Drums Learning System

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Book Review – “Stick Technique” by Jim McCarthy

by Omar on August 23, 2009

in Book Review

Disclosure: If you make a purchase through a link in this review, I will receive a commission. TheParadiddler.com recommends that you do your own independent research before purchasing anything. Of course, since my business rests completely on my reputation, I can't afford to recommend anything that isn't fantastic quality. - Omar Alvarado, The Paradiddler

Welcome to another edition of The Paradiddler. Today we'll review a most excellent product that will assist drummers with their drumming technique. It is "Stick Technique", by Jim McCarthy.

What is it that we want, fundamentally, as drummers? That differs from drummer to drummer, as we each have different goals we want to reach. Some of us want to play in a band and play cover songs. Others might want to go all the way and write their own songs and maybe make it big someday. Still others are content with just playing for themselves, playing covers and what not, for the challenge of nailing the song. In any of these scenarios, we want to play as best as possible. We want to look (and feel!) like we know what we're doing. We want to feel comfortable 'in the pocket', have nice groove, and not feel forced. We want our movements to be fluid, and to be able to easily reach any of the pieces of our kit.

To achieve this, we look for ways to improve ourselves through education. Many of us take drum lessons with a teacher. In addition to this (or instead of this), some may also look to DVDs, books, CDs, and the like, that teach specific techniques. We may find that our hands are not as fast as we'd like them to be. Or maybe we want to better our double-bass skills. Whatever the case, we want to learn more and get better.

In my case, I have a lot to learn all around! If you've read my story, you saw that I'm a self-taught drummer. Most of what I know was from air drumming. Of course, that can only take you so far. And that 'so far' is where I found myself. My hand speed was dismal. I had difficulty moving around the kit fluidly. I was never sure about throne height (something I'm still trying to figure out). So I decided to try and search for some instruction, a program, that could help me improve.

Among all the things I knew I needed to improve, I decided to focus on my hands. That seems like the obvious place to start; after all, we're drummers, right? It's mostly about the hands, isn't it? Surprisingly, not everyone feels that way. Many will take up the sticks and just start banging away, regardless of technique. Many newbies want to start double-bassing like Thomas Lang right off the bat. But I knew that if I wanted to be fast and fluid, I had to develop good hand technique first.

So I started scouring the Internet. This in itself is a daunting task. I didn't want to obtain a program focusing on drum rudiments, because, even if I learned them, would my 'stick technique' be correct? I wanted to go all the way back to basics, even as far back as how to hold the sticks properly, be it traditional or matched grip. After much searching, I came across Jim McCarthy's "Stick Technique" ebook. And I have to say, I am very impressed.

First a little bit about Jim McCarthy. He's been teaching drumming and stick technique to students of all ages for about 20 years. He was awarded a Master's degree in music performance from the University of Adelaide in 1996. What's interesting about his approach is that he not only explains in copious detail the proper way to hold the sticks (the 'how'), he also explains the why. This is very important, because later on in his career he chose to switch from traditional to matched grip, explaining that this is the better grip overall. He goes on to explain the physiological reasons why it makes more sense to emphasize learning matched grip for greater control. But don't let the 'physiological' scare you - Jim's writing style is very easy to follow.

The foundation of Jim's book is basically that if you hold and control your sticks correctly, the rest will follow. The 'technique' that Jim is emphasizing is the actual control of the sticks. Basically, if you get this down, you can make the sticks do whatever you want. And folks, that's what it's all about!

Many of us may take for granted how we hold the sticks, and how much a profound effect this has on our overall drumming. Jim goes on to explain aspects of the fulcrum, and helps determine where on the stick the optimum fulcrum point is. The gist of it is that you want to hold the stick at the spot where it will rebound most easily, thereby resulting in less effort on your part to play the drum. He goes on to explain how to determine the optimum fulcrum point using either traditional or matched grip. As I found out, I had no idea how to determine the optimum fulcrum point - now it's very clear.

Another aspect of optimum stick technique is your position behind the drums. Positioning your snare when standing (or sitting behind your kit) too high or too low can drastically affect your ability to efficiently manipulate your sticks. Jim goes on to explain how to determine what is the best position for optimum and efficient movement around the kit.

There is a very important section of the book which goes on to explain the merits of emphasizing matched grip over traditional grip. In my article "Traditional vs. Matched Grip - The Paradiddler's Take" I explained the history of the grips and why in the end the matched grip is more effective overall. Jim takes it a step further and goes on to explain in convincing fashion not only why matched grip is more effective overall, but also gives logical and physiological reasons why it's better! One excellent rationale given is that, and I quote:

"A drummer spends so much time working on making the hands sound even. Surely it has to be easier to make both hands sound the same, if they are both doing the same thing!"

