Empty shelves in the paper towel aisle at my neighborhood Target. It looks like the kleenex racks on the wall are empty as well.
There are four conventional grips for holding the drumsticks: the German, French, American, and Traditional. Although they look little different, they share some of the same features. All of them have a fulcrum, which is a place where the stick can pivot from as it strikes and rebounds off of the drum’s surface. They all incorporate the wrists and arms to initiate motion. And in all four grips, the fingers control in the stick in subtle ways. One way is by manipulating the rebounds following an initial, stroke. Another way is in helping to maintain the flow of continuous strokes. The fingers can also control the stick by applying pressure to restrict or regulate its motion. And the fingers can determine how the stick moves inside the hand – specifically before during and after the stroke has been played. The German, French and American grip are all matched grips, meaning that both hands look the same. In traditional grip, which originated as a way for playing a marching drum that was carried at the player’s side, the sticks are held differently in each hand.
See my video tutorial on Vimeo. Drumming Basics: How to Hold the Sticks. https://vimeo.com/333321803
In the matched gips the fulcrum is created when the stick is placed between the thumbprint of the thumb and the last joint of the index finger. For the traditional grip, the fulcrum is in the crook of the thumb.
When placing a stick in the fulcrum, it’s crucial to locate the point on the drumstick where it can achieve the most bounces. This can be done by placing a stick in the fulcrum at different points along its body and let it drop to the drum surface. One will notice at each of these points the sticks bounce differently. Determine the part of the drumstick that receives the most bounces. The drumsticks will move freely from this position.
In the German grip, the palms of the hands face downwards, and the sticks are in the held in the fulcrum between the thumbprint of the thumb and the last joint of the index finger. The butt ends of the sticks are pressed against the palm by the middle, third and fourth finger. In the German grip, the stroke is created by a throwing motion from the wrist, which starts and receives the action of the stick. The remaining fingers control the reflexive movements of the butt of the sticks as it rebounds off of the drum’s surface. The arms can assist in the motion to varying degrees.
With the French grip, the palms face each other, and the sticks rest in the last joint of the index fingers with the thumbprint of the thumbs placed on top. In the French grip, the strokes are initiated by a rotation of the wrists with some assistance from the middle, third and fourth fingers. One the strokes are in motion, the remaining fingers assist the butt ends of the sticks as they move up and down inside the palms of the hand and under the base of the thumb. Because of the shape of this grip, one can access the weight of the sticks in each stroke.
The American grip is a hybrid of the French and German. The palms of the hands are similar to the German grip but are turned in slightly so that the weight of the butt end is accessible to the back fingers.
In the Traditional grip, the stick is held in the crook of the thumb and index finger, and it’s secured by the straightened thumb pressing into the phalanx or the area between the middle and last joint of the index. In traditional grip, the stroke is initiated by the rotation of the wrist, supported by the forearm.
Gravity and the weight of the drumstick assist the downward motions of the strokes in all of the grips.
A Full or Free Stroke is one of the first types of strokes a student should learn because it teaches them how to play using the full range of motion available to them. The stroke begins with the stick at a sixty-degree angle above the drum. It’s initiated with a throwing motion or a wrist rotation which directs the stick towards the drum’s surface. Once the drumstick rebounds off of the drum’s surface, the hand guides it upwards until the inertia created dies out and the pull of gravity takes over. In this final moment, the wrist lifts the stick the remaining distance back to its beginning position. In this process, the tension of the fulcrum and the supporting fingers should be relaxed enough to let the stick move under its own weight. The pressure in the grip increases only as the wrist lifts the stick back into its starting point. The idea is to let gravity, the weight of the drumstick, and the tension of the drum’s surface do as much of the work as possible. The wrist, fulcrum, and fingers guide and assist in executing the stroke.
I introduce the Full Stroke at the 8:39 mark in my video tutorial Drumming Basics: How to Hold the Sticks. https://vimeo.com/333321803
Here’s another video of me playing drums for dance class. It’s a little longer than the previous video I posted, and it’s a little more exciting. In this video, I’m playing for the first two exercises in the “warm-up” portion of a jazz dance class. The camera is set up in such a way that you can see the students in the background as I play. The first part is their opening stretches, and the second part, which is a little more up-tempo, is cardio training and isolations.
I never plan what I’m going to play for these warm-up sequences, and I rarely play the same thing twice. The instructor sets the sequence of the exercise and I base my playing on that structure–changing my patterns to fit the shifts between the character of the movements. In some classes, a warm-up can last up to ten-plus minutes and can have tempo changes and shifts in meter. Longer warm-ups can take weeks for the students to learn and teachers may add to the structure as the dancer’s abilities improve. As you can see this opening warm-up is fairly short and straight forward.
The reason the second part is abbreviated is that my phone/camera and the cup of coffee it was leaning against, wound up on the floor, creating a small puddle under the piano in the dance studio. I couldn’t stop playing, so the remainder of the exercise features a shot of the dance studio’s ceiling accompanied by the sound of my drumming–all of this was edited out. The cause of this debacle was that the camera and coffee configuration became destabilized due to the vibrations created by my drumming and the dancers’ movements–the floor is springy. The instructor used recorded music for the next part of the warm-up because I had to mop up the coffee spill.
About 9 years ago I composed and recorded the music and soundscape for a performance by the Murphy-Smith Dance Collective called “See What I Hear.” In total, I recorded over eighteen minutes of music and sounds for SWIH.
Here’s a short piece from that performance called “Full of Echos Part 3.” It’s a short drum solo played over a contrapuntal bass and piano part. The solo winds into an angular groove that ends the piece.
All the compositions I made for that performance can be found on my Sound Cloud page. Gordon Nunn’s Sound Cloud Page
I’ll be composing new music later this spring and summer, which I’ll post to this blog.
Today I’m beginning a project where I post on this site each week.
Post no. 1 is a video of me playing a very slowly on the drum set. It’s not terribly exciting, but sometimes there’s beauty in simplicity.
It’s been a busy year so far. Classes at Point Park University, where I accompany dance, began on January 7. I entered into a program called “Training in Uncertainty.” And as usual, I’ve been playing gigs, teaching drum lessons (I added one new student so far this year) and playing for creative movement classes for kindergartners and first and second graders. I have also maintained some good habits this year, which include attending three to five CrossFit classes every week, daily drum practice and meditating as much as possible. Keep on truckin’.
Dr. Zoot’s performance for the Thanksgiving Day Swing Dance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BW9eH58GJU
There’s a one hour swing dance class at the beginning of the clip, so you’ll have to fast-forward to get to the performance.