Technique, technique, technique, jeez, won’t my instructor stop hounding me about it? But alas, perhaps there is a reason for this hounding. Let’s not torture your fingers and wrists with harmful technique. Let me clear the smoke on technique methods.
When playing an instrument with the hands and or feet there is a lot of flexing, bending, contortion that is bizarre to your body. Mentioned in this article will be insights not about the proper way of holding a stick, but will instead focus on how to eliminate undue tension when holding the stick properly.
When holding the stick between your pointer finger and thumb, with the back three fingers gently wrapped around the butt of the stick, you want to think about the way the stick moves. No matter if you use match grip or traditional grip the stick moves in an up-down motion; this article will focus on the match stick technique. Remember, you want the 3 fingers to follow the motion of the stick during the swinging portion. Once the bounce is complete the above mentioned fingers gently grips the stick, momentarily, to prevent extra, unwanted bouncing off the drumhead.
The pointer finger and thumb hold the stick in a loose enough manner to allow the stick to pivot during the bounce. Once you are comfortable with finding the looseness needed, move on to the wrist.
The wrist moves in 4 directions, up-down and side-to-side. It is correct to realize that the 3 fingers, middle to the pinky, help control the stick’s motion. The wrist helps initiate the motion of the stick’s travel down to the drumhead. Because the stick is in a sideways position when held in the hand, the wrist is going to turn in a manner that the thumb moves up and down, vertical then horizontal. Practice this until your wrists feels accustomed to the movement. It may feel stiff at first; with perseverance it will loosen up!
Elbows! Your elbows are stronger than your wrists. The elbow moves in two directions, lifting your forearm up and letting it go down. The elbow and wrist works as a team. Your elbow will now be the one initiating the motion, your wrist continues the motion in energy transfer, and then the energy goes through your stick into the head of the drum. Let’s take a look.
Start with your forearm slightly angled up, flexing at the elbow. Your thumb is now pointing towards the ceiling. As you allow the forearm to travel downward your wrist is going to turn, as described above, at the same time. At the end of the stroke the forearm is slightly lower than the elbow. As the stick ricochets off the drumhead, lift your hand by lifting your forearm slightly and turning your thumb back towards the ceiling. In other words, prepare yourself to start the motion all over again for the next stroke.
This applies to both grip methods. Start out by exploring the motions of the arm, wrist, fingers, and stick without concern for rhythm. Once your body gets used to this, practice with simple alternate sticking, right left, or left right depending on which hand is dominant. Build up from then when practicing your grooves and solos. In wrapping up this article I want to make a quick note on posture!
When sitting or standing at a drum, be sure to hold your upper body up. Leaning forward or slouching will cause your hands to be heavy. Proper technique includes allowing your hands to flow freely and lightly. I encourage my students to shift their weight onto their tailbone from the chest and shoulders. Often times this solves problems with heavy hands.
That’s my two beats on the subject of stick technique and relaxation. The less you fight your body and the stick’s motion, and use your friend Law of Gravity, the better the tone of the drum will sound and the less damage you will do to yourself. In this society of instant gratification, be patient! And, be curious! Have fun! Let the light bulbs turn on with realizations!