Almost without exception, percussion students entering the music colleges play with matched grip (many very well). At the Royal College of Music (where I am one of several teachers) all percussion students are required to learn traditional grip also. At the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, it is my responsibility to teach snare drum not only to the orchestral students, but also to the jazz drum students for at least the first two years. Several of the GSMD students have asked me to teach them traditional grip. It is not compulsory however.
At these schools there is no intention of changing the way the students play. What we are seeking to do is to add to their knowledge and ability.
What is the justification for learning traditional grip?
1. It is part of the history and tradition of drumming. This can easily be shot down in flames as a good reason.
2. The way the stick rebounds on the skin with the left hand is different to that of the right, which can be used as an advantage. It is very interesting that many jazz drummers, some of long-standing, have not changed from traditional grip. Are they being lazy or do they feel there is an advantage in using this grip? A member of the audience at the clinic performed by Ralph Salmins and Paul Clarvis at the Royal Northern College of Music day noted that both Ralph and Paul still play traditional grip after many years of professional playing.
3. There is some lucrative work which requires the player to play traditional grip. Namely, appearing on stage in theatres in plays and operas set in pre-20th-century times.
One example is the four Marine drummers who appear on stage in “Billy Budd” an opera by Britten, which is set in Nelson’s time. I was told that when the Metropolitan Opera in New York played “Billy Budd” they had 24 drummers onstage. Also, some early music groups perform re-enactments where everybody plays period instruments.
So, is it worth bothering to learn this grip?
If the answer is yes, read on.
One thing to consider is the angle of the drum. My predecessor at the Royal Opera House was Reginald Barker, a very good traditional player, who had the snare drum sloping down from the left at 45°. He referred to the increasing number of match grip players as the “Flat Earth Society”.
Referring to photographs in books on the history of jazz is very interesting. In the 1920s drummers such as Baby Dodds had the drum at a steep angle. Gene Krupa, who appeared in several films in the late 1930s and 40s also had the drum at a steepish angle. Louis Bellson, playing with Duke Ellington’s band in the 1950s had his drum almost flat. It seems to have flattened out over time.
For myself, I have the drum virtually flat. Many of my colleagues have the drum at a slight angle. A reason for this is that much of the playing I have done has been within the confines of the theatre pit. Within a large percussion section there may well be a mixture of traditional and match grip players. If someone has to change to the snare drum in a hurry there isn’t time to adjust the drum.
I found using traditional grip on a flat drum to be largely a question of the drum being the right height and having my left fore- arm basically parallel to the ground.
One key area on which to concentrate when teaching match grip students to play traditional grip is controlling the rebound of the left stick. This is where I feel there is an advantage, particularly when playing drum kit.
I use Examples 1 to 10 to build this ability on a step-by-step basis.
Exercise 10 has the right stick playing a steady stream of crotchets as the left stick plays doubles of two different speeds.
Exercise 11 is an example of an improvisation, which requires controlling the rebound, varying from beat to beat. A good tempo for Examples 10 and 11 is crochet = 120.
If you have no time, or indeed no wish, to explore traditional grip, you may find these examples useful for developing control of left-hand doubles anyway.