What’s this? Yet another article and opinion on traditional vs. matched grip? Will it ever end? Maybe not! But what’s wrong with that? That only inspires innovation and creativity.
As sort of a preface, let me give you a little background. As I’ve mentioned previously (go ahead, check my previous blog entries if you haven’t already!), my drumming influences growing up all used matched grip – all of them: Neil Peart, Alex Van Halen, Alan White, Peter Criss, and so on. When I was a wee little lad I didn’t even know there was another way to hold sticks – no other way was even logical. You hold the sticks the same way, then both hands can pretty much do the same thing. Eventually, of course, I did see drummers hold the sticks differently, even if I didn’t know it had a name. I always wondered why some drummers held sticks that way (traditionally speaking).
Then I started noticing more drummers, particularly in jazz, using the traditional grip, and I couldn’t understand it. What benefit was there to hold the stick that way? When I had a chance to try both grips, the traditional grip was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t stand it! Mind you, I never took lessons, even to this day (which I’m working on, actually – more on that in a future article), so I never had someone teach me the nuances of the traditional grip. When I got a drum set in my teens, you guessed it: matched grip all the way.
Well I couldn’t just ignore the huge amount of fantastic drummers that only used traditional grip (or at least used it most of the time). We have the “problem” of arguably the best drummer of all time, Buddy Rich, playing the traditional grip almost exclusively. He did at times use matched grip, but for the most part it was traditional. Anybody gonna argue with him as to what grip was better? Steve Smith, currently one of my favorite drummers, swears by traditional grip as well, even though on occasion he too switches to matched grip.
So really, what’s the deal with traditional grip? Now this is history anybody can look up, but to save you, my precious reader, some time, I’m going to sum it up, if you don’t know it already. The traditional grip was a solution to the problem marching drummers had way back when who slung the drum over the right shoulder, thus having the drum hang over their left side. In actuality, matched grip was used first, so it really is the traditional grip!
But I digress. When the drum was slung over on the left side, it was difficult to use the same grip on the left hand as the right. The left elbow had to come up considerably so that the drum head could be struck properly. To alleviate the left-handed grip, the “traditional” grip was devised for the left hand where the butt of the stick rested in the fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and index finger, and the rest of the stick continued through the middle and ring finger, with support from the index finger folded in. This allowed the left arm to rest more comfortably on the side, and thereby allowing easier control of both sticks on the drum.
As time passed, and drum kits started to pop up, this “traditional” grip stuck around, and with the jazz scene increasing, this was the grip of choice. There were a lot of fantastic drummers using this grip, and I don’t think it was questioned very much.
The matched grip, although used, was not the popular grip of choice until most likely about the time that Ringo Starr came around with The Beatles. We know how popular they were, so more aspiring drummers started using the matched grip more extensively. And as time went on, more and more drummers from the rock scene were adopting the matched grip, while the traditional grip remained more popular in jazz.
In analyzing the above, what can we conclude about why the traditional grip came to exist at all? It was a solution to a problem, the problem being the slanted hanging drum on the left side of the drummer. Naturally speaking, the matched grip is a more comfortable grip for the hands. The total amount of muscles used for matched grip exceeds the amount used for traditional grip, which actually allows for more flexibility. This is especially true in a drum kit setting. You will notice that for some drummers that play with the traditional grip, they slant their snare drum a bit to accommodate the grip they’re using. You’ll also notice that for most forms of percussion that require sticks or mallets, matched grip is almost exclusively used.
So why is the traditional grip still used? Why do so many drum teachers still emphasize it? Well, it’s tradition! Generation after generation have taught it, and I believe it won’t go away, nor should it, for reasons I'll discuss shortly.
I am of the strong belief that if you’re going to learn how to play drums, you should start off with the matched grip. It simply gives you more options around a kit than does the traditional grip. The traditional grip is more specialized, and if you really, really want to learn it, then by all means, do so! But not at the expense of the matched grip.
I’ve heard (and we’ve all heard) arguments from both sides as to why this grip is better than that grip, real drummers play traditional grip, and the like. Me personally, the matched grip has more advantages. I’ll just name a couple. One, it is easier to play “open handed,” or using your left hand to play the hi-hat using matched grip, than with traditional grip. This opens up a whole range of playing options that are just too difficult to pull off with the traditional grip. I think that’s a huge a benefit. Another advantage is that the traditional grip somewhat limits your reach of drums and/or cymbals on you left side (or right side if you're a lefty drummer), which would be reached easier if you’re playing with a matched grip. This is especially true for drummers that have many percussive instruments in their kits all around them.
I concede that, if you get really, really good, a drummer with a traditional grip can play exceedingly well, and there are many drummers using traditional grip that are stellar. This grip may allow for a little more nuance in playing, possibly for ghost notes for instance. Some drummers also cite that when they play with the traditional grip, they seem more inspired and play more instinctively. But then again, some of those play matched grip as well!
A good drummer will have as many “tools” in their “toolbox” as possible that will make them a better player. Although I advocate more emphasis on matched grip, there’s nothing wrong at all with learning the traditional grip as well; it’s just that I wouldn’t learn it at the expense or in lieu of the matched grip. Learn it, play it if and when it feels right, then switch back to matched when need be. It also depends on the music being played. Jazz tends to lend itself to playing traditional grip due to the nuances required, and usually it is not played with a lot of force. Compare that to rock, or metal, where playing matched grip is almost a must due to the force needed to play those genres of music (although Stewart Copeland makes a great case for playing traditional grip with force – read “Taken to School, Reprise”).
So what can we conclude? I believe that if anything at all can make you a better drummer, then by all means strive to get better at that. With all being said, I have absolutely no problem with using traditional grip. I think it looks really cool! I am focusing on my matched grip playing now, and developing hand speed and working on certain rudiments. But when I get that down pat, I’m going to add the traditional grip to my “toolbox,” because although I don’t think it mandatory, I do think it a great addition to my repertoire. I also think it a great addition to all drummers' repertoire!
I would love to hear your take on this topic as well, so feel free to let me know what you think about it. Maybe I left something out, so let me know! All comments welcome.