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"Traditional Grip vs Matched Grip" Written for, and Published in, Modern Drummer Magazine's Education Forum



Is traditional grip a useful technique that drum students should learn? Let me first make a general statement and say that good drumming is less about the specific technique you use and more about how you use it, and there are examples of great drummers and strong opinions on both sides of this grip issue. I want to address this topic from my perspective as a teacher, and as a teacher, especially with young and developing students (we're all developing students), I believe there is really only one choice. Efficient and effective drumming technique (grip and stroke) is about getting your body to move comfortably, naturally, injury and pain free, and in a way that will not limit your self-expression as a drummer. It's also about holding the sticks in a way that will produce an efficient stroke that takes maximum advantage of the physics of the drum, heads, sticks, and their angles, etc. This may all sound very 'technical'...because it is. Sometimes we think of the grip as being a binary choice – either traditional or matched. In actuality, there are dozens of variations of each grip, including not just how you hold the stick in the hands but also how the wrist turns, how, or if, the fingers are used, the angle of the hand relative to the drum and forearm, the angle of the stick relative to the alignment of the forearm, the use of the forearm in the stroke, etc., etc. I've seen drummers using a matched 'grip' but turning their wrist to the inside using a more traditional 'stroke', and vice versa. So, with my students we examine both grip and stroke as two highly related issues. Of course, the 'grip' discussion also leads to one about whether drumming is, or should be, a right-handed/left-handed issue (I firmly believe it is NOT – drumming is a compound task requiring two-handed input), and if one's dominant hand (right or left) should even be considered in a discussion of technique for drummers (it's not for pianists, saxophonists, trumpeters, etc.). Of course, this evidence also points towards open-handed playing as the next great step forward (more about that in a future article).
Traditional, Matched, and Other Variations of Holding and Moving the Sticks
© 2020, Marc Dicciani
As a member of the Modern Drummer Magazine Education Team, I was asked to write an article
back in 2012, responding to the question Is traditional grip a useful technique that all drum
students should learn?
Now, with an additional 8 years of research, observation, and teaching, here is an updated version of
that article.
Let me first make a general statement and say that good drumming is much less about the specific
technique you use and much more about how you use it. There are examples of great drummers,
strong and countless opinions, and good technique on all positions of the stick grip and stroke
discussion. Recently, Modern Drummer magazine did an informal study and estimated that there are
currently 2.5 million Americans who have played drums in some fashion, which would mean that
there are about 2.5 million large or slight variations of how drummers hold and move the sticks.
Although there are some large categories that many of these would fit into, there are limitless
variations, most all of which work pretty well. Why? Because there is more sensory and motor cortex
area in the brain devoted to the fingers and hands than to any other area of the body so there are
many ways to use your fingers, hands, and arms to achieve similar results - our hands are smarter
than we think.
Stick grip and stroke are not separate issues, but interconnected with one affecting the other.
Holding the sticks is much more than simply a binary choice of using traditional or matched grip, and
matched is not just a choice of French, German, American, Hinger, and Amsterdam grips. By the way,
these five grips were developed by timpanists for playing the timpani, which differs greatly from the
drumset in many respects. The issue of technique and the mechanics of physical movement involve
numerous physiological, biomechanical, and neurological components of how our bodies and
nervous systems work and have evolved for centuries.
A Multitude of Ingredients
Again, stick grip is not an isolated issue. How you hold and move the sticks affects, and is affected by,
countless other factors all of which are a part of drumming technique. Here are just a few, but not
* finger, hand, wrist, and arm position and movement;
* stick angle placement in the fingers and hand;
* the fulcrum - what is it and where is it...the 1st finger and thumb, 2nd finger and thumb, 1st
and 2nd finger and thumb, back-of-hand, wrist, other;
* the point where the stick rests on the thumb (middle, tip, either side, or maybe it doesn’t
need to rest on the thumb at all?)
* if you are holding the stick between the thumb and 1st finger, is there a gap, or no gap?
