How to hold drumsticks – 5 Essential steps

Why is it important to learn to hold drumsticks properly?

70 or 80% of the sound you hear on the records comes from a drummer’s hand. The rest is the room and equipment.  

That’s just me being a smart ass but, I want you to understand how having a proper technique and holding the sticks on the right way is essential for your sound later on.

It’s always better to do it right from the beginning than to fix it afterwards.

Holding sticks properly is just one part of the technique. Here is how I see drumming technique.

 The technique allows us to get more with less effort.

If you hold the sticks properly and have a proper technique, this will guarantee the great sound.

Here's what you'll learn in this article

  • How to hold drumsticks – 4 grips 
  • When to use the wrist
  • When to use the fingers
  • How to adopt the motion

How to hold drumsticks - 5 essential steps

Step 1 - Grip

Drumming grip evolved over time, so now we have:

  • Traditional – great for taps (ghost notes)
  • German – great for wrist playing
  • American – it combines wrist and fingers
  • French – great for fingers playing

It is useful to know them all, but it is pretty tough to be comfortable with all of them at the same time. Also, the ergonomic of your drum set up can’t be adjusted to fit each grip.

Pick one, but don’t stick to it strictly, switch when necessary.

Traditional grip

This grip is mainly used in jazz music, a music that implies a lot of ghost notes. 

It is the best grip to keep all those ghost notes at low volume.

Traditional grip is developed by marching drummers, who had the snare hanging for aside. 

In order to keep the shoulder low and relaxed, they developed this grip.

Here is Dave Weckl explaining how to hold drumsticks if you use traditional grip.

Resume

It is certain that traditional grip has its pros, but I don't find it natural. If you give drumsticks to a child, it will not hold them like this. So, the most natural way to hold the sticks to me is the same way a child would hold the stick for the first time.

What is match grip

Match or matched grip implies that a drummer holds drumsticks on the same way with both hands. By match grip we have: German, French and American grip.

German grip

This grip focuses on the wrist playing, although it is not that popular these days. 

Why not?

Due to the fact that a bottom of the sticks does not point directly to your arm. Many drummers think because of that energy is not deployed in the right way.

German grip implies the side to side wrist motion.

Here is Jojo Mayer showing how to hold drumsticks in German grip

Resume

German grip is kind of outdated and if you ask me, with a reason. It is natural that this grip evolved because drummers found the better and easier way or just more functional.
If you plan to hold the drumsticks matched, I would not focus on this grip.

American grip

American grip arose from one simple reason. Americans needed to have a grip of their own.  😅
Joke aside, this is the grip that works best for me.

Why?

Because it is very similar to the grip child would use, so it is natural enough. Beside that this grip allows you to use the wrist and the fingers at the same time. I always switch to French when I go to a fast tempo but the American grip works well 90% of time.

Here’s Dave Weckl showing how to hold drumsticks on american way.

Resume

The grip that fits you the best is the best grip there is. That aside this is the grip I personally use and find as the grip that has the most sense for using the wrist and the fingers at the same time. When I need more fingers, I switch to French.

French grip

The focus of this grip is on the fingers. This is the best grip for fast tempos when all you need is finger control. I didn’t find a professional drummer who doesn’t use this grip.

Traditional or match you must use the French.

Even if you don’t plan to use this grip, consider practising finger technique in the French. There is no better and more natural grip for fingers use.

Here’s Thomas Pridgen showing the best finger exercise there is.

Resume

I suggest incorporating this grip into your playing due to its usefulness. Sooner or later you will run into a tempo that your wrist can handle. That's the moment when fingers take over.

Step 2 - Fulcrum

The fulcrum is the balance point of the stick, that’s where you are going to get the most rebound out of the stick.

Fulcrum implies two things:

  1. Where you hold the stick
  2. Which fingers are the basis of the grip

To determine fulcrum point, hold the stick in a french grip position with your thumb and a pointing finger and just let it bounce.

Try changing the point where you hold the stick and try finding the point where bonuses the most. Memorize it and from now on hold strictly to that point, that’s the best balance point.

This way, you are going to get the most rebound of the stick.

You must pick between two ways of holding the sticks:

  1. With pointing finger and a thumb while others are there to support
  2. With middle finger and a thumb while pointing finger only directs the stick and the rest are there to support

When you hit the drum, hit it with your stick, not with your hand and try to get that bounce and use it into your advantage. Remember, the whole point is to work less but get more.

