Friday, August 21, 2009

Traditional Grip vs. Matched Grip : The Battle Continues!!!

I spent a whole summer in college thinking about this very topic...which as I look back seems sad. Apparently I had no life...nonetheless, a whole summer of flip flopping, asking fellow skinbashers, finding out how my drumming idols gripped their was a fierce war...much blood was shed, many tears were cried, countless sleepless nights spent worried that if I picked the wrong grip certain death would ensue...

Maybe it wasn't that dramatic, but I lived in a small town in south Mississippi...I had to create my own drama.

All joking aside, there does seem to be a steep divide between proponents of Traditional grip and the supporters of Matched grip. Is one better? Does one provide more finesse? Is one easier? If I'm not going to play marching snare or jazz, is there a reason to learn traditional? Will Simon Cowell ever get a better haircut?(Sorry, that one slipped in...but really, it's time Simon.)

The reason I was pondering this question was strictly for practical reasons. I found that my right hand was vastly out playing my left. Reason: I was constantly switching between traditional and matched grip in my left hand, depending on the gig. If I was playing a jazz standard or a ballad, it was traditional grip. If it was a pop, rock, or funk tune, I played matched. If I was studying my rudiments, traditional. If I was playing orchestral percussion, matched...and so on and so forth. It was driving me mad. I had better finesse with traditional but a stronger backbeat with matched. I could play certain things with traditional grip that I couldn't play with matched grip, and vice versa.

If I had been playing one type of gig consistently, no worries. I would have picked the most useful grip and gone with that. Problem was, I was playing with anywhere from 9 to 12 different groups. Big Band, Orchestra, Rock, Latin, Early Jazz, Indie Rock, Gospel, Funk, Reggae...

So I picked them apart and here's what I came up with...


Traditional grip originally came about the same way most other innovations do, through necessity. Drums were originally slung around the right shoulder while marching, making it impossible to hit the drum consistently without modifying the grip...and so the hand was turned over and traditional grip began.

The two areas that employ this method the most are rudimental (marching) snare and jazz. That's not to say that there aren't any rock or pop drummers that use this grip...Glenn Kotche, Stewart Copeland, Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Vinnie Colaiuta to name a few.

I think that it's a carryover in the rudimental world. It's just been passed down as a sort of tradition (no pun intended). Drums are no longer slung over the shoulder...they're carried on both shoulders, so it's definitely not a necessity issue. No other percussive instrument is played with this grip, they're all played with matched or a variation thereof.

The motion in the left hand is not a real natural movement for the hand (i.e. you wouldn't pick up a stick and naturally grip and swing it that way). When learning the basics of the grip, it's definitely harder for a beginner to grasp the fundamentals of getting the fingers to move in that's kind of cumbersome to be honest. Playing hard hitting backbeats requires more practice (it can be done, I'm just saying it takes longer). That being said, after it's learned it's every bit as useful and effective as matched.

In the jazz world I believe it's partially a carryover and partially a finesse thing. If you'll allow me to get a little philosophical on you, I believe the grip itself creates a "cradling" type effect (at least it does in my mind). That's the main reason I would use it for ballads, I could play softer and with more finesse (feeling) easier than I could with matched grip. And on a side note, I actually think it looks cooler and way more sophisticated to play traditional...but that's not what this is about...


There are three different "grips" within the matched grip category...German, French, or a compromise of the two called American grip (I lean heavily towards American grip). Matched grip is how my 21 month old son picks up the's just natural. I actually put the stick in his left hand this morning in the traditional grip position...he hit the drum a couple of times, made a face, and turned the stick around. Although alot of the true "jazzers" use traditional grip, it seems the new school of jazz drummers are embracing matched just as much as traditional (Check out progressive drummers Bill Stewart, David King, and Ari Hoenig for instance).

Matched is by far the most popular within the pop and rock categories...Travis Barker (he seems to lean towards German matched grip), Carter Beauford (seems to prefer French matched grip), and Will Champion (mostly American grip) just to name a few. This particular grip is also the most transferrable to other percussive instruments, as I mentioned earlier...Concert snare, bass drum, quads, timbales, xylophone, etc.

The one drawback I came across was the finesse factor. I found if I was playing a jazz gig or a groove that required alot of ghosting on the snare, I was more comfortable with traditional. My comping in jazz with matched grip was awful.


