Welcome to the wonderfully expansive and creative world of drumming!
Your first exposure to the drum kit might have been hearing a ridiculously well-timed and executed fill from your favorite rock song, or even hitting pots and pans as a kid.
Regardless of how you have come to this point of picking up this instrument, there is a big detail that is often neglected when it comes to the drum set. And that is, "What is the proper way to hold a drumstick?"
Although it might seem very intuitive and self-explanatory, we’ll discuss different ways you can grip drumsticks, how they affect your bio-mechanics, and ultimately how these differences translate into technique and playing.
Wondering which pair of drumsticks to buy? Check out our guide on how to finding the best drumsticks for your playing style right here.
Too Loose, Or Too Tight?
Now, there are a few principles that apply for nearly every known grip and hand technique for holding drums.
The first of these is to hold your sticks loosely.
There is a sweet spot between holding your sticks so loosely that you’re throwing them around, making drumming a dangerous hobby for those around you, and so tightly that you choke your sticks, which causes the nerves, tendons, and muscles involved to tense up. Holding your sticks too tightly also makes it hard for the rebound to work in your favor - something you definitely want to pick up as you learn how to become a better drummer.
Once you find this sweet spot, you’ll know, as the technique will come together and make the process of drumming more efficient, easier, and more fun.
The next fundamental principle that also falls under the umbrella of grip is utilizing the fulcrum properly. The fulcrum is the point on which your stick pivots between your fingers, but to think that the finger fulcrum is the only one that operates when you generate a typical stroke of the drumsticks is overly simplistic.
The finger fulcrum is the one that will vary less depending on technique, but it's important to note that your wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints act as additional pivot points to further coordinate movement of the drumstick.
Proper drumstick technique will involve all of these different joints and the associated muscles, but the extent to which they are used will based on your drum stick grip.
Remember, you are NOT playing like a monkey doll where you are swinging your arm in a robotic fashion. The execution of a single stroke should flow seamlessly with none of your joints being overly stiff.
We’ll start with the grip that might be considered as the odd one out. Ironically, traditional grip is actually referred to as “orthodox grip.”
It originated with military drummers, as they had difficulty utilizing a matched grip due to having a snare drum awkwardly hanging off of one shoulder. With this obstacle, the drummers of that time developed the traditional grip to accommodate the 45 degree angle at which their drum was facing towards their dominant hand.
To utilize traditional grip, balance the drum stick between your thumb and index finger of your non-dominant hand with your palm facing downwards. Where the stick is resting and balanced represents the finger fulcrum. Now turn your hand to have your palm facing upwards with your ring and pinky fingers slightly curled inwards. Close your grip using your thumb and index finger.
Unlike matched grip, your non-dominant hand will utilize a different striking motion due to the need to inwardly rotate your wrist. This motion is similar to turning a doorknob, clockwise if using your left hand and counter-clockwise for the right.
Matched grip, as its name implies, is a grip in which both of your hands are “matching,” mirroring each other and utilizing the same technique to strike the drums. There are a few variations of matched drum grips, all of which have been developed for slightly different purposes, but these differences are minor when comparing them to traditional grip.
The first of matched grip techniques, the German grip allows for utilization of more power. The main point in German grip is that the palms are laid flat, completely parallel with the head of the drum, with the sticks forming a small slice of pie over the drum. Due to the parallel nature of the hands, it requires a combined use of the wrist, fingers, and inner forearm muscles. This combination allows for the generation of power.
In contrast to German grip, French grip goes the opposite direction, with the palms facing inward and perpendicular to the drumhead and the sticks essentially working on a completely vertical plane. This shift in stick positioning also changes the musculature that is involved in playing, removing some of the wrist, and engaging the smaller muscles in the palm and fingers more heavily. This is thought to translate into greater drumstick control and finesse, also leading to increased speeds. The change in grip also brings in the elbows closer to the core of the body.
Last is the American grip, which is just essentially a hybrid between German and French grip. This means the palms are neither fully parallel or perpendicular to the drumhead. Most beginner drummers end up adopting this grip as it is often the most comfortable and ergonomic without taking into consideration the differences in technique.
Which Grip Should You Use?
Why do different drummers hold their sticks differently?
Those who use traditional grip tend to come from either marching band, primarily snare drum players, jazz, or other musically trained backgrounds. Although there are unique abilities of the grip, its main advantage is actually in the aesthetic appeal of the grip.
Now, assuming at this point that traditional grip isn’t the default method that feels more comfortable to you, you’re left with some form of matched grip.
So then, which one is the best for you? Although all of these different grips utilize different muscles and the bio-mechanics behind the generation of a single stroke slightly differ, it ultimately comes down to what is more comfortable and consistent for you. You may notice that you can generate a lot more power using the German grip, but if that grip leads to inconsistent dynamics, you might be better off using a grip that is more uniform like the American grip. If you want nothing but subtle dynamics and control, then French grip is probably what you are looking for.
All of these grips were created because they worked for someone, and you’ll need to experiment to find the one that works best for you!
Once you find a grip that is comfortable for you, please remember that this may change as your drumming career develops, and don’t be faithful to only one grip. You may find that utilizing certain techniques are harder with a certain grip or that you might even need to just slightly shift the orientation of your palms to get better rebound off of the drum surface. This may even change based on the weight distribution and size of your sticks. The diameter and weight distribution can affect how comfortable a certain grip will feel for those particular sticks.
Conclusion - How To Hold Drum Sticks
Go grab a pair of drumsticks and experiment! There is no wrong or right way with drumming (unless you are causing self-injury), and that’s the beauty behind the instrument. Everyone will develop their own unique grooves, beats, and style that stems from their taste, creativity, kit, cymbals, and even their grip.
Even if you don’t have the luxury of having a drum set at home that you can utilize for practicing, don’t worry; you can always get a nice practice pad, like this highly reviewed Evan's 2-Sided Practice Pad, or just find a bouncy surface to play with your sticks. If you’re in this situation, read our article on How To Practice Without a Drum Set. It’ll provide other basic tips that will act as a foundation for your drumming.
Now go out there and enjoy yourself and the process!