Drumming: Hand or Finger Technique? Using the “Whole Machine”

Developing technique is a looooong process. Probably a life-long process. Drummers are similar to athletes and weight lifters in the sense that our development is directly tied to muscle memory. When the muscles are conditioned, you can execute the task more effectively. Technique is everchanging with respect to one’s muscular capacity. That is not to say you have to be jacked to play the drums. The training we endure has more to do with reflexes than body mass. But certain concepts are unattainable if the muscles aren’t conditioned for the job. I believe it all starts with technique and continues to circle back to technique throughout a drummer’s evolution.

Grip

Most drummers decide early in the process whether they want to use matched grip or traditional. Some mix it up depending on what they are playing. Some gravitate toward grips reliant on wrist mobility. Some prefer to use their fingers. I made the mistake of being complacent with my technique early on. I had a solid command of my instrument using a matched grip with an emphasis on my wrists. It seemed like it was enough… Then along the way, I realized I could do different things using more of a French grip grounded in finger technique. But I couldn’t quite figure out how to go back and forth in real time. I didn’t understand how to apply finger technique into my playing outside of simply practicing the exercises.

Then I heard it!

A drummer colleague of mine put it into a perspective that changed drumming for me. He told me to use the WHOLE MACHINE… It was so simple but so mind-blowing for me. It put a million thoughts, memories and struggles into crystal clear view. It bridged a mental block connecting the THEORY of technique to the APPLICATION of it.

Think about your entire arm, from shoulder to fingertips. It’s a collection of muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, veins…. It’s a machine, and our job is to figure out how to use it. Remember when I said it’s a loooong process? That’s because this machine follows a “use it or lose it” science. It is fueled by repetition, movement, frequency, endurance, and is constantly striving to do what it currently can’t do. But if you don’t use the machine, it’s going to get weaker. In that sense, it’s a life-long process. I use a metronome to set endurance goals for myself. If I can play something at 150 BPM absolute MAX, I want to push that boundary. If I accept 150 as the fastest I can play, then it will be the fastest I can play. But the human mind is determined. So I’ll set a goal is to play it at 160 BPM in 2 weeks. Then it’s time to put the machine to work…

The Application of theory

How do you apply the theory of technique to power this machine? You can start with the muscle groups that need to be conditioned. Think about the technique that is most natural to you. Why is it most natural? Which muscles are being worked? Which ones aren’t? Try a technique that is less natural and ask yourself the same questions. Do it again. Through that process, you will tell very quickly which muscles are simply not conditioned to thrive in the machine. Stop looking at technique as “a way you hold your sticks”. See it as a way to condition the machine. It is a human instinct to seek comfort, so it’s no surprise that drummers often find a comfortable grip, a comfortable speed, roll with it, and think nothing more of it. But we must break through our comfort zone to develop the parts of the machine that are the weakest.

Common Techniques and the muscle groups worked:

Consider this more of a calculated observation than a science. You are using many muscles in your hand and arm for each technique, but the areas highlighted in red indicate that central muscles used for each grip.

American Matched grip

The image below shows the right hand only. With American matched grip, you will be holding both sticks the same and using the same muscle groups for a motion that depends largely on wrist movements. You will notice the muscles effected the most run from your fulcrum fingers through the arm, primarily on the posterior side of the arm.

drumming hand technique, American matched grip

French Matched grip

Since the motion of your stick will now depend largely on finger movements, with French grip, you are using the muscles attached to the middle and index fingers. Pay attention to the muscles impacted on both the posterior and anterior sides. You can squeeze those fingers without even holding a stick and see the muscle movements through your arm.

drumming hand technique, French matched grip

Traditional grip

Keep in mind, your dominant hand will likely be using one of the grips above, while your less dominant hand is now holding the stick between the thumb and pointer finger. So naturally, you are now using the muscles attached to the fulcrum fingers, particularly the muscles attached to the thumb.

drumming hand technique, traditional grip

Achieving Results

Now you know the muscle groups you are strengthening when you play as well as the ones you are ignoring completely. Remember, the machine is only as strong as it’s weakest component, so the action plan should include a focused and consistent approach to building muscle memory throughout your arm. The primary muscle groups we use as drummers are between the elbow to fingertips. So while upper arm strength may make you look good, those muscles are of lesser importance for our purposes.

Your technique and comfort feed off one another. Now that your fingers are stronger, you can play a more effective double time swing. Now that your wrist is trained, you can use it to maximize speed. The machine is functioning effectively and as a result, you have smarter muscles, quicker reflexes, and a lot more confidence in your playing. It’s a process that simply doesn’t happen if you remain complacent with technique.

I teach virtual lessons to students all over the country. Contact me to take a drum lesson online of in person if you are in the Philadelphia area. I’ll help you develop your technique, build speed, and take your drumming to the next level.

Take Virtual Drum Lessons for TIPS ONLY

I am now offering virtual drum lessons on a tips only basis. Trying to stay motivated? Taking up a hobby while you’re stuck indoors? Whatever your reason, let’s rock. We can cover whatever you’d like and you pay what the lesson is worth to you.