As you may have guessed, all of this deliberation helped me come to my decision at the end of the summer...and matched grip won.

I knew that I would eventually be playing mostly pop gigs and it just seemed more practical. I also thought that if I could become better at finessing my left hand through working on my snare "chatter" in jazz and working on my ghosting in pop grooves, it would deepen my feel and groove.

And it did.

I no longer have to worry about keeping my left hand up to speed between traditional and matched, I just focus on playing everything with a matched grip. I prefer the neutral, or American, form of matched grip. German is a little stiff for me and French puts your wrists at a disadvantage when hitting the drums hard (I learned this the hard way and had to spend a few hundred dollars for a Doc to straighten my wrists out...more on that later).

I've also found it works better with the students I teach. If they're not in marching band, there's really no reason for them to put the time and effort into learning the grip....except for passing on the history of the I always give them the choice. Seems we can start focusing on learning the drums quicker and not spend quite so much time on learning an unnatural feeling grip.

At least that's what I think...and that's what matters in my world...

What type of grip you use is completely up to you, your style of playing, and your goals. I don't care which one you choose as they're both equally useful. I do, however, encourage you to concentrate on one or the other. I know the ins and outs of traditional grip and can play it just fine, as well as teach others the fundamentals, but I no longer use it (occasionally with brush work, but I'm trying to re-learn my patterns with matched).

And writing this assured me that I am in fact in need of more friends to fill up my free time...


Omar Alvarado said...

Hey Stephen.

Indeed, matched grip is better for most uses, with traditional being more of a specialization than the norm. I wrote an article a few months back about the same issue. I believe if you're starting out, then matched grip is definitely the way to go. Maybe your readers can check out my article as well - it's very complementary to yours ( Good job on your article!

Audiyo said...

Thanks for readin' Omar! I appreciate the passion for the drums you prtray on your blog...and the article was solid. Stop by anytime!

Jeromy A. Bailey said...

I actually play with both.. and I do find Matched grip much more practical, however, I tend to get more finesse out of traditional grip.. I like traditional grip just for the pleasure of it, other than that, when I've gotta play, matched grip never fails me and is my comfort zone.. That's kind of how I look at it now days.

Steve Boaz said...

i find that just about EVERY drummer that i've seen use traditional grip seems to be very good at drums. i use matched mostly, but for the simple sake of having STYLE, i've been using more traditional. I seem to think it makes me look cooler.

Stephen said...

@Jeromy-The finesse thing was my biggest problem too. It took me a good while to get my matched grip left hand up to speed with my traditional left hand on the finesse issue...but once I did, my pop, rock, and funk playing became so much deeper. I had that extra layer of dynamic range in there. The other hangup was buzz rolls. It's hard enough to get a great buzz roll, much less taking the time to learn a great buzz roll with two different grips. I had a good buzz with matched grip and once I forced myself to use matched while playing softer music, I actually began to incorporate it much more.

And as far as the pleasure issue...yea, there's something mentally that makes you FEEL a certain way...and for that issue, it makes me phrase fills and such differently than I otherwise would...but I think part of that is not being able to pull off some of the things I do with matched grip, so I have to adjust and compromise.

@Steve- HA! That's funny because I've thought that same thing several times. I've actually been guilty of sitting in with some great musicians and starting off wth traditional grip just so they know I'm a schooled drummer (I know, I know, LAME!). I really believe the reason most drummers that play traditional tend to be knowledgable is because it takes so freakin long to get the grip down. If they're gonna spend that much time learning a grip, then I'd think they'd spend even more time on the actual playing aspect of it.

And yes, it looks cooler and more sophisticated ;)

Anonymous said...

Let me just add this to the mix. I have been playing for over fifty years and traditional is all I know, I'm confortable with it. What took the most time, for me at least, was getting my left to move as fast as my right with control! Gut feeling is that for those starting out, matched grip would be best. I do believe you can play the ghost notes with more feel than with matched grip,but again, I know nothing about matched grip playing. Best regards to all AL

Audiyo said...

Thanks for the comment Al!

I think your gut feeling is right too...Just last night I was teaching a student and we were discussing the two a beginner, I felt that matched would simply be the easier of the two for her to learn. The speed and control are issues for everyone with traditional grip, it's just not a natural grip so you have to actually learn a new motion to play that way and not just learn a grip. At least you're familiar with the motion of matched grip.

Again, thanks for adding to the conversation!

