This page describes how to play drums using the matched grip. If you need to review the matched grip, go to the matched grip drumsticks lesson.
The previous lesson discussed how to hold a drumstick, and here we’ll be moving into actually hitting a drum. As the title suggests, the purpose of this lesson is to learn how to play drums louder, faster, and more accurately. And all this while using less energy and muscle power. That’s a double benefit!
Hold a drumstick using the matched grip a few inches (perhaps about 5) over a drum or practice pad (Figure 1). Now you are going to hit the drum. Hit the drum by just moving your wrist in a quick motion up, down, and then back up. Your wrist should bend about 30 degrees up and down. Also, when the stick hits, let it bounce, as you lift your wrist up.
Now, remember those three curled fingers holding the drumstick from underneath, the middle finger, ring finger, and pinkie? Release those a bit. So now, when you hit the drum, the stick is going to hit those fingers as you lift your wrist up, and hit your palm as you move your wrist down.
To hit the drum harder with the same wrist motion, squeeze the curled fingers as the drumstick comes down, so that they help push the stick onto the drum. Release them as the stick goes back up. Be sure to not grab the stick too tightly, as this will interfere with the stick’s motion. Just push the stick along. Now you have your wrist and fingers share the effort required to hit the drum. The distribution of work among several muscle groups is part of the secret of how to play drums with more power and less effort. This concept is also used in all kinds of sports, like tennis, golf, and baseball.
For even more power with not much added effort, release the pinkie, index, and ring fingers some more, and let the stick rise up to vertical, or almost vertical angle, as the wrist comes up before you hit the drum (Figure 2). As the stick goes down, again push it with the curled fingers. If you make the motion fast enough, you should hear a “whoosh” as the stick moves through the air. The tip of the stick is going supersonic… only kidding, but it’s going pretty fast, and this with just the wrist and fingers. Bringing the tip high up gives the hand a longer opportunity to apply force to the stick, resulting in a greater velocity, and therefore a louder sound as you play. Furthermore, the stick will bounce high and go back up. It’s almost as if the stick is playing itself and you are just helping it along a little. This makes playing fast drum rolls much easier, and because it’s easier, the roll strokes will be more even and accurate. Try it! LRLRLRLR… As you do the roll, also use your forearms a little in an up and down motion.
For an explosive sound, we’ll now bring in the whole arm into a full drum stroke. To begin the stroke, lift your forearm up and elbow out (Figure 3), and then strike the drum by bringing your forearm down and elbow in. As you lift your arm up and bring it down, you’ll find that the wrist and stick lift up and come down in a snap, just like described in the last paragraph, but now mostly out of their own momentum. Pulling the elbow in brings the lat muscles into action. The lats are very big muscles that extend from the side to the center of the back and are responsible for bringing the arms into the body. These are the same muscles used to do a pull up at the gym. As you play the drum stroke, be careful to keep your shoulder down and relaxed. The shoulders will usually get tired very fast if you keep them raised.
To minimize the effort required to play drums with the full stroke, you will let gravity help you. After you lift your arm, let it drop with no muscle effort, just gravity. If you go through the motions described here, the sound you’ll produce will be very loud and snappy, but with no muscle power on the way down!
The main difficulty with using just gravity to be the timing of the drumstick hit. You’ll need to think ahead a bit, and lift your arm up in time for it to come down on the beat. Assisting the stroke with just a little bit of muscle power will take care of the timing problems, but try practicing on getting the timing right with just gravity.
Drum volume is largely a function of stick height. The higher the stick’s starting point, the greater its head “collision” speed, and hence the louder the sound.If you want a very loud sound, use your elbow, arm, and wrist to lift the stick high. For moderate volumes, use your forearm and wrist to lift it up. Also, remember that you can use your fingers to add power to the stroke no matter what height you start from.
The next drumming technique lesson will teach you how to apply what you’ve just learned to achieve fast speeds on the drums.