Traditional Grip: My Thoughts on this Discussion
Every now and then I am asked why I don't use traditional grip when I am drumming. For me it's one of two simple answers: I don't like it or it doesn't feel natural to me. They are usually taken aback because they have seen several drummers (and I'm guessing some well known drummers) use traditional grip so they are curious to know why I am not part of that crowd. That's when I say that it serves no purpose to me because I am not playing a drum that is tilted to my right. Again, more confusion so the conversation continues.
I would guess that my teacher was like the teacher that the great Thomas Lang had in his earlier days. In an article written by Dave Constantin in Drum Magazine Lang said that: I learned to play traditional. My teacher said, "This is how you play the drums." No argument, no discussion, this is it, So I did.
I know the feeling at let's be honest about one thing that is true of many advocates of traditional grip: they believe that it is more sophisticated. No argument. No discussion.
Consider this statement from the same Drum Magazine by Constantin where the author offers a common belief among traditionalists: There is a belief that an asymmetrical grip forces a different kind of communication between the hands, resulting in more creative interplay with the limbs.
In my opinion, such a statement is both pretentious and nonsensical because it nothing more than a belief with no basis in reality. After all, how would you test this claim? Of course we also know that most drummers who use traditional grip come from the Jazz world so....well, I guess we can speak more about such a claim in another one of my blogs: http://desertdrummer.blogspot.com/2017/12/jazz-drummers-are-not-any-better-my.html
What does grip have to do with creativity? If that is the case then why play only one form of an asymmetrical grip? Why not take the time to get even more creative and lead with the other hand?
First off, creativity doesn't just happen when you're sitting in front of your instrument. You can be walking down the street and come up with a great musical idea. What does that have to do with your grip? If you play multiple instruments you can be playing your guitar and come up with a cool riff and then hear a great drum beat in your head. Again, no grip involved. And, sometimes the great idea comes from a band mate who suggests a great beat or a fill and that too has nothing to do with one's grip.
Another claim by traditionalists is the grip's, ability to assist in the sensitive execution of quieter passages. Once again, I disagree and I will use my favorite Buddy Rich drum solo clip to make my point. In this clip: Rich does many of the amazing things that he is known for including playing with some amazing dynamics. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMhPHavgZ1E
The problem with grip as with so many other things in the arts is that we become emotionally attached to our methods, which at times leads to having a closed mind. I too have been guilty of this but always felt a sense of liberation when I decided to let go of my pride and explore another idea or concept. Sometimes such stubbornness can leads to opinions such as this one by the great Stewart Copeland:
The whole point to using traditional grip is because it's the most efficient way to use your hand to hit a drum. You can hit 50 times harder with traditional grip than you can with matched. Matched gives you no power; you only use the muscles on the top of your forearm with matched instead of the big muscles on the bottom of your forearm with traditional. You can get a much stronger stroke that way.
I love Copeland's drumming but I could not disagree with him more. First off, does reversing one's grip on the back beat hand increase one's power on their lead hand? No, one's power comes from the effort one puts into their playing as well as the efficiency of their motion. We can see in this clip that Copeland hits very hard with both hands and that his left hand has no influence on the effort coming from his right hand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMmCJ6-uu3M Second, in claiming that traditional grip is more efficient I would question the validity of that claim based on this famous photograph of him where he uses duct tape on his left hand.
In an interview posted on the interview archives of the Stingchronicity website Copeland said:
I used to wrap my hands in duct tape, but just last week I found some gloves and they're pretty neat, but they haven't got it quite right (for me) yet; at least someone is trying. This, unfortunately, is what happens after two or three gigs (holds up a pair with a worn-out thumb web in his left hand).
Imagine what his hand would look like if he were not using duct tape or wearing a glove. Of course this is also the hand where he uses a reverse grip, which makes me want to ask a simple question: if a grip is more efficient how could you cause such damage to your hand? Further, I thought pain and injury were a sign that we are doing something wrong.
Buddy Rich had some harsh words for matched grip as well as Rock drummers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0V4Aqs2D48 That is why it is amusing to watch his inconsistency in the following excerpts, which leads us to believe that he did it quite often since he had a regular performance schedule in a world that didn't document things as often as we do now.
First, we see Rich go against his own method while battling the Muppet Animal of all creatures (start at 1:48 and go to 2:36): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJh9W3Gcpmo Notice that he does this when he needed to get more power from his floor tom. it would seem odd that he would even do that considering the fact that he claimed that one gets around the drums better using traditional grip. Rich's inconsistency goes further in a band setting during this performance of Caravan (start at 0:52): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ug_fes1fEI
The bottom line is that one cannot escape from the need to change to the overhand grip when one needs more power and that happens very often in the Jazz world. Let's take a look at the late great Tony Williams as he switches grip every time he needs more power: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkJoTY0GE8M Further, look how uses matched grip when he's playing a power gig with Jan Hammer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jz2lRxzqvTM Then we'll see Louie Bellson do the same at 4:42 when he tries to match Billy Cobham's power in their famous drumming duet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPYvRFKBX_g
Necessity is the Mother of All Invention
As the debate continues it's safe to say that each grip and/or technique comes out of necessity. While people make their arguments for their personal preference history tells us the true source of what is called traditional grip:
With a snare slung awkwardly over one shoulder, the military drummer of pre-modern times needed to maintain complete maneuverability to perform his job with confidence. This was achieved by wearing his drum at a 45 degree angle with the head tilted towards his dominant hand. As a result, a unique grip evolved for the non-dominant hand to accommodate this angle.
Therefore, if someone sets up their drums the way Rich does in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94DeieWZgTM then yes, traditional grip makes perfect sense. Now while someone may prefer to use traditional grip with any set up one should not be criticized for using matched grip if they have their snare drum set up the way Vinnie Colaiuta does in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBrSxoDvTAs because we can see Dennis Chambers at the same event with his snare set up in a similar way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmIEc5MyhoQ&index=3&list=RDuvCzft41Nxg having the same type of stick control as Colaiuta.
To further make my point on necessity leading to specific techniques let's take a look at this video by Steve Smith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_T4YXhnveA
However you look at it, there is no superior grip. The issue is only on how we look at others who not only use another grip but if we somehow think what we use is superior to them. I prefer matched grip and honestly see not purpose for using traditional grip on the drum set but I will only have a problem with someone if they look down on me because they think their grip is superior to mine. To me, the most important thing is sharing my musical performance with others while taking the time to also listen to what they have to share with me. I am not concerned about how we perform our musical parts.
I would like to close this blog talking briefly about this amazing drum solo by Ginger Baker. This is the song "Toad" as it was performed during the Cream Reunion Concert where Baker played both World Rhythms and Jazz drumming in the same solo...while using matched grip! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIqa27Ml3jI