During times when we are not on a global lock down, students enjoy an in-person lesson setting at my home studio in a Philadelphia neighborhood called Fishtown. While I certainly look forward to having my students back, we have been surprised at the ease of online learning, as I never really did much of it before. It’s actually a lot easier than I thought it would be and much less “clunky” than you may think. There are obvious reasons people prefer to learn the drums in person, such as the one on one dialogue that addresses your needs and the rapport you come to develop with your teacher. But unlike instructional YouTube videos or pre-recorded drum lessons, we can maintain the one on one dialogue in a real-time virtual setting to focus specifically on the areas you are looking to improve.

Lessons take place on Skype or FaceTime, both super accessible and easy to use. I will work with you to get set up so we can make the best of our time together. I accept tips via all major payment platforms: Paypal, Venmo, Cash app, and really appreciate the work. These are weird times, but the virtual abilities of the world are literally boundless. Let’s play the drums!

skype lesson, virtual drum lesson

Drum student learning “Chop Suey” by System of a Down during a virtual drum lesson on skype.

We have moved! Drum lessons will now take place in Fishtown

Effective January 20, 2018 I will no longer be teaching at Philadelphia Music Studios. Lessons will now take place at my home studio in Fishtown, located at

1933 E. Cumberland St.
Philadelphia, PA 19125.

Our rates will remain the same: $30 – 30 minutes | $40 – 45 minutes, but students may also schedule longer lessons depending on availability. Lessons will now be done by appointment as well. Students are encouraged to take consistent weekly lessons for the best results but lessons can also be scheduled on an appointment basis as well.

Contact me today to schedule your next drum lesson.

Our studio is equipped with an electronic Roland TD-1KV.

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5 Important Drum Lessons

When I started teaching drum lessons in the Philadelphia area, I wanted to provide my students with a personalized teaching approach that focuses on their interests and goals.  What I’ve realized is that drum students are often taught what to do, not why they should do it. Here are some helpful tips to take into consideration:

Don’t just learn music theory. Apply it.

Music Theory is an interesting topic to most drummers. A lot of it’s contents are not directly related to drumming. It’s certainly worth understanding from a musical standpoint, but we tend to put more emphasis on the concepts within Music Theory that relate to rhythm and notation, more so than the ones that relate to melody and chord progressions. While it’s debatable as to whether or not that is actually detrimental to a drummer’s growth as a musician, at very least, it’s important that you find ways to apply those theoretical elements. Let’s take a drag… a rudimental note combination that involves a single stroke followed by dragging the stick at the end of the stroke to create two touches on the drum. This right here is the foundation of a drum roll. How can you possibly apply a drum roll to your playing without the fundamental ingredients that are used to put it together. In this case, students need spend a lot of time focusing on drags, using them in different contexts, at different speeds, and developing wrist technique to be able to put a full roll together. In general, students should devote time to understanding the theoretical components within music but then explore ways to apply them to the drum set, in the songs they play, and discover ways to use them appropriately so it’s more than just an exercise used in practice.

Embrace imperfection

One of the biggest setbacks I see is self-inflicted. We have the ability to hold ourselves back so much by  being afraid to make mistakes. This can cause us to avoid practicing certain things or even worse, practicing things the wrong way. I would much rather see a student stumble through a 16 bar exercise playing notes incorrectly, using improper technique, and missing accents than stopping every two measures to redo the part they messed up. There’s an old saying, “you perform how you practice,” and I promise you it will not go over well with your audience if you keep starting a song over in order to get it right. Embrace imperfection. Don’t be afraid do make mistakes. Be afraid of practicing incorrectly.

Develop a structured approach to learning

Most of us don’t just start playing Buddy Rich drum solos week 1, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the model for you to work towards. If you look at a 12 bar solo, at first glimpse it may just seem like a complicated mess of notes with hands flying in all directions. But if you were to break it down, transcribe it, and really understand what is going on, you will most likely find it’s not as complicated as it appears. Better yet, you might take away key things about the ideas used in the solo to help your own playing. Dissect the things your favorite players do. Seek to understand their approach, any technique elements they utilize, and set goals for yourself. We don’t practice paradiddles to simply play paradiddles. But once you can play them at faster speeds, around the drums, in different patterns, they take on a whole new life. Approach everything about the drums that way. Get your hands dirty, roll up your sleeves, and work to understand the mechanics behind it all.

Capitalize on your weaknesses

We all cater to our strengths and for good reason. Those are the areas that make us satisfied with ourselves as drummers. It can  be a trap though. When I take myself out of my comfort zone to try something a little less natural, it often paves the way to an entirely new skill set in the making. Take the right handed drummer that leads every fill with the right hand… that comfort you feel with your right hand; Imagine if you got that with your left hand. Or maybe you’re a rocker with zero interest in jazz. I would advise you to at least pay attention to the components of jazz drumming. You don’t necessarily have to swing like Elvin Jones but I guarantee you exploring jazz drumming will add to your overall drumming arsenal. Bottom line, don’t put things off because they are weaknesses. Improve them and you will be on your way to becoming a very well-rounded player.

