Common Match Grip Problems for Beginning Percussionists

zJust as attention is spent on the beginning wind player’s embouchure, equal attention must be spent on the beginning percussionist’s grip. As the percussionist develops, the more frequently you need to check their grip for problems. Use this information to help identify and correct specific problems in beginning percussionist’s grip.

What should I see?

As a general rule, after you introduce the basic match grip to your students you should continually see their thumbs flat on the sticks, hands flat, and the fingers securely wrapped around the stick. I like to focus on students using a “three-point” fulcrum. This fulcrum focuses on utilizing the thumb, index, and middle finger as the primary fingers holding onto the stick.

Correct match grip

Percussion Match Grip

 

Problem #1 – Index Finger On Top of the Stick

One of the easier issues to identify and correct is a student laying their index finger on top of the stick. I typically observe this issue at the very beginning stages of a developing percussionist learning to hold the sticks reading music notation. As their attention is taken away from how to hold to the sticks to reading and performing notation, the index finger will start to slide up on the stick. Most often, the student does not realize they have made this change in their grip. The best solution is to continually remind the student about the finger placement for a correct fulcrum.

pointerfingerfront PointerFingersSide

Problem #2 – Large Gap Between the Stick and the Fulcrum

Creating the correct fulcrum might feel unnatural to some students. As a result, students will often make changes in their grip to help make holding the drumstick feel more natural or comfortable to them. A common way for the young percussionist to do this is by shifting their fulcrum from the front of the hand to the back of the hand. This creates a large gap between the thumb, index finger, and drumstick. In some cases, this might also involve the middle finger as well. Since the weight of the stick is being shifted to the back of the hand, the front fingers become very relaxed and open up. This issue is also one that can be easy for the director to spot from the podium.losefulcrumtop match grip

There is no specific time in their development when this  issue is likely to occur. Students might start this habit on the first day of instruction. Students might also develop this issue when performing musical passages that are not technically demanding. A good solution for this issue is a constant reminder about creating a proper fulcrum in the front of the hand. Students can also benefit from very simple sticking drills that allow them to get comfortable with the grip.

Problem #3 – Fly Away Fingers

One of the hardest issues for a director to notice is the placement of the back fingers on the stick. From the podium, the beginning percussionist’s grip can appear fine, however, a closer look you might notice that students begin to remove their back fingers from touching the stick. Pictured below are a few different variations I have seen students create.

backfingersside fingersofftop

One of the most common times I see this issue occur is when students are introduced to the “buzz” stroke. When young students are first introduced to the buzz stroke they typically start to experiment with losing or removing their back fingers off of the stick to help achieve the bounce needed to execute a nice sounding buzz roll. As a band director, we want our percussionist to develop a quality buzz role, and it is an important step for them to explore and experiment with finger control during this stage. However, passages that require students to move from a buzz stroke to a tap stroke are perfect opportunities for this issue to develop. The young percussionist, without reinforcement, could start to permanently leave the back fingers off of the stick to help transitions between the different stroke types.

How many times in a rehearsal do we ask the percussion section to play softer? Students working on softer dynamics are a secondary problem area for this issue. When we ask young students to work on achieving a softer sound, sometimes they will remove their fingers from the stick to achieve a lighter and softer touch. This is a habit that we want our percussionist to avoid. While this might allow them to temporarily achieve a softer and lighter sound, the tone quality and control over their sticks will greatly diminish. Often when students start this trend, they will begin to leave their fingers off of the sticks for all dynamic levels. Spend time with your percussionist discussing the use of stick heights. Introducing sticks heights, as a method to achieve different dynamics, will allow your developing percussionist to play a variety of dynamic levels and keep quality tone production and control.

To review, two ways to work on “fly away fingers” are:

-Take time to review musical examples that require both buzz stroke and primary strokes to give young students time to develop the right adjustments in their grip.

-Introduce the idea of using stick heights to achieve different dynamics. 

Moving around the room and watching from different angles:

All of these issues can be tricky to spot for the band director from the podium. Just as you need to look at wind player’s embouchures up close, the same is true for a percussionist matched grip. It is important to try to walk around the room and watch your percussionist perform from a variety of angles.

Revisit the fundamentals of a proper grip often with your percussionists.

The development of a correct grip not only applies to performing on the snare drum, but also transfers to mallets, tympani, and assessorial percussion instruments. Your ears can be one of the best tools to detect issues occurring in student’s grips. If you notice the sound quality they produce is weak or continually light sounding, or students are having issues with more complex rhythmical passages it might be a good time to look into their grip. I hope this information helps you create a successful experience for your developing percussionist!

Kyle Lutes is currently the Percussion Director & Assistant Band Director for Seymour Community Schools. He is a member of the Vic Firth Education Team, and holds a Masters of Music in Percussion Performance and a Bachelor’s of Music Education from Indiana State University. He can be reached at kyle.lutes2@gmail.com.

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Related Articles:
Three Quick Ways to Check Your Percussionist’s Grip from the Podium
Using Student Assistants in Beginner Band
Teaching Strategies to Evaluate Band Students

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