As you develop as a drummer, you’re going to develop your own signature style. But before you can break the mold and develop your own unique method, you need to understand the tried and tested techniques that work. One of the most fundamental skills for new drummers to master is how to hold their drum sticks.
In this article, we’ll take you through the two main grips for holding your sticks, the matched grip and the traditional grip, as well as the variations within each of the grips. We’ll explain how to achieve the grip and the different drumming situations for which they are appropriate. Because, yes, you will use multiple grips based on different drumming demands.
But, does it really matter if you hold your drumsticks properly? Yes! If you are holding on tight and forcing your arms into an unnatural and uncomfortable position, you could cause yourself an injury as your practice. Bad technique also makes executing your desired beat more difficult, which will stunt your development as a drummer.
In this article, we’ll also take a brief look at drumsticks and the most important elements to consider when choosing the right drumsticks. We’ve also shared our five top picks, but always talk to your teacher to see what sticks they recommend for you.
What Are The Different Ways To Hold Drum Sticks?
When it comes to beginner drummers, there are two approaches to gripping your sticks. There’s the matched grip, which is the most common and sees you hold the sticks the same way in both hands. Then there is the traditional grip, which comes from military marching bands and uses two different hand grips.
Each has its purpose, and yes, you will see drummers using the traditional grip while rocking out on a drum kit. Below, I’ll explain what the grips are most often used for and how to achieve them.
How To Hold Drumsticks With The Matched Grip
The matched grip is so called because you should be holding both drumsticks in the same way, like the matching pair that they are. You will hold the stick around the midpoint, which gives you some space to let the sticks jump off the drum head or cymbal. This is probably the method you’ll learn in your first drumming lesson and then develop to make your own.
This grip is great for drummers who are developing their two-hand drumming since the nondominant hand can more easily copy what the stronger hand is doing. But, there can be some restrictions when you are playing—for example, you can struggle to make full strokes when hitting the hi-hat cross-handed.
There are actually three recognized “variants” within the matched grip. Drummers often develop a preference for one depending on the type of music they usually play.
The powerful German grip is often used for heavy rock drumming, but is less appropriate for the swift nuance of jazz, for example.
Using this method, you’ll hold your hands out in front of you with your palms facing down, curl in your index finger, and place the drumstick between your index finger and thumb. You will want to work the stick into the balance point so you can move the stick using your thumb and index finger as a fulcrum. Your other fingers will curl over the stick to provide support.
When you’re playing, you’ll want to keep your palms parallel to the drum head, which will require you to angle your elbows outwards to give your wrists a good angle.
This grip gives you a nice strong hand for heavy rhythmic tunes.
The loose French grip gives you a lot of freedom and control to move, but also means that you’re doing a lot of work with your fingers to keep the sticks under control. This grip is popular with jazz and funk but can lack the power needed for heavy metal work.
As with the German grip, put your hands palm down, curl your index finger around the stick, and then take the stick between your index finger and thumb. You will curl your other fingers around the drum stick again, but rather than holding it tight, keep your supporting grip loose. This gives the sticks a lot of movement.
When you play, you’ll want your hands facing each other, which means keeping your elbows close in at your sides. Rather than trying to hit the drums heavily with the power of your wrists, you will use the force of your fingers to make out your rhythm.
The French grip lets you play with a speed that is not available with any of the other grips, but it requires quite a lot of work from you and your fingers.
The American grip is really a compromise between the German and the French grip, which allows for a bit more variation if you play a lot of different kinds of beats.
Take the sticks in the same way, with your palms down and gripping the stick between your index finger and thumb at the balance point. Curl your other fingers around for support, tight-ish, but not too tight. You should still feel like the sticks have quite a bit of movement and give in your hands.
When you play, hold your palms at a 45-degree angle with your elbows slightly out. Use the force of your wrists to hit the drums while controlling their motion primarily with your index finger.
You have a lot of energy available when playing with this grip because you’re using both your wrists and your fingers. This also allows for a mix of strength and accuracy.