Hearing is seeing

Some of us are more visual players. We need to see notes to be able to put rhythms together. Others are less about the notes but have great ears. This means you might be better at learning simply by listening to others play. There is a balance that must be achieved, as both have their value. If you fall into one category over the other, going back to the previous point, spend some time focusing on the less proficient of the two. Since we were children, we’ve been told how our senses must work together. Well drumming is a very sensory process and your limitations will decrease as your senses are leveraged to develop skills. Drummers who play by ear tend to have stronger feel, while drummers who primarily read the notes are typically more precise. Bridge the gap and develop abilities in  both areas to get the most out of your playing.

Songs that made my life better

I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles

This might actually be the single-most important song of my life. It was the first song I ever played on the drums. I just played to it by ear, probably not note for note, and had a lot of fun figuring it out. I sat behind my drums with it on repeat and when a part came up that I messed up the time before, I tried to fix it.  I was able to separate the things I was playing that matched the song and the things I was playing that the drummer on the recording wasn’t. I think this song was my first experience intentionally breaking a boundary on the drums and being innovative.

Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin

I knew Led Zeppelin songs as a kid but didn’t know they were Led Zeppelin songs. As I got more into music, I had that feeling “Wait, this is Led Zeppelin?” a few too many times not to investigate further. So I bought the Live “BBC Sessions” double disc set to see what the rage was all about. The first track on disc 1 is “Immigrant Song”. I then went on to become psychotically obsessed with Led Zeppelin. Being that this was the first song I listened to consciously knowing it was Led Zeppelin, I gotta give credit where it’s due.

Goodnight Saigon – Billy Joel

Well if I’ve ever let my guard down, this would be that time… This is one of few songs that successfully makes me cry every time I hear it… And I lift weights 🙂 War is just about the worst thing that can exist but I’ve never experienced the camaraderie of it, having never actually fought in one. Billy Joel paints a picture of that experience that makes me feel like I’m surrounded by my closest friends fighting with everything we have in the strongest bond of unity. It just pulls all the right strings, emotionally, lyrically, and patriotically.

Money – Pink Floyd

My parents got me a Dark Side of The Moon CD for me on my 13th birthday, which introduced me to Pink Floyd. Money was the track I new best but like most people, I was mesmerized exploring the rest of the album. I started noticing the Floydisms in other bands I was listening to and really grew to appreciate their role in history. And one day, I’d like to by me a football team too 🙂

Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd

This song couldn’t be more appropriately titled. It actually has the ability to reduce stress. When I listen to this song I feel like I’m floating on a cloud through a sunset with rainbows and unicorns all around me… Or something like that. It’s just as advertised, and perfect in every way.

Breathless – Spyro Gyra

This might be a little less obvious to most people but my stank face is in full effect throughout this entire song. I LOVE IT! I LOVE IT! Time passes by and I’ll realize I haven’t listened to it in a while, throw it on, and it’s like the first time I heard it (except now I’ve memorized the drum part). My Dad introduced me to this song somewhere in the early 90s, and the album in which it’s featured: “Three Wishes”. It was probably the first “Jazzy” song I really paid attention to, which most likely stirred my curiosity to know more about Jazz.  Now it’s a huge part of my playing. So I feel pretty strongly that this song changed me as a drummer. Thank you, Dad!

One More Red Nightmare – King Crimson

I’m not sure what it is about this one. It just hits my ears well. The first time I heard it, Prog Rock was a newer sound to me. I liked the weirdness of it and that it didn’t just follow a formula. One More Red Nightmare kind of makes you panic lyrically, being that it’s about an air travel scare, but it does it in a way that sucks you into the song. A simple lead guitar line, a great groove, mixed in with a very appealing rhythms. It pisses me off the Spotify doesn’t stream the original version. Grrr!

 

 

 

My Friend, My Friend – Phish

It would seem pretty ironic how the history played out with this one. My sister had this song on a mix tape sometime in the mid 90s. I heard it and was really drawn into the instruments. It didn’t sound like anything I had heard but there was also something sort of familiar to it. So I bought the CD it was on and actually ended up HATING IT! I would listen to My Friend My Friend every now and then but for the most part, just sort of put the album aside for a few year. I came back to it a few years later when I started to meet more people that liked Phish. From there, the cultural grip that band has on millions sucked me in the same exact way. Some of the best experiences I’ve had in my life were because of this band, and I guess because of this song.

 

25 or 6 to 4 – Chicago

I played this one in my middle school jazz band. It was one of the first performances I ever got a positive reaction to. After playing this song at a school concert, people began to know me as a drummer. Since that moment, it’s only become a more permanent part of my identity.

What Would You Say – Dave Matthews Band

Carter Beauford is probably my favorite drummer ever. I don’t like the word “favorite” but with my life on the line, Carter wins. When this song got me into the Dave Matthews Band, I started paying very close attention to Carter’s style. He was doing things other drummer didn’t do and made the band sound completely different from anything else at that time. So I started playing along to the recordings, learning the parts by ear. It was only months later that I actually began listening to the other instruments. The drums were so great, nothing else really mattered to me. It was later in life I learned the importance of listening to music more holistically, but it was pretty cool this guy made the other instruments invisible to me.