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
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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),
- 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