How To Hold Drumsticks With The Traditional Grip
The traditional grip is what you might have learned if you took up drumming in a marching band. It stems from the practice of military bands that requires the player to wear the snare drum on the side of their body at an angle.
Unlike with the matched grip, your hands won’t be doing the same thing, but this works with a regular drum kit as well as a tilted drum. It’s often preferred by jazz drummers who want to add some character and variation to their beats.
Hold your left hand out in front of you as if you are going to shake someone’s hand, then place the drum stick in the webbing between your index finger and thumb. Reach over and around the stick with your thumb and rest the top of your thumb on the first joint of your index finger.
When you’re playing with this hand, you should let your left hand rotate as if you’re opening a door handle. While you will be giving force from your arm and wrist, your index finger is steadying and guiding the drum stick.
You should hold the right stick with the American matched grip. This basically gives you an underhand grip with your left hand and an overhand grip with your right hand.
If you are left handed, you might want to flip these instructions as your underhand grip should be in your weaker hand.
The traditional grip is still widely used outside marching bands because it produces a great sound for rudimentary drumming patterns, which are commonly used in music styles like jazz. It can also help beginners get started more quickly because some techniques are easier with the underhand grip, such as multiple bounces. But, anyone playing a normal drum kit will need to learn a matched grip as well.
Do You Need To Pick One Drum Grip?
While you will probably develop a preferred drum stick grip, you will probably also use a mix of the different grips depending on the type of music that you’re playing.
If you are playing a delicate, quieter song, then the French grip gives you a nice level of control both in terms of beat and volume. If you want to rock out hard with the best of them, then you might choose an aggressive German grip. It is good to train all the grips and learn which works best for you in different situations.
How Do You Find The Balance Point?
Several times we have mentioned finding the “balance point” for holding a drumstick. But what is this and how do you find it?
When you have the stick at the balance point, you should be able to bounce the stick off the drum with control and handle the rebound without the sticks sliding up or down in your hands.
You can experiment with this by holding the stick and then lifting the tip and letting it drop on the drum to feel the bounce and the rebound. You should feel like you’re able to maintain the bounce on the snare drum as if you’re dribbling a basketball.
As a beginner, once you have found your balance point, you might want to mark it on your stick so you know where to grab it the next time. With practice, finding the balance point will become second nature.
You can read all our tips on becoming a better drummer here.
Hand And Wrist Exercises For Drummers
Having strong and dexterous hands, fingers, and wrists is incredibly important for drumming. While you’ll develop this through drumming, there are also exercises you can do to increase these skills more quickly.
You can work on your grip strength with a traditional metal grip strengthener. If you don’t have one, you can use a tennis ball until you need to upgrade the resistance. You can do sets where you try and squeeze the grip as many times as you can, and also try and squeeze as hard as you can for 10 seconds.
To train your wrist control, you can practice playing your drum sticks on a surface that doesn’t bounce back, such as a pillow, so that you have to put all the energy into lowering and lifting the sticks without the help of bounce back.
You can also benefit from developing the dexterity of your fingers individually. To do this, splay your hands on a flat surface and then tap each finger individually for several beats. You can also teach yourself finger beat patterns. This will give you much more control of the direction and force of your drumsticks.
It is also worth noting the importance of warming up and stretching before drumming to avoid injury. Stretching out your muscles means they are primed for activity and won’t leave you injured if something unexpected happens.
You should always warm up before stretching any part of your body, whether that’s a quick run, jumping rope, or some yoga sun salutations.
As a drummer, you will want to focus your warmup and stretching on your shoulders, arms, and wrists. Shoulder blade rolls and squeezes are a good pace to start, followed by arm rotations, and opening and closing your fists to warm up your hands. This can be followed by short, static shoulder and wrist stretches.
But don’t forget your back and legs as well, which are working hard as you sit in the chair. Some lunges, lower back twists, and calf stresses are the minimum you should be doing before sitting down to a session.
