TechniqueTomás Howie Drumming Web
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   Technique isn't chops. It isn't about what you play, or how fast you play, or how many rudiments you can combine into tricky patterns that you play in odd-metered song structures. Technique is, simply and unglamorously, how you hit the drums when you play those notes. There aren't any deep, dark secrets here. Just some common sense advice.

   We've all seen great drummers who have lousy technique: Keith Moon comes to mind (watch "The Kids Are Alright"). However, for most of us, poor technique is something we have to overcome in order to improve as drummers. It's my hope that the advice I give you here will help you improve your overall technique, so you can be a better drummer. That's what this web site is all about!

   There are many components to good technique: how you hold your sticks, how you hit the drums, your posture, the height of your seat, and your hitting stroke. Let's take these in order.

Stick Control

Poor Stick Technique   OK. These photos didn't turn out as good as I would have liked, but they'll have to do. In the shot on the left we see a drummer holding the stick like a baseball bat. The only place the hand can get any movement is in the wrist. This doesn't lend itself to any great speed because:

  • The stick won't bounce very well,
  • The drummer can't control the bounce,
  • The wrists will fatigue very quickly, running the risk of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome.

Good Stick Technique   The shot on the right shows a drummer holding the stick properly (I'm going to stick to matched grip here, all you traditional grip folks. Sorry!). Notice the differences: the stick is gripped only between the thumb and index finger, creating a fulcrum, and the other three fingers are not gripping the stick, but are used to push the stick forward, then released. The result:

  • The stick can move much more quickly and rapidly,
  • A natural bounce is easily attained,
  • The non-gripping fingers can control the speed, rate, and height of the stick movement,
  • There is little fatigue to the wrists.

A closer look at the grip   Another benefit to this method is that one can strengthen one's grip - and thus improve one's speed - by using wrist exercisers (the ones you squeeze). The shot on the left shows the thumb/index finger fulcrum without the other three fingers in the way. Practice on a pad so that your motions with each hand are identical.

Striking The Drums

   There as many ways to hit the drum as there are drums. Here are some standard techniques that will greatly improve your pallette. Keep in mind that while I am showing these to you on the snare, they can be used on any drum on your kit. The effect will be most pronounced on the snare, though, so experiment there.

Typical Tapping   The shot on the right shows what I call "tapping": hitting the drum only on the head. This method works for some styles, but not others. Most jazz, some country, ballade, marching, and show drumming pretty much requires this technique, and it should be done at the angle indicated here: any higher will run the risk of denting the head if struck with any force.

   This method doesn't work for harder-hitting forms of music. Many drummers "tap" their whole career and wonder why they can't get a big, fat, boomy drum sound. They try different tunings, different mufflings, when all they need to do is hit a rim shot!

Rim-Shot!   The shot on the left shows the rim-shot: hitting the drum and the hoop at the same instant. To do this properly requires some practice, and the angle you set your drums up to is crucial. However, the advantages to using this technique for harder-hitting styles of music are enormous.

   The first advantage is you are hitting the shell more directly - through the hoop - thus engaing its sound. This works particularly well with a metal shell. Another advantage is volume: you can get a louder sound this way than you can by "tapping". Also, you will prolong your head life (a trade-off: your sticks won't last as long!). Lastly, this technique, coupled with the area on the head you are striking, results in a huge increase in the types of sounds you can get from your drum.

   The following series of photos are all using rim-shots. As with any stroke, you can use the "tapping" method, but the effect won't be as dramatic (unless you are playing at very low volumes). Experiment with these areas - using both a "tapping" stroke and a rim-shot - and see how many different sounds you can get from your drums.

Stroke 1          Stroke 2

Stroke 3          Stroke 4


   This is basically how straight up you sit. It's best to sit on your throne with your back straight, with no slouching. Slouching impedes your arm movements and will give you a backache by the end of the night. If you have problems with slouching, try getting a back brace (the one that goes around your shoulders and pulls them back) from your doctor. Also, a throne with a back might help give you some reference as to how far you are slouching forward (if you're not touching the back, you're not sitting up straight!). Finally, you may have to move your throne in a bit to put the drums the same distance they were when you were slouching.

   I have a bad back and this is a huge problem for me. I'd hate to see anyone else repeat my mistakes.

Seat Height

   The basic rule with seat height says this: your knees should be bent at right angles when resting your feet on the pedals. This all relates to your legs, since drum height - if not limited by a huge bass drum and deep toms - can easily be changed. You will play more fluidly with proper seat height: not too much effort lifting your legs, not too much effort pushing them back down.

   It doesn't matter if you play heel-up or heel-down: you'll find it easier using proper seat height once you get used to it. Again, a change in this area may require a re-alignment of your drums. But, if you're having some problems with foot technique and you're knees aren't bent at 90 degrees, the hassle will be worth it in the long run.

Hitting Stroke

   There are a number of types of hitting strokes:

  • The full-bounce: starting at a good height, bringing the stick into contact with the head, and returning the stick to that height,
  • The half-bounce: starting at a good height, bringing the stick into contact with the head, and returning the stick to only a fraction of that height (just above the head),
  • The full-tap: starting the stick close to the head, tapping the head quickly, then returning the stick to just above the head (this is usually what you do when you do double-strokes), and
  • The half-tap: starting the stick close to the head, tapping the head quickly, then returning the stick to a good height from the head (the starting position for the full-bounce).
  • The pull-off: starting the stick close to the head, tapping the head quickly with great force, then allowing the stick to return a good height from the head under its own steam (the starting position for the full-bounce). This technique is usually used in combination with other strokes for accents.

   Practice these by themselves, in combinations, and integrate them into your rudimentary exercises.

   One other thing about the hitting stroke: don't get in the habit of resting your snare hand on your leg! I did this for years before I realized how much trouble it was causing me. Quickness goes out the window. Think about it: you're arm is coming to a complete rest on your leg and your muscles have completely relaxed: it will require more energy to re-engage your muscles and lift the stick back up than would be required if your arm were supported solely from your shoulder and was always in the "ready" position.


   This was a risky essay to write because everyone has different ideas of technique. What I put down here are some things I've learned through my 30+ years playing drums that work for me. Try them out: maybe they'll work for you! If they help you in any way, I'll be satisfied. As always, let me know what you think.

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