Here’s the cool video I found on fulcrum.

Step 3 - Wrist

One of the best drummers in the world Thomas Lang says he’s barely using the fingers at all. Why? Because of the control.

Wrist is used for more control, especially on the slow tempos.

I recently did an Interview with Calvin Rodgers in which he told me “It’s not about the speed it’s about control”. That is the same approach Thomas Lang uses.

What’s the deal?

The wrist is almost useless on fast tempos; there’s no need to struggle when you can use your fingers. Vice versa, if you use fingers in slow tempos where’s no need to, you lose control.

Check out Virgil Donati thoughts on using the wrist.

Step 4 - Fingers

I already mention that fingers are used for fast tempos to get the necessary speed but keep being relaxed.
Fingers are most commonly used in a french grip. Go back to Thomas Pridgen video to see the best finger exercise.

All fingers must be on the stick and whatever you do don’t separate the stick from the fingers think of it as if its glued to them.

No one uses only wrist or only fingers. Drummers with the best technique combine wrist with finger, French grip with traditional and so on.

If you master all five steps that I am talking about, you will have a a bunch of weapons at your disposal so you can use them when needed.

Step 5 - The motion

The best technique to put your body in the proper motion is the Moeller technique. This technique exists for many years, and many drummers incorporate it in their playing. 

From Jim Chapin who was the master of the “whipping motion” all up to Jojo Mayer, Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta.

All the technique masters use this technique so it must be something to it. My advice to you is not to use it right away. Go step by step. 

Although it doesn’t look too complicated, it is. It is tough to incorporate this technique properly, especially if you skipped some steps. 

Before running you must learn to walk so, learn the drumming basics before tackling the Moeller.

Check out this video of the legendary Jim Chapin showing how to perform the Moeller method.

The end result after 15 years of drumming

The grip

I end up playing American grip because I can use wrist and fingers without switching my wrist position.Don’t stick to playing only one grip or playing only with your wrist or fingers.

To be efficient, you must use all at your disposal. 

I use wrist if the song is slow, to get more control, fingers if the song is fast to get more speed.

Switching between gripes is not a bad idea sometimes.

If you play jazz or some music that demands a lot of ghost notes, the traditional grip will come handy but on the other hand if you play rock German or American grip will be a perfect solution because of the wrist use.

Fulcrum

When I started, my fulcrum point was between my pointer finger and my thumb. That didn’t work for me, so I switched to holding my sticks with my middle finger and a thumb. I saw Jojo Mayer and Dave Weckl using this technique.

I can’t emphasize enough how finding a perfect fulcrum point is important. Finding the comfortable fulcrum changed my playing substantially.

Holding sticks with your middle finger and a thumb allows better finger control.

Motion

The Moeller to me is a synonym for being relaxed because it allows the whole hand to be relaxed and to go with the flow.

It takes your hand a lot of time to memorize the motion so you can use at all times without pause.

What happened to me that in some grooves I uses Moeller while in others I didn’t. That means either you are not ready yet to incorporate this technique or you need to practice more different kinds of grooves using the Moeller.

But remember, you can’t think of it while you are playing, It must become part of muscle memory.

Relax/rebound/sound

The more relax you are you achieve more speed, the more rebound and the more rebound equals better sound.

This is something I am still working on every day. When I get into fast chops, I tend to squeeze my sticks and stop breathing. That’s something a lot of drummers struggle, so you need to pay attention to staying relax when that moment kicks in.

Here is the way to check are your hands relaxed enough.

Check out this muscle right hear from time to time while you are playing and see if its relaxed or not. If not focus on relaxing it.

The important lesson I learned

One grip or one technique doesn’t work in all situations. Sometimes the music will demand the use of fingers or traditional grip so pick one primary grip but practice others too, so they aren’t unfamiliar to you.

The most important thing is to practice slow so you give your brain enough time to process the information.

Hope you find this article helpful, let me know your thoughts in comments below.

Stay safe!

Denis Loncaric

My name is Denis. I am a drummer, percussionist, music enthusiast, and blogger. Drums have been my passion for 15 years now. My idea is to write about the things I like and I am interested in. I want to share my drum passion with fellow musicians who walk, talk, and breathe drums.

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