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Jazz Drum Lesson: How to Hold the Drumsticks with Peter Erskine

We’ve all heard the timeless idiom, “you have to learn to walk before you can run.” It’s a brilliant metaphor that can be applied to so many different facets of education and life. However, when it comes to learning to play the drums and developing the proper technique for holding a pair of drumsticks, 2-time Grammy Award-winning drummer and ArtistWorks master instructor, Peter Erskine, could not have applied a more literal meaning to the phrase.


“Whether you’re an experienced drummer or just starting out, I’d like to ask you all to do the following,” Erskine begins. “Please get up from your chair or drum stool. Stand up, and walk with me.”


Erskine goes on to explain that the foundation of a proper grip on the drumsticks stems directly from a relaxed walking form, with one’s arms slightly bent and free of tension in order to make fluid, even movements.


“Imagine we’re walking down the street, and we stop and we bend our arms at the elbows,” Erksine continues. “We don’t want to play with our arms at right angles. Right angles are not a good thing when drumming. The stick is the continuation of the arm, and we need to allow the weight of the stick to help guide it toward its destination.”


In this video from Erskine’s curriculum of jazz drum lessons offered here at ArtistWorks, Erskine outlines the proper method for balancing the drumsticks, how they should lay in the player's hand, and the difference between “matched grip” and “traditional grip.”


“Tradition has informed us that the fulcrum is between the thumb and the index finger,” Erskine explains. “But, experience has pointed out that the fulcrum [utilizes] the middle finger [as much as the index]the point where the thumb pressing down on the stick makes contact with the rest of the hand.”


Erskine goes on to detail the manner in which the stick should rest gently between the fulcrum created by the thumb, index and middle fingers, and how they should merely act as an usher to lead the stick to the point of contact against the drum head or cymbal. He then illustrates the difference between the two most common techniques, or “grips,” for holding the drumsticks—matched grip and traditional grip.


Matched Grip

As one might assume, the Matched Grip is a technique in which both the left and right hand are holding the drumsticks in an identical, or “matched,” manner. The sticks both rest gently between each hand’s three-finger fulcrum with palms facing down toward the face of the drum head. From there, as Erskine pointed out earlier in his lesson, you let the weight of the stick be your guide.



“For drummers who take a more ambidextrous approach to drumming, matched grip makes a lot of sense,” Erskine explains. “And for power, it’s terrific!”


Traditional Grip

Unlike Matched Grip, when employing the Traditional Grip technique, the left and right hand are not holding the drumsticks in an identical fashion. The right hand grips the stick in a similar manner to that of the Matched Grip—with the stick balanced lightly between the thumb, index and middle fingers with the palm facing down toward the drum.


The left hand, however, utilizes a completely unique grip style in the Traditional Grip technique. The left hand palm faces upward toward the sky, and the stick balances delicately between the crease of the thumb and rests across the tops of the index and middle fingers.



“Many years ago, when drums were used on the field of battle,” Erskine describes, “the drum would be suspended around the drummer's neck by a shoulder strap or piece of rope, and the drum would hang at an angle. The Traditional Grip technique was developed to accommodate that angle.”


Regardless of which grip technique you prefer, it is critical when holding the drumsticks to keep a relaxed, light grasp on the sticks and allow the stick to vibrate freely in your palm.


“I hold the sticks in a very relaxed manner,” Erskine explains. “The wood is free to vibrate, which does a couple things. I get a better sound out of the instrument, and I minimize the risk of causing myself any physical injury.”


So, grab your fresh pair of Peter Erskine Signature Vic Firth Ride Sticks, your practice pad, and a drum stool, and dive into this online drum lesson. But, remember, before you begin, it doesn’t hurt to warm up with a quick walk.



Have you always wanted to learn how to play jazz drums? Through our comprehensive online drum lessons and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally-renowned players, like Peter Erskine, and get personalized feedback on your playing.


Peter’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner jazz drums to advanced performance techniques and compositions. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as drummers and musicians!


Try out some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



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