* the point where the stick rests opposite the thumb (the 1st finger? above, below, or in the
crease of the 1st knuckle, in the crease of the 2nd knuckle, using both the 1st and 2nd
* the height and angle of the forearm relative to the upper arm, torso, and to the drum;
* the position of the wrist and hand (flat hand facing down, sideways facing towards the
inside, somewhere in between those two?);
* wrist and forearm motion (wrist stroke only, wrist with residual or intentional forearm
* upper arm involvement in the basic stroke and in movement between drums and cymbals;
* 3rd and 4th finger positions and their role in the stroke;
* the degree of tension in the fingers, hand, wrist, forearm, and shoulder;
* the position and distance of the elbow relative to the torso;
* posture and preferred and optimal seat height and sitting distance and angle from the
snare and foot pedals;
* and, of course, equipment and set-up - the sizes, heights, angles, and distance of the
drums and cymbals.
All aspects of technique and movement must consider and may vary depending on the instrument(s)
that you’ll be playing - timpani, concert snare, drum line, small jazz kit, small electronic kit, large
tour/clinic kit with triggers, and where all of the pieces of your instrument are positioned. The type
of music and volume that you’re playing is also a consideration...Mike Portnoy, Tommy Aldridge,
Cindy Blackman, Carter Beauford, Dave Weckl, Matt Wilson, Steve Gadd, Sherrie Maricle, Tommy
Igoe, Bobby Sanabria, Questlove, Charlie Watts, Anika Nilles, and Gorden Campbell are all amazing
drummers whose techniques are different from each other but that perfectly match their drumming
style and goals. Together, my students and I analyze grip, stroke, and movement as completely
integrated items in an attempt to identify specific elements and variations that work best for each
Countless Combinations
In addition to holding the sticks, there are also some unique combinations of moving them. For
example, some drummers use traditional grip with an outside wrist turn (somewhat similar to
matched grip), while some use matched grip with a more traditional inside turn of the hand and
wrist. The effect of stick choice is also a factor (length, diameter, and finish), and even the
drummer’s age and physique, with traits such as hand and finger size, length of forearms, upper
arms, and legs, height, and body type all contributing. Other factors include open-handed or crossed
high hat playing, the adjustment of stroke and hand and wrist position when playing the high hat and
ride cymbal, range of loudness/volume of playing, and, very importantly, the drummer’s intent.
When you think about all of these things, you realize there truly are unlimited variations, which allow
for room and flexibility for every drummer’s individualized choices and personal tastes. The most
efficient and effective grip and movement for each individual wanting to play the drumset may be
different and cannot be prescribed with a one-size-fits-all solution, nor can they be gotten out of a
book, or determined only by standing or sitting in front of a drum pad, unless of course the goal is to
only play the snare drum.
Natural and Safe Movement
Although there is no singular right, or best, way to hold and move the sticks, there are some general
choices that are more efficient. There are ways that our fingers, wrists, and arms move naturally, our
muscles, tendons, and ligaments function optimally, which used in tandem will result in more rapid
skill development, better concentration on musical playing, and a lowered risk of injury.
Whatever choices we make, we want our grip and stroke to be efficient, effective, comfortable, and
done in a way that will not limit our self-expression and creativity as a drummer. We also want to
take maximum advantage of the physics and sound qualities of the drums, heads, cymbals, sticks,
and their heights and angles, etc. This may all sound very ‘technical’, and it is, and isn’t. We don’t
want to try and rewrite decades or centuries of science, genetics, physiology, kinesiology, and
medicine, but instead use all of this information to our advantage.
Right-handed? Left-handed? Both handed!
As anticipated, we can’t get very far into this conversation without bringing up the ‘elephant in the
room’ - should the fact that you think of yourself as a right- or left-handed individual even be a part
of all of this. Decades of research by medical professionals, neuroscientists, neurophysiologists,
geneticists, and cognitive psychologists firmly point to the answer as being ‘no’. The drumset should
not be cast as a right- or left-handed instrument. Performers at the highest levels demonstrate equal
facility with each hand, regardless of specific grip or drumming and musical role that hand plays. Just
watch any of the aforementioned drummers and try to identify which hand is ‘weaker’. Your
preferred or dominant hand for writing, throwing a ball, or using a toothbrush should not be
considered when making choices about how you play the drums, in the same way that that hand
preference or dominance is not for violinists, pianists, saxophonists, pilots, surgeons, astronauts,
race car drivers, etc. As for fine motor skills, neurally, tactile acuity varies between fingers, but not
between hands, so the strength and coordination potential of each hand is the same. All of the
empirical evidence also dictates open-handed playing for beginning students, not as a manufactured
contrivance, but as the next neurological, natural, and musical step forward. I’ll save an in-depth
discussion about handedness and brain laterality for a future article.
