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Heel Up or Down, Matched or Traditional Grip, and Some History
Posted On 06/04/2008 01:34:58 by nullmuse

I got a message the other day that reminded me I'd joined this community and hadn't done anything here in awhile.

So I'm enjoying lurking around, reading other people's stuff and answering the polls, but I've had a couple of thoughts in response to some of my answers, and I'll just put them here to share.

In the polls some of the same questions keep cropping up, and I wish I could take back an answer or two I made.

Bass Pedal--Heel Up or Heel Down?

I typically play "Heel Up".

My first instructor insisted that I learn to play "Heel Down" to learn control, keeping the sound of my notes even and consistent, and I agree "Heel Down" is great for learning to keep a steady beat. I played that way for many years, and naively insisted it was the BEST way to control your sound.

However, when playing for a long period of time or playing faster tempos, I found I got muscle cramps, there's a limit to how fast you can play "Heel Down", and I found that I could control my sound just as well with "Heel Up". So I encourage people to learn both, especially because I think "Heel Down" is particularly useful for playing jazz and "straight 4" beats, but also because I believe "Heel Up" is less stressful on the body.

Grip: Matched or Traditional?

I met Bob Ludwig, Jr. (II) when I was young, and he impressed upon me the importance of drummers knowing their history--how can you go forward if you don't know what's come before?! which is why it's great that www.Drummerworld.com has all those videos, so you can go see and hear what Gene Krupa, Max Roach, Papa Jo Jones, and all the other greats were doing.

Drumming, at least from the perspective of playing a drumset to support a band, is unique because it's a fairly "young" instrument. The first hi-hats and bass pedals really weren't around until the 1920s (the first Ludwig Speed King was 1919), so the instrument itself has only been around and evolving into what we play today for the last 85-90 years.

This isn't true with other instruments, which have existed unchanged for long stretches of time. I couldn't say when the first piano-forte existed, but the piano has been around for centuries, and the definitive trumpet exercises were written around the 1880's (Arbans) and have remained largely unchanged up to present day...in theory, a beginning student can buy that book for $50 and if he can play everything in that book flawlessly, he can play anything that can ever be thrown at him musically.

Conversely, the drumkit is still evolving, and being used in new and innovative ways. I think most people recognize "Stick Control" by George Lawrence Stone as "The Bible" of exercises for any good drummer, but in making variations between hands and feet, adding double-strokes and accents, the possible exercises are virtually limitless!

So I think everybody should know WHY traditional style exists, if nothing else. (Short answer: so you had even power between your hands when playing a shoulder-slung marching drum.)

I started with matched grip at age 14, and played that way until I was 20 or so and sold my kit. When I started getting back into drumming in April of 2005, I developed a weird lump in the joint of my right-thumb, so I consulted a doctor and hired an instructor.

The lump was a callus under (and between) the two pads of my thumb in the thumb-joint, because when I was double-stroke rolling at high speeds I was "cheating" my thumb down the side of the stick and essentially absorbing the impact into the joint of my thumb.

Since then, I've come to appreciate and urge other drummers that drumming should not be painful, and how important it is that you don't absorb your rebounds back into your body.

The new instructor and I discussed what I'd previously learned, and completely tore apart everything I was doing and started from scratch, which was both very frustrating and a GREAT learning experience. Still, at the time I was re-starting from Ground Zero I said, "Hey, I'm re-learning everything here, and YOU play traditional grip, should I switch? Is there a benefit to playing traditional grip if I'm going to play jazz?"

Basically he said that, unless I had wrist pains or some other very good reason, there was no need to switch, and I've found most seasoned drummers agree grip is more an issue of personal preference than a matter of control.

Jojo Mayer, in his educational DVD, makes an argument that you can get better "touch" and there's a whole "left different from right" distinction that you get with traditional playing over matched grip, but he also states that there's really not much advantage of one style over the other.

Since then, I play a little traditional, mostly for lighter playing or jazz, or if the band has practiced the same song a few times already I may switch just to stay loose and approach the part from a different way, but I have much better control with matched grip since that's the style I've played with the longest, and again, I encourage drummers to learn both.

That's all for now. Best wishes and Happy Drumming!

--Stumpy Joe

Tags: Opinion Drum Grip Thoughts Polls History


Viewing 1 - 2 out of 2 Comments

From: nullmuse
06/05/2008 01:56:47

Thanks for writing, Ken.  I enjoyed reading your stuff--you've obviously been playing awhile, and it shows!

I only have a few thoughts about drumming, and you've heard most of them.

Concerning heel up and down, I switch between them without thinking about it, which I think is the way it SHOULD be.  I sincerely believe that heel up is less stressful on the body and that druming should be all about relaxing.

And as far as grip, if I could get the power and control out of traditional grip strokes I've seen others get, I'm sure I would prefer traditional, but I tend to lose control of the sticks when I'm playing anything with much power or speed!!  I can play traditional, but I mostly only break it out for light work or again, to approach a part differently and see if anything new comes out playing it that way. 

It could probably be argued that traditional grip helps add a little more emphasis to the backbeat.

I really think that as far as heel up or down and traditional or matched grip, a drummer should know and learn both.  As a drummer, you never get in trouble for having "too many tools in your bag", but you can certainly get in over your head by not having enough!

Thanks again for the comments, and keep writing YOUR stuff, too--I've REALLY enjoyed it!!

From: KenSanders
06/04/2008 22:50:06

I enjoyed reading your blog and you make some very valid observations.

I use both the matched grip and the tradituonal grip.  I typically use the traditional grip for light volume playing and have a smoother roll using it.  I use the matched grip for more powerful playing, and whenever I switch to left handed hi-hat playing (I'm right handed) so I can play a snare and tom(s) pattern with my right hand.

I agree with you about your heel up and heels down conclusions.  I use both of these too.  Lighter playing is usually heels down.  Faster and more powerful stokes are heels up, and all of my double bass patterns too.

Keep writing.  I enjoyed both of these latest blogs.

Ken Sanders


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