling. Now whip the wrist back toward the drum and make sure to play a free stroke (a stroke in which the stick returns to the upright position. In this case after hitting the drum you’ll want your wrist to snap back into the palm facing the ceiling position). You’ll want to keep playing this stroke until you get to a comfort level where you can have the index finger and middle finger rejoin the party and sit on top of the stick.
You can refer to the video clip to see an abridged example of how to hold the stick for traditional grip as well as the free stroke.
I highly recommend checking out my book and video, Better Hands to really hone in on these concepts. You can find more info on Better Hands here: