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Active finger control is what we have mostly disscussed so far, and it is where the fingers themselves are the main driving force behind the stick movement. The stick is pivoting at the fulcrum at the tip of the thumb, and the fingers are driving the butt of the stick inwards towards the palm of the hand. This creates the downwards movement of the stick tip, but the upwards movement is entirely relient on the natural rebound so its vital with active finger control, that the but of the stick not be allowed to actually touch the palm. This would mean that the energy of the stick goes into the palm rather than into the drum, and there will be no rebound from your palm! The main skill involved with active finger control, is that of making the driving part of the finger motion quickly and at the start of the stroke, then most importantly get them to stop driving and be relaxed enough in the rebound phase of the stroke, to allow the rebound to occur unimpeded.
A great way to begin the development of active control, is with a practise pad turned sideways. Have a look at the picture on this page, and copy the position of the pad and the hand exactly. With the pad turned sideways, you can do one stroke at a time without having to repeat the motion straight away, because gravity will not be working in the same direction as the stick movement, This also means that you can practise the motion more slowly. Once you can sustain the bouncing action smoothly and continuously, then its time to position the practise pad normally and try the action vertically.
A fantastic exercise for developing both our finger movement and even more importantly, our fulcrum strength and control, - is using one finger at a time. Once again, it is a good idea to use the sideways practise pad in the early stages. Start by keeping the lower three fingers basically straight, and using just the tip of the index finger to propel the stick.(remember the stick should have its fulcrum BEHIND the middle knuckle - if its not, then you won’t be able to bent the finger tip enough to do this.) Once that is confident try using only the second finger, then the third, then even the more difficult little finger. Whilst this exercise is good for building the finger driving muscles, we would not usually use one finger at a time like this in our general playing, and the main benefit is that every time we change fingers, the fulcrum has to shift positions slightly. This is great for fulcrum development. To increase the difficulty, try playing four strokes with each finger using finger 1 then 2,3,4,3,2,1 etc or maybe 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 etc - keeping the bouncing action continuous. With that incontrol you can proceed to three strokes with each finger, then two, then one. This really works the fulcrum, because it has to adjust position all the time.
Passive finger control is a very different thing. Whilst active finger control is rarely used in combination with wrist or arm movement, passive finger control MUST be used with wrist or arm movement. Where active finger control has the fingers themselves providing the main driving force, passive finger control uses the fingers only to control the rebound around the fulcrum when the main driving force is coming from the wrist or arm.
With passive finger control the fingers are acting like springs, much in the same way as the suspension springs in a car - or almost exactly like the rear wheel suspension on some motorbikes! The point is, that the fingers don't press the butt of the stick until the butt presses them. The main stroke movement comes from the wrist or elbow, and when the rebounding stick tries to pivot around the fulcrum at the tip of the thumb, the butt tries to move down away from the groove. The fingers then control what happens. They can either not allow the movement at all, or have a springy "elastic type" resistance, which can be varied to suit the required result. By varying the elastic tension in the fingers, we can control the speed at which the stick is "sprung" back to the drum by the fingers. It is actually also possible to create a “looser spring” with the fingers, by taking the rear fingers off the stick entirely, and using just the tip of the index finger. When a tighter spring is required, the other fingers come back into play. This works because the index finger has much less leverage on the stick due to its close proximity to the fulcrum, so the rebounding stick can push it more easily. Its not exactly cheating to use this technique, but in most cases its better to keep all the fingers on the stick but. Many drummers tend to use this technique simply because they have not developed sufficient sensitivity and control of the rear fingers. Whilst there are times when this technique might be appropriate, its use in general playing is inefficient, hard work for the index finger, and tends to lead to excess tension in the fulcrum. The best way to control the “springyness” of the fingers, is to think about the distance of the fingers from the palm of the hand. The greater the distance the stick is allowed to travel from the palm, the more time it takes, so the slower the next note.
The advantage of passive finger control, is that can produce very fast note repetition without actually having to move any muscles fast - this is why it is always used for buzz rolls or the fastest double strokes etc. The obvious disadvantage of passive control, is that each successive note repetition will always be softer so it is impossible to play perfectly evenly.
When the butt of the stick is allowed to come away from the palm of the hand, it DOES NOT lose contact with the fingers.
Once this happens, the stick is "floating", and has a degree of potential inaccuracy, and the distance between the fingers and the stick does not have to be big for the consequences to be fairly significant. Don’t forget that at soft dynamic levels, even the slightest varience in stroke height is clearly audible. Not only this, but of course but the distance from the fulcrum to the stick tip is much greater than that to the finger tips, so any gap between the fingers and stick represents an even bigger potential inaccuracy at the tip of the stick.
A very important use of passive finger control is that employed when playing piston strokes from the wrist. Often when playing from the wrist, the butt of the stick should come away from the groove of the hand. This allows the stick to rebound more freely so we don't lose the kinetic energy that the stick already has. When playing from the wrist, it can be very difficult to get a clean and smooth rebound from the drum at faster tempos, if we play with the butt of the stick clamped to the palm. This is because the muscles of the forearm used to drive the hand and stick need to be perfectly relaxed at the point of impact for the rebound to occur efficiently. These muscles have just been used a split second earlier to drive the stick, so as our tempos increase, the timing becomes too quick to deal with. This is where letting the butt come away from the palm can help, as the elasticity of the fingers can temporarily absorb and store the rebound energy from the drum without relying on the perfect timing of wrist movement. Until the tempo demands it however, it is a good idea to also practice whilst holding the stick butt in, as it gives greater control at softer dynamics, and helps to develop our timing of strokes from the wrist.
It’s quite common to use active and passive finger control in combination
- an example might be in the execution of double or triple strokes, particularly when played strongly. When playing in this manner, the initial movement is driven entirely from the wrist or arm, with the fingers acting in a purely passive manner to allow efficient rebound - ie. they add NOTHING to the energy of the stroke. The second (and perhaps third) stroke/s have no wrist or arm movement, and are driven purely from the fingers. It’s absolutely vital with this technique, that the fingers not be allowed to actively paricipate in the driving of the initial stroke, as this makes the first stroke louder than the successive ones. It also means that the fingers are involved in an extra driving movement, which lowers the potential overall speed.
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