For millions of years, human bodies have evolved to move a certain way, and we, as drummers, can
utilize these to our great advantage. Although, you can teach your hands, muscles, and tendons to
move in some limited ways that are not the most natural, it makes so much more sense to employ
them to move normally, comfortably, and safely to play the drumset. Again, though personal
preference does play into this, how we use our bodies is either helping or hindering our drumming
development and capability.
Accepting the fact that some ways of playing and moving are biomechanically better than others,
here is the one over-riding recommendation I make to all beginning drummers and those who have
compromised technique and facility on the drumset: use matched grip. (Full disclosure: I began
playing drums using traditional grip, but have long since changed to matched grip for all of my
playing.) Traditional grip can be mastered and there are countless great examples of this, but it’s a
much more difficult technique to develop, with a higher risk of injury and possibly compromised
Recommendation for Beginners and Some Others
When starting off playing with traditional grip, you may be handicapping yourself by using a different
stroke with your weaker hand than your dominant one (weaker only because you may not use it as
much in your life away from drumming). The weaker-hand grip requires utilizing smaller less-used,
and evolved muscles moving in ways that they, and the tendons are not at their most efficient. In so
doing, your weak arm might never catch up to your physically more preferred/dominant arm that is
using the stronger more evolutionary developed muscles. With matched grip, you use the same
strong muscles and tendons in each arm, allowing your drumming skills to develop more rapidly and
evenly. Contemporary drumming, in all styles of music, requires bimanual facility. When playing, our
hands are coordinated but uncorrelated, meaning they share different parts of the same or similar
rhythms. Consequently, there’s no reason to learn a completely different technique and
muscular/neural movement for each hand.
Examine the Evidence and Understand the Research
I won’t try to change the grip of my students, but it is my responsibility to point out and explain all of
the issues related to choices about technique, including sensorimotor movement, physics, and
sound, in order that they become knowledgeable and capable of making informed educated
decisions for themselves. Instead of handing down absolute edicts on technique, I prefer to help
students think through issues in a more examined and objective way. Sometimes I’ll ask a student
why they’re using a specific stroke or a particular technique and they’ll say something like “that’s
how I learned”, “that’s how it’s done”, or “that’s how (name of favorite drummer) does it.” These
should not be the primary reasons of how we choose to play.
Drumming can be a complicated and difficult skill to develop, especially to a professional level, but
also an incredibly satisfying and rewarding one at any level. The skill, technique, dexterity,
coordination, and musical mastery required to perform in most settings today, exceed those that
were required 50 or even 20 years ago. The musical circumstances and equipment limitations that
gave rise to choices about technique have changed, and as the music and equipment has evolved, so
should we, continuing to grow and learn and improve our playing, learning, and teaching.
Limited and Unlimited Options
Finally, there are those whose perseverance, love of playing, and indomitable spirit transcends all
norms of technique. They are proof that desire and dedication are the most important ingredients,
and which technique you use is less important than how you use it. Here are just three examples of
drumming heroes whose determination, strength of character, and great playing is inspirational:
* Daniel Potts, who doesn’t have arms and holds the sticks with his feet and plays incredibly well;
* David Segal, was born with arthrogryposis, affecting the development of his hands, legs, and feet,
and required 20 surgeries. He has no right-hand wrist-flexion and a virtually non-functional
left hand. (David leads Can-Do Musos, Inc., an organization that provides guidance and hope
to all musicians with challenges);
* Ray Levier, a world-class jazz drummer who had to learn to hold the sticks without most of his
fingers after losing them in a fire;
* and the thousands of others who fight every day to overcome debilitating injuries, birth defects,
and other physical and emotional roadblocks in order to do what they love - play drums.
In closing, technique and physical motor movement is a multi-dimensional, multi-variant prospect,
with a high degree of latitude for individual choice and preference, ideally after full consideration of
each choice and its consequences. Each choice we make produces certain results, but there is no
one-way to play.
Feel free to contact me with your thoughts - I’d love to hear from you. Good luck and have fun!
Marc Dicciani is a University Dean at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, a Professor of
Drumset, and an international touring artist and drum clinician. He can be reached at
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