Why This Approach to Technique?
I’ve chosen this approach to matched grip as an introduction because it is consistent with the method books used in our public school system, and can be used as a reference for local private students.
Gary Chaffee, former Chairmen of the Percussion Department at Berklee College of Music describes matched grip in his in his book Rhythm and Meter Patterns—
“..the stick is held between the pad of the thumb and the first joint of the first finger. (This is referred to as the fulcrum.) A space should be visible between the fulcrum fingers. This is done to allow the stick some turning flexibility without necessarily involving the wrist.
The remaining three fingers are placed lightly on the stick, so as to be in a useable position. Also, the stick is not held tightly against the palm, but is positioned slightly away from it. This gives the fingers some room to move the stick.
The butt end of the stick should line up approximately at the center of the wrist line. This allows the wrist to turn in a relatively straight up and down motion, which is by far the easiest and most practical.
Finally, it should be understood that with all the differences in hand size, stick weight and length, etc., one can and should expect variations from individual to individual in these holding procedures. There are, in fact, many different versions of the matched grip, and the student may find it helpful to experiment with a number of different possibilities.”
The Benefits of Starting With Matched Grip
There are two main benefits to learning matched grip first. You are learning only one technique at a time, as opposed to traditional grip where you are learning palm down in the right hand and palm up in the left. The wrist is in it’s most natural and powerful position, as opposed to French timpani grip where the primary advantage is finger control but with limited wrist motion.
Other Approaches to Hand Technique
There are advantages to learning multiple approaches—French timpani grip is excellent for finger control and allows placement of the thumb on top of the stick to control rebound. Most jazz drummers play French grip on the ride cymbal at fast tempos for this reason. Traditional grip takes advantage of the strong fulcrum between the base of the thumb and palm, rolling the left shoulder back to encourage upright posture. There are subtle advantages to playing with the fulcrum at the first knuckle of the index finger, with the fulcrum at the first knuckle of the middle finger, with space around the fulcrum and with the hand closed.
I would encourage you to keep an open mind and explore a variety of approaches. After deciding on one, stick with it until it is no longer the limiting factor in your progress. At that time, expand your technical vocabulary to include other approaches. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Eventually you will find the best approach for each application and the best fit for your personal anatomy.
Below are two hand technique exercises I’ve found extremely effective for my students. They are simple drills you can memorize and have with you wherever you go.
Triplet Chops Builder
This is an exercise based on the triple stroke roll. I learned this from Scott Amendola and have seen it passed around in a variety of forms since. Basically you are starting with one set of triplets in each hand, building up to four sets of triplets in each hand and then back down to one. Experiment with accenting the first of each group of triplets and also playing evenly with no accents. I would recommend practicing with a metronome set at the fastest speed your left hand (if right handed) can play four sets of triplets.
There are two extremes 1. Holding the sticks firmly and following each stroke with the fingers closed. 2. Freely bouncing the sticks as if dribbling a basketball with the fingers loosely following. The goal is to find a perfect balance between the two extremes—and to have the flexibility to adjust that balance to suit a variety of musical situations.
This exercise is designed to build your accent (playing loud strokes) and rebound (bounce) control. Naturally, when you play an accent, the stroke is higher. If you were to drop a basketball on the floor, it would start high and gradually get quieter and faster. The placement of accents and strokes in this exercise is designed to follow that natural rebound pattern while building your single, triple and consequently double stroke roll speed.
For more in-depth technique exercises, I recommend learning the rudiments and picking up a copy of the book Stick Control: For the Snare Drummer by George L. Stone. This is the classic, universally excepted technique book—simple and extremely effective.
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