Monday, December 22, 2014

Getting a Grip on Tradition

I hope people don't run screaming when I write about the drums. In most cases, I am not writing about the drums, but about something I learned about life through the drums...  Granted my last piece on the aesthetics of drums is a bit more drummy than most, but stick with me with this one. It's about the concept of tradition more than it is about drums.

There are those among us who are so tied to tradition that we refuse to admit change into our lives or into the lives of society as a whole. This is bad. But, then, there are those who call any traditional view "old fashioned" or outright stupid. This, also, is bad. The thing is, tradition that makes sense should remain and tradition that does not make sense should be considered for upheaval.

A great metaphor for this is the way drummers hold their sticks. There are, out there, die-hard proponents of the "traditional grip" in drumming. It looks like this:

Note the sort of sideways grip in the left hand. This is the way many drummers were taught for years and years. According to Neil Peart, in an article he wrote many years ago for Modern Drummer, this grip originated with the side-hanging snare drum for marching -- the one we picture in the Revolutionary War photos:

You can see that if that drummer held the left-hand stick the same way he is holding the right hand stick, his elbow would wind up being all chicken-wingy. This would cause havoc in his shoulder.

On a drum set, however, there is no weird angle like this (unless you intentionally set one). I, and many other proponents of the matched grip see this newer approach as one that makes more sense both for modern snare drumming and for drum set playing. Even if you are not a drummer, you can probably see the logic in this...

As with all things, though, why quibble with those who prefer the traditional grip? To each his own. I, too, occasionally go back to the older grip simply because I learned certain things that way and find it more comfortable.

But I always found this interview amusing. Here is Buddy Rich, a man who is known as possibly the greatest drummer of all time, trying (miserably) to defend traditional grip. He can offer no logical defense. (This is kind of fun to watch because Buddy was notoriously abrasive to those who didn't share his opinions or live up to his standards.) Anyway, watch:

He offers no real technical or logical reason. The best statement he can make is, "You can't anything. The correct way is the drum way."  But he does give a glonky and vague demonstration of intentionally awkward drumming. He may try to say you can't play certain things with matched grip, but that simply is not true. Anything that can be played with traditional grip can be played with matched grip. (And if we are going to get really technical, he is showing "timpani grip" which is different from matched grip. in its own "traditional sense." I won't get into French and German grip and all that...)

Sure, he was a wonder on the drums, but many have come after who have shown tremendous prowess while using the matched grip.

Should we "outlaw" traditional grip? No. Should we make those who still use it feel shame? No. Should we force feed new drummers the matched grip? No.

You can apply your own tradition-versus-newness topic to the sentences above; it isn't just something to be considered in terms of drumming. Change if it makes sense; don't change if it does not.

I may be able to give logical, new-fangled reasons why the matched grip is better, but I should respect Buddy's preferences as well. (After all, he was a much better technician than I could ever hope to be.)

But that doesn't mean he's right. At the same time, it doesn't mean tradition has no value.

For those who might be interested, here is Gavin Harrison...uh, not doing what you can't do with matched grip.

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