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A Relaxed Approach to Playing Snare Drum
First we must make one thing clear: there are a number of snare drum grips out there that will allow your students to develop a good snare drum technique. Students may arrive in your band holding their snare drum sticks with either traditional or matched grip. They may have learned to play with finger control, or wrist control, or a combination of both. Unfortunately, you'll find that many - in spite of several years of lessons - will play with no control at all.
If you’re starting a student on drums, or if an incoming student has some playing experience but is still struggling with basic techniques, I recommend the following matched grip. With matched grip, each hand holds the snare drum stick the same way.
(See A Relaxed Approach to Drum Technique , which addresses the importance of a relaxed stroke and dropping rather than hammering the stick into the drum.)
This is the version of matched grip that I use. It was practised by my teacher, Elden C. “Buster” Bailey, the principal snare drummer of the New York Philharmonic from 1949-91. (His book Wrist Twisters: a Musical Approach to Snare Drumming is an invaluable resource for every serious snare drummer.)
The student should grip the stick with the thumb at the side and the forefinger curled underneath. The stick passes under the centre of the hand, with the third and fourth fingers curled under the stick to provide a bed of support. They also must keep the stick under the palm such that there is a straight trajectory from the tip of the stick through the wrist and lower arm to the elbow.
Side view of hand position.
View of the fingers under the hand.
The thumb and first finger should never squeeze the stick. Rather, they act as guides, exerting just enough pressure to keep the stick from wobbling from side to side.
The role of the third and fourth fingers is very important. The point at which they cross the stick, in the middle of the palm, is the centre of support. The student should be able to release the thumb and index finger and still swing the stick up and down. The two fingers stay curled under the hand, keeping the stick close to the palm while allowing the stick some movement. It is very important that they don’t flare out when striking the drum. The pinky should be relaxed and out of the way.
The position of the fingers below the stick, and their sensitivity to the rebound off the drum head is the key to developing control.
With the sticks forming a “V” shape on the drum, the student is now ready to play the first strokes.