Why I believe Matched Grip is Superior

My junior high band director, Mr. Frank Adams, taught me matched grip in his beginner band. I was aware of traditional grip, watching set drummers on TV every so often, but didn't really give a hoot about one grip or the other. Eventually I started competing with other drummers, auditioning for spots in regional or state wide concert bands. The auditions usually consisted of sight reading, opening and closing a rudiment or two, and sometimes playing a prepared piece of music, either a solo of the performer's choice or a selection picked by the judges and sent to the performers in advance.

For sight reading I noticed a traditional grip player's concentration was divided three ways, reading the rhythms and dynamics, maintaining a firm and controlled grip with the left hand, and playing with a balanced sound. With matched grip I could concentrate almost entirely on reading the selection. Opening and closing rudiments seemed to cause physical pain for the traditional grip players, particularly in the left hand. Breaking down rudiments with matched grip never caused me any pain. At worst a mild discomfort ensued when controlling the evenness of the acceleration/deceleration near and at my fastest speeds. I even noticed differences between myself and my traditional grip peers with the prepared selection part of the audition. I played with more dynamic range between extreme volume levels.

In 1976 I read an article in 'The Ludwig Drummer' magazine, written by Mitch Markovitch, entitled "Matched Grip: Riding the Wave of the Future". This article shed light on the difficulties inherent with traditional grip. The major point the article made was that matched grip uses thirteen muscles for an up/down stroke, whereas the traditional left uses four. Thirteen muscles versus four. That's quite a difference considering the hand that will use just four muscles is the 'weak' hand for the majority of the population. Mitch's article also compared the traditional grip with learning to walk evenly with a combat boot on one foot and a tennis shoe on the other. It can be done, but valuable practice time is spent acquiring the talent. Matched grip starts with the premise that if both hands are the same a more balanced sound will be the result.

Although I learned matched first I also trained several seasons with traditional grip, and continue to practice traditional grip. I'd like to expand on Mitch's article with observations I've made contrasting the two grips. When I train with matched grip the major muscle that develops is the tricep muscle. With traditional grip the major muscle in the left hand that develops is the bicep. The tricep is a push muscle and the bicep is a pull muscle. Push muscles are stronger than pull muscles (try pushing a car and then pull it). Matched grip allows more contact between the hand and the stick. The stick is gripped in much the same way one grips a barbell, a football, or even someone's hand when you shake hands. This grip is natural and quite strong, and the strength of the grip can be increased with exercise. The top of the hand is above the stick which allows a simple and powerful way to propel the stick. Simple because it is an up/down motion; powerful because the entire arm pushes the stick toward the playing surface. Matched grip allows the wrist to bend naturally at the wrist joint which helps relieve arm tension. The middle, ring, and pinky fingers curl under the stick to help maintain a strong grip allowing better control (the fingers can tighten or relax). A better fulcrum is achieved with matched grip because the middle finger is under the stick near the balance point. Pivoting the stick is actually aided by the middle, ring, and pinky fingers as they push the back of the stick toward the palm forcing the bead downward. All components of the arm work together for a downstroke. The arm pushes the stick down, the wrist bends right before impact to add additional power and to help relieve arm tension, and the fingers tighten or relax, depending on the situation, to guide/control the stick.

The grip used by the left hand of traditional grip is unnatural; it is not a grip developed by everyday activities. Thus the beginner will enter uncharted motor skill territory with traditional grip. Muscle differences and unfamiliar grip means a beginner's left hand will require more attention. Even seasoned traditional grip players admit spending extra time on the left hand. The right hand will never reach full potential due to the left constantly trailing behind in training. The traditional grip left hand has two motions to propel the stick: the up/down motion used for rolls and diddles, and the turning motion sometimes used for singles and accents. The turning motion resembles the motion of the arm when one turns a doorknob. The muscles used for the turning motion are very weak, and the player must constantly adjust while switching from one motion to the other. Most of the left hand is under the stick, the back of the hand lends no power to the downstroke. There is very little wrist movement to alleviate wrist and arm tension. Little wrist movement also implies less arm flexibility; the arm motions are stiff which increases upper arm tension. There is less finger contact on the stick in the left hand. The fingers grip the stick but play a minimal role in controlling the stick. The stick rests on the side of the ring finger close to the bone and knuckle, which will absorb a portion of the impact when striking the playing surface. This can cause some degree of pain, and makes for a less than adequate pivot. The arm, wrist, and fingers of a left hand downstroke does not move as fluidly, in conjunction with one another, as a downstroke of matched grip.

From a visual standpoint there is no question that traditional looks better. I believe this has to do with the visual contrast between the left and right hands. Matched grip looks boring, but in my opinion is more functional for power and control. Matched grip is easier for beginners to learn for two reasons: strengths and flaws between each hand can be compared, and concentration is not divided with two styles. A matched grip player will need to strengthen the weak hand, but he/she is not handicapped by muscle or motor skill differences. Players should be versatile enough to use both grips, but traditional grip should be taught only after a student has partially mastered matched. The major reason: it is harder to retrain the left arm to be flexible, to bend at the wrist, than it is to play with locked joints having already learned flexibility. Matched grip should be used whenever a player wants to maximize power and control.