How to Hold Your Drumsticks

As someone just starting out on the drums, one of the things you should grasp right away is that your choice of drumsticks and how you hold them are integral factors in your playing. They are truly the conduit between your hands and your instrument, allowing you to transfer rhythmical ideas from your head to your hands and into the drums and cymbals themselves.

There are two primary grips used by drummers when applying their musical craft. The first is the traditional grip, a time-honoured technique that features the left hand holding the stick in a drastically different manner than that of the right hand (see image below).

TRADITIONAL GRIP

The traditional drumstick grip was developed hundreds of years ago in response to the needs of marching drummers who required an ergonomic yet effective means of playing snare drums that were tilted from their waists. The niceties of technique that characterize marching drumming to this day also lent themselves well to using traditional grip.

Traditional grip offers the benefits of allowing the drummer to have increased finesse and more finite application of subtle techniques like buzzes, ghost notes and “voicing” the tone of the drum by changing the striking angle of the stick. More experienced drummers can also benefit from the traditional grip when “cross sticking”, or playing patterns or fills that require the arms to be crossed in accessing different parts of the kit. There is less need to manipulate the function of the left hand when cross-sticking in traditional grip.

Traditional grip is practical for jazz, big band and some forms of traditional and contemporary music, but is generally impractical for rock, pop, metal or any more energetic or upbeat style of music.

MATCHED GRIP

The second primary grip for drummers is the matched grip, and it is the most popular and common grip used by drummers today. As compared to the traditional, the matched grip is more how most people would naturally pick up drumsticks for the first time – with both hands uniformly grasping the stick between the thumb and index finger.

Matched grip is the most natural method for holding your drumsticks and most of you will settle into one of the variations of matched grip that are detailed below. It is a comfortable grip and can be quickly and easily taken up by beginning drummers just starting out on the instrument.

Matched grip offers the benefits of a consistent stroke between each hand for most drummers, as well as giving the drummer power and volume capacity in his or her left hand when playing the snare drum. In rock and pop music, playing rimshots with the sound presence required of them almost always requires matched grip. The same is true of getting a consistent presence out of your cymbals in these styles of music, as your higher crash cymbal(s) will most likely be located on the left side of your kit and played with your left hand. In addition, a matched grip more naturally allows most drummers to maintain their stroke power as they conduct fills across the kit towards their strong side.

FRENCH GRIP

French grip is a variation of matched grip that involves the same physics of the match grip, with the stick being cradled in the fulcrum created by the thumb and index finger, but with the thumbs being turned up while the backs of the hands face outward.

French grip is effective for playing music or sections of music that require finesse and endurance from the drummer in playing their parts. The middle, ring and pinky fingers on each hand play a prominent role in the effective use of French grip, as they allow the drummer to give finite action to the stick and execute particular notes repetitively and / or with exact sound definition or volume.

Playing with power and increased volume is difficult with French grip and it will be difficult to command a strong presence from your cymbals using it. Do note, however, that it is common for experienced drummers to switch from a standard matched grip to French grip when playing constant notes on the ride cymbal, floor tom or any strong-side component of the drum set.

GERMAN GRIP

German grip is a matched grip that is the opposite of French, with the hands fully turned over so that the thumbs are facing inward and the back of the hands are up at a near 90 degree angle. The thumb and index finger continue to create the fulcrum for the stick.

The ability to create power and volume in your drum and cymbal strokes is the primary benefit of German grip. As the hand is turned over, the energy in your forearms can be most thoroughly transferred through the stick and the drums and cymbals will respond accordingly. In comparison again to the French grip, only the middle finger of the remaining three fingers aids significantly in support and creating niceties in your technique.

German grip is common when you are playing “close-handed”, meaning your right (or left depending on your orientation) hand is crossed over your body to play the constant notes on your hi-hat cymbal. Many power players find that they develop a preference for German grip in their playing due to the power of sound and control it offers.

AMERICAN GRIP

American grip is also known as “overhand grip” and most drummers find that, over time, they settle into American grip as it combines the benefits of both French and German into being the most comfortable form of matched grip. It allows you a nice combination of power and endurance and your hands are optimally set to add dynamics into your playing.

With American grip, there is a greater need for both hands to be positioned at exactly the same position on the sticks. The back of the hand points up at more of a 45 degree angle, as compared to the 80-90 degree angle seen with the German grip. The middle, ring and pinky fingers are also in a hybrid of both French and German, but the middle finger is the primary one in dictating fine technique with the stick.

Again, most drummers eventually find themselves in the American grip once they become more comfortable on the drum set. It does indeed offer the finesse and endurance of the French grip with the power, control and volume capacity of the German grip.

Phil Barrow

Phil Barrow

Phil discovered his passion for music in his early teens when he began learning to play the guitar. He attended the VCC School of Music where he studied jazz and contemporary guitar performance. Phil joined Resound as a guitar teacher in 2013 and has been the school’s Director since 2014.

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