The logic is undeniable. Conversely then, if your hands are holding the sticks totally differently, it is unlikely they can be developed the same way, hence more difficult to make them play evenly.

The author goes on to explain a very unique form of practicing that will greatly improve your control and dynamic range on the kit. It has to do with four particular types of strokes that incorporate the natural rebound of the stick and the pivot points in your arms that create the strokes, namely your fingers, wrists, and elbows. Combining these strokes comprises the exercises Jim explains will enable better stick control and be able to more efficiently and fluidly traverse the drums on your kit. This is the cornerstone of the course and practicing these exercises will bring about the desired improvement in stick control.

Mr. McCarthy also shows how to incorporate these practice routines in different combinations to apply them to the drum rudiments, which as we know, are the vocabulary of a drummer. The more 'vocabulary' you know, the more you can 'speak' drums, per se. And learning and mastering these sticking techniques is like working on drum 'diction' - the pronunciation of that vocabulary.

Another section of the course I liked is 'The Drum Kit' section. Here Jim goes into detail regarding the optimum setup of your kit for maximum speed and control. The positioning of the drums, and your position behind the kit, are intertwined as far as your efficiency around the kit goes. Not only is the positioning of the arms, linear vs. independence, and sticking patterns discussed in relation to the kit, but foot techniques are discussed as well. He goes into very useful detail regarding bass pedals and hi-hat positioning.

And for those of you who already have good stick technique (or plan to have it someday!), there's a section dedicated to maximizing sound and showmanship. Playing near the edge, rimshots, rimclicks, playing stick on stick, and the like are discussed in detail. The Moose Call is also discussed (you'll just have to buy the course to know what that's all about!). Visual effects are also discussed in great detail such as:

  • Twirling
  • Spinning
  • "Windscreen Wiper"
  • The "Flip" and "Toss"
  • The "Flip-Across" and "Toss-Across"
  • and much more

The author also goes on to mention hints on effective practicing routines and practicing and preparing for a performance. It's not just about practicing - you want to show off! If your goal is to play for show, these tips will help you. As far as practice goes, Jim stresses strongly that it's all about quality, not quantity. If you try to play fast just for the sake of playing fast, it most likely will sound very choppy. The focus is to practice slowly, mastering the techniques at the slower speed. Once perfected, speed it up! This will ensure smoother rolls, and greater speed around the kit.

Included with the course is a free critique from Jim McCarthy himself! After practicing the techniques he teaches, when you feel like you've done as much as you can but still think you could do better, you can send him a video of your playing, and he'll let you know where you can improve. That right there can very much justify the price of admission! He also includes four videos explaining some of the techniques he teaches in the course, especially the 'cornerstone' practice strokes.

If I had to pick a negative about the course, I would prefer that the author include some more videos about some of the concepts he teaches. I would like to see him demonstrate some of the more specific concepts he describes in greater detail. I think also the video quality of the included videos can be improved a little to make them look more professionally done. One video I would really like to see is of Jim playing a drum solo, with multiple camera angles, showcasing how his method for stick technique has made him the chops master that he is. This would give even more credibility to an already credible course. However, the book does have many pictures and illustrations to help with the explanations, which definitely is a plus.

But the above are really minor issues. There's so much more included in the course that I could not possibly go over all of it here. I hope this is enough to wet your appetite to go ahead and purchase the course, because I highly recommend it. At $37.00, I believe it's a steal for the wealth of information included in its 106 pages. Jim not only gives you the how of his technique, but the why, in great detail. It shows that he knows what he's talking about, with how much he himself has studied the subject, coupled with the many years he's spent teaching it.

I personally have benefited from the information contained in the course. It has made me go back and analyze how I view the kit in relation to my body, and to pay strict attention to the details of how I hold the stick. I have a ways to go yet before I'm flying all over my kit. I'm an eternal student, as many of us are. Sometimes we don't know the way. But now I have a path, a direction, to better stick control, and hence to better drumming, that I can follow. I give "Stick Technique" by Jim McCarthy eight out of ten paradiddles  🙂 . Highly recommended!

To go to Jim McCarthy's web page for more details and to purchase, click here.

Other products worth checking out by Jim McCarthy (hover pointer over image for description):

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