Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why Traditional Grip


When I began playing drums as a youngster, the only role models I was aware of all played matched grip. I don't recall if I considered or even knew about the traditional grip at the time, so I played matched grip. When I began to take lessons, my first teacher made no effort to convert me. A wise move, I think.

Not too many years later, I switched over to traditional grip. I don't know if it was because of a teacher, the example of my peers, or the drummers I was worshipping at the time, and I played traditional grip throughout my professional career. Only once did anyone suggest I switch to matched grip, and that was my timpani instructor. Then (as you may know) I was forced to leave music because of hearing damage.

Quite a few years passed before I felt I could pick up the sticks again. And because it had been so long since I'd played, I opted for matched grip rather than going through the trying process of reacquiring traditional grip. And that seemed to be OK . . .  that is until I began to get a bit more serious about it.

One of my objections to matched grip is the way it almost forces you to address the drums. And while it worked well for rock, I found it limiting for jazz and lighter styles. But what really did it for me was the physical feel of it. What I wanted was for my left hand to feel and work the same way as my right hand, and that was not happening with matched grip. When I was just bashing about, no problem. But when I wanted subtlety and consistent articulation, matched grip wasn’t working for me --  it felt too unnatural. And so one day I arbitrarily decided to go back to traditional grip. I have to say that it was basically a good decision. Because my left grip is now completely different, I'm not put off by how it feels when compared to my right hand.

Mel Lewis claimed that he could tell just by listening whether a drummer was playing matched grip or traditional grip. I think there may be some truth to that, as I know that my approach to the drums and even to tone has changed along with the grip.

If anyone were to asked me why I switched back to traditional grip, about all I can say is, "It felt good". And that is probably reason enough to choose one technique over another. So pick the one that works for you, the one that feels right.

Interestingly, I switched to matched grip for playing with brushes. I couldn’t get the impact and sound I was after using traditional grip and so, after experimenting for a bit, I decided to switch permanently. It also helps keep my left hand in shape for when I want to play matched grip with sticks. Totally a win-win!
-rb