Percussion Clinic Adelaide

Stick Technique and your Books - (Discussions with Rob)

-----Original Message-----
From: bkalli
Sent: Saturday, 15 November 2003 10:32 PM
Subject: Please help!!!! Questions on technique and your book .
Hi Jim,
I change my grip all the time and it drives me nuts that I can't settle on one. I first started playing as you described with the fulcrum being the thumb and behind the knuckle of the first finger. The gap between being closed. This worked good for loud volumes and not dropping sticks but to keep the gap closed puts tension in my hands especially when playing soft. I then began using the knuckle closest to the nail of the 1st finger as the fulcrum point with the thumb. This left an open gap which was more relaxed for softer playing but couldn't hang on when playing hard. I have noticed several big name drummers such as Dennis Chambers and Steve Gadd having their first finger out to the side of the stick to where it appears that they are using the thumb and the middle finger as their fulcrum. Is this a correct observation? Also, on the thumb up or palm down position debate I had a chiropractor tell me that the palm down position puts wear and tear on the wrist joint. The thumb up position seems to leave the wrist in a more fixed position and it's a turning of the forearm that makes most of the stroke instead. I change these positionings often too and it sucks I can't decide on one. I would greatly appreciate any comments. Does your book address all of these types of issues and things like proper drum, throne, and cymbal positionings? Thank you so much for your time!!!! Help!!!!

Hi Rob, and thanks for a well thought out and detailed email - its nice to hear from someone who has obviously thought about what they are doing.

The first thing to say is that I have learnt over the years that there is no hard and fast rules. People are different and are after different results. The biggest example of this might be on marimba - Of all the possible grips one can use the one most universally accepted as being stupid and wrong is the old "cross grip" - guess what the worlds most successful and probably best marimba player uses.... yep - Cross grip.

I do know exactly what you mean about tension with the fulcrum behind the middle knuckle - this is really caused by the extra pressure required at the base of the thumb to close up the gap there. During hard playing closing up that gap makes a little V shape between the thumb and first finger which prevents the stick from sliding into the gap. The tension required to close that gap is less than it would be to grip tighter between the thumb and finger, so it works well. For softer playing this is not so - as you have pointed out. I have found that all you have to do is "relax man!" I mean literally. When playing softer keep your fulcrum behind the knuckle, but don't bother about closing up the gap so much - this might mean the thumb bends a bit but that's ok. You are now relying more on the pressure (not much) between thumb and finger to grip the stick rather than the V shape of the fulcrum.

The idea of having the fulcrum further down the first finger and that of having it on the second finger are really one and the same I feel. If you start with the first finger tucked right under the stick and gradually move the fulcrum further towards the end of that finger you will find eventually the finger is off the stick completely - out to the side - and the fulcrum is in fact the second finger. When I do a lot of really hard playing in the R@taque percussion duo - particularly on the chemical barrels that don't rebound the stick at all - the fulcrum gets really tired. There's no way to avoid this its just really hard playing. I often have found myself clinging to the end of the stick with my little finger etc and playing mostly from the arms as the thumb just has no juice left. These days I have learnt to conserve my fulcrum in these really long gigs and play more from the wrist, rather than using the fingers, even early on in the gig when I don't need to. It only works for sections where the ole technique does not need to be at its peak as the notes are not that tough, but it means that when they get tougher, the fulcrum is there and waiting with the fingers able. I suspect you will find quite a few big name players tend to play in a similar way - especially those who are doing long sessions on a regular basis. Its a matter of fingers being faster than wrists, but these guys have developed their wrists to the point where they only need the fingers on occasion. These is also a school of thought out there that suggests that kinda letting go of the stick as the stroke is made lets the stick rebound more freely and doesn't choke the sound. Personally I believe that there should be no choking whatsoever anyway. If the fulcrum is the only thing gripping the stick, then the rebound energy just goes into pivoting the stick. Those that resort to letting go of the stick probably just never got the knack of controlling their rear fingers properly. Some great players do it though, although you will find they are mostly players who are never really required to play really that demanding stuff from a physical point of view. There is just not time to let go of the stick when playing flat out.

Thumb up? - Wrong wrong wrong....
The wrist just does not bend properly in the thumb up position - its not designed to bend in that direction, and it doesn't do it very well. Fixed position yes - if its fixed that means it doesn't bend. Its like driving a car in reverse all the time - yes you can do it, but its just pushing shit uphill. Those who do it usually do so because having the thumb on top provides a strong fulcrum so fingers work well with no real fulcrum effort - fine for stuff like quick jazz ride cymbal where its fingers all the time and not many consecutive notes at real speed or above mf. Can't use the wrist as well properly though. The fingers can do their job perfectly with the thumb on the side, but you have to develop the fulcrum first as described above - more effort, but you have both systems (fingers AND wrists) at your disposal the whole time without making changes while playing. What you are describing about the rotation of the forearm is where the stick is being held more at the back of the hand - ie with the little finger etc. You rotate the arm because the stick is really more perpendicular to the arm. A bit stupid really because its in a different direction to the finger movement - so you can't combine the two movements, its one or the other, and you have to make a big adjustment of hand position every time you switch between the two.

Incidentally it is this same holding of the stick more from the back of the hand that CAN give troubles in the palm down position as well. Some people tend to have the little finger right round the stick so that the stick lays almost across the hand. This means that to get the stick pointing in the same direction as the arm, you have to bend the wrist sideways (exactly as you would be doing in a wrist playing motion with the thumb on top method) quite a lot. If you bend the wrist up and down in this position with the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist stretched tight over the bone - well tendonitis city after a year or so. The trick is to keep your wrist straight and get the back end of the stick more parallel with your thumb. This will mean you have to stretch your fingers down to reach the but of the stick, and the little finger may not even reach it. The other way to avoid wrist problems is to not bend it so much. Most teachers (particularly the old school classical) are always "wrists, wrists, wrists!" so we get a bit locked into thinking that we must use the wrists and no arms. Well the young kid needs to learn to bend the wrists a bit and not club the drum with a big arm movement all the time, but that DOESN'T mean that arm movement is bad. In fact I see lots of drummer really extending their wrist to almost 90 degrees and not using the arm at all! Silly! Whenever the notes get bigger it's natural to use the arms a little. You will find it relaxes the grip as well. If just a tiny bit of arm movement is used for louder notes your wrist will never bend much more than a few degrees or so anyway.

Stick Technique - All the skills you will ever need!

Yes the Stick Technique book does talk quite a bit about all those things. I would probably write it a bit differently now (I wrote it years ago) but most of the concepts are basically the same.

Hope this has been Helpful! Jim McCarthy

UPDATE! I have now at last re-written "Stick Technique"! The new second edition is hugely improved, This type of information and Much, much more, is available in Stick Technique - New 2nd Edition!

answers by Jim MCCarthy - 16/11/2003

For more help on grip and technique you can email Jim.

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