Anonymous said...

If you sit at a 4 piece kit, it's often not a symmetrical posture. Typically your left arm is slightly back of the center line across your torso. So, traditional grip can make some sense beyond tradition in that position. For a double bass setup, the snare is often positioned out in front and each stick/arm is the same distance from the center of the snare. Matched grip, from a physical point of view, seems better positioned in that case.

Beyond the physical considerations, as a jazz drummer, it always seemed to me that getting each hand to sound the same was a false ideal. That is, it is an interesting exercise, but, is it necessary or even desirable? Part of the musical phrasing of traditional jazz drumming (and its historical ancestor rudimental drumming) is the sound created by the sticking. For instance, a paradiddle sounds different than just RLRL precisely because the hands don't have the same sound. If one achieved this "goal" of each hand sounding the same, you'd have the one handed drummer. That is, you'd play around the kit like this - (imagine going from drum to drum) RRRR RRRR RRRR RRRR. Sounds like a drum machine and in my ear not very interesting. This kind of sticking RLLR LLRL LRLL RLLR is at the very heart of jazz drumming, and I like the idea that I can create musical phrases from different stickings.

Rick Frank

Raelene said...

wow your posts are amazing Stephen, THANKS. . . you just fully answered my question for me re which to use with your knowledge and humour combined :)

Thanks again

Stephen said...

Thanks for taking the time to read it Raelene...means alot!

Anonymous said...

Man, this post was for me. Very, very thanks.

Audiyo said...

Thanks so much! Glad it helped ya out!

Anonymous said...

What a great find your blog is for me. After 30 years of playing with matched grip, I decided to push hard to learn traditional grip. I mean, if Buddy Rich and Joe Morello can rip it up using traditional grip, then it's possible, right? Well, after relearning the rudiments and pushing through 'Stick Control' using traditional grip, I'm just not able to apply traditional grip to the drum set as well as I can with matched. Since all of my gigs are 'Rock' gigs, I'm OK with this. I just thought there would be something gained stylistically with playing traditional. It could still happen, but traditional around the set just doesn't feel as good as matched.

In any event, GREAT article here. Thanks for the perspective.


Audiyo said...

Hey Brian,

Thanks for finding me! And thanks for taking the time to look around and read some...

You would be amazed at how many drummers do the same thing you do...they feel some kind of guilt for never having learned to play with the grip that Buddy Rich did (only thing I can figure out) and then need to prove that they too, in fact, can play with that grip. But of course they can...anyone can...but is it a waste of time? In alot of cases it is...there's no logical reason to switch for them, yet they feel the need to. Keep on rockin' it with the matched grip...I know I do! And yes, I can rock it hard with the traditional too, but just like you, it's uncomfortable for alot of the music I play.

Thanks again for the kind words and for adding to the conversation! Please be sure and find me on Facebook,!/StephenTaylor81 , love stayin' connected with you guys!

Stephen T.

defmute said...

thank you for this article. it especially helped that you gave examples of jazz players who play with matched grip.

Ian Ballard said...

The notion that the way Vinnie Colaiuta uses "traditional" being anything like an old military drummer boy is silly. The motions, hand position and elements of contact with the drum itself are very different. It's essentially the difference between German and French. Apples and Oranges. It looks similar, yes. However, the way in which modern, harder-hitting drummers employ "traditional" (I use it in quotes because what else do I call it?) has itself evolved, thanks to Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette, who completely changed the way the grip is used on the drum kit. The use of the fulcrum muscles that facilitate the thumb, are emphasized and the hand itself is positions more sideways, as opposed to palm-up, using only fingers for articulation. The only real similarity besides the basic holding of the stick, is the use of the Moeller stroke with guys like Vinnie in particular, ironically due to the fact that modern drums are tuned lower than jazz-era drums and require more energy, due to the music being louder. Things like, "Matched is more versatile" is useless if you consider that the "traditional" grip used by MODERN drummers, only vaguely resembles that which preceded it and to say that Mr. Colaiuta isn't versatile is about the most inane thing one could say. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say, pound-for-pound, he's the best, MOST versatile drummer alive or dead. His resume says it all.

Tim Bean said...

Exactly the advice I wanted. I don't do much with jazz, so that answers the question. I remember when I first started messing with drums, Peart (all new drummers worship him) came out with his drum DVD touting the superiority of the traditional grip. Next album, back to matched.

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