Do you want to know how to hold drumsticks? Just snatch one up greedily in either ham hand and hold on tight while you tear into the meat. But if we’re talking about actual wooden drumsticks for drumming, there’s a bit more to it than that.
People have been playing drums with sticks for as long as there were drums, or even longer. People probably started using sticks to bang on hollow logs, stones, and just about anything else. But these days, getting a good grip on your drumsticks is essential to rock a drum set.
Let’s get into the basics of holding drumsticks so that you have the right power, control, and flexibility you need to get the most out of your drumming.
This is going to be a revelation – a matched grip is when you grip the drumsticks in each of your two hands the same way. Wowee! Now that we have the definition business out of the way, let’s get a bit more technical.
In a matched grip, both the left and right hands hold the sticks, brushes, or mallets pinched between the middle knuckle of the pointer finger and the thumb. Your other fingers wrap around and add more gripping power when needed.
Sounds pretty simple, but there’s more…
There are three variants of the matched grip for drumsticks that give you different levels of power and finesse. They are the French Grip, the German Grip, and the American Grip. Here are the details…
Here’s how to hold drumsticks with a French Grip:
- Hold out your hands with your thumbs up and your palms facing each other and parallel.
- Curl your index finger and place the sick in the crook of your second knuckle. Pinch it there with your thumb.
- Wrap your other fingers around to complete the grip. Your hands should stay nearly parallel and your elbows in close to your body for better control.
Go ahead and try it out. What you’ll likely see is that the French grip is used primarily for controlled double bounces and rolls. It gives you more control and finesse, so it’s used a lot in orchestral and jazz playing. It’s picky and relaxed. I wonder why it’s called the French Grip?
To hold your drumsticks with a German Grip:
- Hold out your hands with your thumbs pointing at each other and your palms facing down.
- Curl your index finger and place the sick in the crook of your second knuckle. Pinch it there with your thumb. This is the same as in the French Grip.
- Wrap your other fingers around to complete the grip. Your hands face more downward, and this will force your elbows far out to the sides, resulting in about a 90-degree angle between your sticks.
As you can probably imagine, the German Grip gives you a lot more power because you are taking advantage of the hinge of your wrist. Try this out in comparison to the French Grip, and you’ll notice you can play louder and harder, but it will be a lot more difficult to do rolls and bounces.
This is a favorite drumstick grip in rock and other heavy but less detailed drumming styles. This grip is heavy and arrogant. No comment on the name.
The French Grip is elbows tucked and sticks nearly parallel. The German Grip is elbows out and sticks making a near 90-degree angle. So guess what the American Grip is all about? Good old-fashioned compromise.
With so many people from different nations and cultural backgrounds coming to this country, people had to learn to accept traditions from all over and be flexible. The American Grip is a perfect example of a compromise between the heavy German and the finessed French Grips.
Basics of the American Grip…
You hold your hands neither vertical (French) nor horizontal (German) but at about a 45-degree angle. This forces your elbows out a bit, but not as jauntily as the German Grip does.
As a compromise, you get more control than with a German Grip and more power than a French Grip. This makes it a popular grip for players who want both power and detail in their playing.
Of course, no grip is permanent. All you have to do is stick your elbows out more to get more power and in to have more control. Your hands will miraculously follow (they’re attached, you know). So as you work through a song that has different sections, you can change your grip according to what’s required of your drumming.
Traditional Grip – To Match or Not To Match
That is the question. Well, let’s look at how to form a traditional drumstick grip, and then we can start to answer it.
- Hold one stick (usually your rhythm hand) with a French, German, or American Grip.
- Turn the palm of your other hand (usually your snare hand) up to the sky.
- Place the stick across your palm and pinch it between your thumb and index or middle finger.
There are different variations on how to pinch the stick that you can experiment with. From pinch only with the thumb onto an open palm (Scottish pipe band), the pinky (“ancient” grip), etc. But the point is that one hand uses an underhand grip while the other uses an overhand grip.
Well, if this unmatched grip seems awkward to you, there is definitely a reason why it was developed. In the olden days, military drummers used to march with their field drums slung over one shoulder, usually the left.
This made the drum head angle over to the right. And that’s a good thing because they could march and play without constantly banging their knees on their drums. But it made it really awkward to play an overhand grip with their left hands. You’d really have to wing your elbow up and out, and that just wasn’t practical.
So they developed an underhand grip that was comfier…
The downside of the underhand grip is that it uses fewer muscles, so each muscle you do use gets more of a workout. You have to build up strength to play this grip properly, so many people don’t bother to learn it.
Those who do, however, swear that it gives you much better control for double and triple bounces and rolls on your snare. Even if you might have to sacrifice power, that’s why you’ll see a traditional grip still used by jazz drummers but hardly at all in rock.
Love Playing the Drums?
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How to Hold Drumsticks Properly
So there you have it – four somewhat different ways to hold your drumsticks for different effects. And if you’re still having trouble holding your drumsticks, you can always try grip enhancers like Gorilla Snot or grip tape. You can build up your grip strength with grip strengtheners for those grueling drumming marathons. Or just tape your sticks to your hands.
Whether you play with a matched or unmatched, French, German, or American grip, practice it, build up strength, and make it your own.
Until next time, let the beat go on.