Best Drum Sticks
Of course, as you master your drumming, as well as having a great grip you’re going to want a good pair of drumsticks in your hands. There is actually quite a bit of variety when it comes to sticks, so finding the perfect set is not always an easy task.
First of all, when you look for sticks, you’ll find they are variously numbered, usually something like 5A or 2B. The number refers to the diameter of the stick—the smaller the number the wider the stick.
The letter refers to music style. But what makes this complicated is that there is not a universal system. A 5A stick from one company can be different from a 5A stick from another. As a beginner you may need to experiment until you find something you like.
Drumsticks also have different tips, and there are five accepted variations: oval, teardrop, round, acorn, and barrel. They each produce a different sound when hitting your skins.
- Oval – widest spectrum of sound
- Teardrop – warm and low tones
- Round – clean, bright, crisp sound
- Acorn – full, rich sound
- Barrel – punchy and loud sound
You will also need to choose between wood and nylon tips. Nylon tips tend to produce a bright sound and have more bounce. Wood tips are more “classic” and produce softer and warmer tones.
Looking for a new pair of drumsticks to help you work your grip and technique? Below are some of our top choices available on Amazon.
- Wood (maple)
- Teardrop tip
- Wood (hickory)
- Teardrop tip
- Wood (maple)
- Teardrop tip
- 0.6 inch diameter
- Wood (hickory)
- Oval tip
- 2B, 5A, 5B, 7A, or 747
- 5A = 0.551 inch diameter
- Wood (maple)
- Teardrop tip
- 0.47 inch diameter
Is drumming different for right- and left-handed drummers?
When it comes to your drum sticks, right-handed and left-handed drummers will hold their sticks in the same way if they are using a matched technique. But they will hold them differently in a traditional grip, as you should have the underhand grip in your weaker hand and the overhand grip in your stronger hand.
But drummers may also set up their kits differently based on their hand dominance. While right-handed drummers will usually have their snare drum, hi-hat, ride cymbal, and floor tom on the left, left-handed drummers may choose to move them over to the right. But this is not always the case as it depends on how the individual was trained. The position of the drums is more about reach than force.
Read our guide to how to set up a drum kit here.
Why do drummers hold their sticks differently?
Drummers use different grips based on their personal preference and the type of music they are playing. A heavy hitting rock drummer needs to apply force, while a drummer who’s tapping out a fast but delicate jazz tune needs dexterity. The different grips allow you to prioritize different muscles for force and control to deliver a different kind of rhythm.
Why do drummers still use the traditional grip?
Some people may think that the traditional grip is dated outside the realm of marching bands, but it’s actually a very useful tool when it comes to learning, because the variation in technique between the two hands produces a sound that works well with rudimentary drumming patterns. It can also add a layer of expression in acoustic performances.
How do I make my drumsticks grippy?
While many drumsticks will come with a non-slip grip, there are also things you can do to make them grippy in your hands. You can use linseed oil as a homemade solution or plasti-dip for a more professional finish.
How often do drummers break their sticks?
How often sticks break depends on how often they are used and how intensely you’re hitting. Most beginners will probably find that a pair lasts 3-5 months. When you start to see fraying you can still use them, but it is a sign to order a new pair soon.
How long does it take to learn the drums?
Everyone is different, and how long it takes to learn the drums will depend principally on your dedication to practice and training. As a rule of thumb, most beginners can start playing basic beats that sound decent after 4-6 months, but most people won’t be ready to play with other instruments until they have gone through 10-12 months of training.
Getting your grip on your drumsticks correct near the start of your drumming journey can make a big difference to how fast you progress and how comfortable you feel behind your skins. Taking the time to learn the grips and practice them is a valuable investment.
There are a variety of grips that are suitable for different types of music. It’s a good idea to work on them all rather than just pick one, as you will find that this makes you a much more versatile drummer.
Mastering the traditional grip can be great for beginners and anyone who wants to get into jazz or acoustic drumming. The matched grip is more versatile and can be used in most circumstances. The American grip is a versatile version of the matched grip, while heavy hitters will want to master the German grip, and faster players will want to learn the French grip.