Matched Grip – What is it and Why Do so Many Drummers Love it?

Using the correct grip is the single most important thing you can do to avoid pain, muscle tension, and physical limitations to your playing. These days matched is the standard for many drummers because of how easy it is to learn and use. However, it’s not really a substitute for a traditional grip. Let’s look at the types, uses, techniques, and common mistakes when using the matched and traditional.

A Full Guide to Drumming Grips

Drummers love the matched grip for its ease and versatility, though jazz musicians prefer the traditional because of its subtlety. It’s important to look at all the different drum grips and their subtypes to determine which would suit your music style. The matched grip has many benefits: from its more ergonomic and controlled way of playing to the fact that for many people it’s much easier to learn.

What is a matched grip?

The matched grip, also called overhand, is holding both drumsticks in a matching way. Both palms are facing down and the stick is placed in the center of the hand-overhand grip. For wrist strokes, it’s perfect, as the hand position lets your wrist cover the biggest diameter. It’s sometimes called parallel, and it’s almost universal for drummers. Lots of times this would be the first one you learn when you only start drumming.

Match grip has three main variations:

  • German
  • French
  • American

In a traditional grip, every hand has a different hold on the drumstick. One hand is placed palm face down on the stick, but the other hand holds it palm face up. It’s used to play snare drums and drum sets in jazz bands. The use doesn’t end with them though, and many rock musicians prefer the traditional technique.

boy playing drums with matched grip

Benefits of a matched grip

There is a reason why the matching grip has become an almost universal technique for drummers. There are many benefits to it, but the main ones are:

  • Easy to learn. The match grip technique is widely accessible and understandable, and many people are able to learn and use the right match grip technique correctly.
  • More control. This style of drumming offers much more control, which for beginners is incredibly important. Sticks are held in a similar manner by both hands, so with a match grip technique, the stronger hand and the weaker hand are able to repeat the same motion.
  • Efficient. The strokes are powerful and efficient, allowing you to move around the kit more easily and create better dynamics.

On top of all that, match grip only really has one con: it’s not really fit to play jazz. There is also the fact that learning it after you’ve already been playing the traditional one, might be uncomfortable for you.

The traditional grip also has benefits, among which is the subtlety it allows to achieve, which is quite necessary for jazz music. It makes playing quieter notes more effortless. Its traditional style is important to the type of music it’s meant to create: jazz and marching drumming which have great reverence for the legendary musicians.

On the technical level, this style was designed for the drum, which was held by a marching drummer on a sling, and doesn’t have a lot of practical use in modern drum kits. On a physical level, it also requires the use of muscle groups that in normal life we don’t use a lot, making it difficult to nail the technique and creating the potential for trauma.

What variants of matched grip exist?

The main three variants of the matched grip are German, American, and French.

German grip is popular for the amount of power it produces. It’s one of the reasons why many rock musicians benefit from the german grip. However, because it’s powerful, it lacks speed, which is why the german grip doesn’t suit jazz drumming, funk, and speed metal. The drumsticks in the german grip are held parallel to the drumhead with thumbs positioned on the side of the sticks, the top of the hand sits flat. German grip is easy to distinguish because the drumsticks make an obvious right angle or the letter L. This position of hands allows great control because it uses the muscles of the inner arm, wrist, and finger equally. So it’s possible to both play pianissimo and fortissimo.

French grip drumming is characterized by significant looseness compared to the German one. Where the german technique is balancing the finger and wrist action, french grip drumming relies primarily on finger work. The palms are perpendicular to the drumhead and the thumbs are lying on top of the drumstick. This way the wrist is relieved of most of the pressure and the stroke is produced with fingers and wrist together. Because it doesn’t use the strength of inner arm muscles, it provides less power, but more speed and nimbleness. This is why french grip drumming is very commonly used in funk and jazz music. It’s also sometimes called a ‘timpani grip’ and is excellent for drummers who play at great speed.

American grip drumming is somewhere in the middle between the speed of the French one and the power and control of the German style. This makes it one of the most commonly used grips overall. It is very intuitive and natural, as most people take the drumsticks this way on their first try because it seems like a natural position. Palms face neither down nor inwards, they’re placed at an approximate angle of 45 degrees, with thumbs at the sides of the stick used to propel it. In performance, it has the qualities of both the french and the german technique. It has the strength and the breadth of motion of the german technique, but the strokes of fingers are quick like in french grip drumming. Many drummers prefer it as a universal choice.

Basic strokes of a matched grip

Match grip and stroke are not separate issues, the way you hold the drumstick and move it are connected with one another, and dictate the way it works.

The basic strokes in matched drumming are:

  • Full stroke – holding the drumstick 8-12 inches above the striking surface, the drummer strikes the drum and returns the drumstick back into the starting position, making a full movement.
  • Downstroke – it starts at the same height as the full stroke, but when the drumstick strikes the drumhead, the stick doesn’t return, instead of staying low above an inch from the surface.
  • Upstroke – begins with the stick low above the surface of the drum, hovering at about an inch. The drummer then strikes the surface and brings the drumstick up to full stroke or downstroke position.
  • Tap stroke – starts at the same position as upstroke and remains thereafter striking.

The matched grip technique is built around using these four strokes correctly.

Which grip is better?

If you ask any classical or jazz musician they will tell you that yes, traditional is better than match grip technique. It became popular in military drumming, where the drum is slung to the side, so it makes sense to turn your left forearm under. It makes playing side drum easier and works on a modern drum kit as well.

Lots of drummers will tell you that it’s not convenient or ergonomic, and improper technique can very quickly lead to muscle strain and injury.

But, lots of drummers still use the traditional one when the beat is funky, it has a very unique expression and attitude.

When it comes to learning, it is understandable why many people prefer to learn matched techniques instead of the traditional ones because of the easier and more ergonomic way it works. However, it doesn’t mean that the traditional one is fully antiquated and is only played by an elite group of traditionalists. Many drummers, including Steve Smith, Todd Sucherman, and Steward Copeland, use traditional ones, whether as the only one or when it suits the part better.

Many drummers that have used the traditional one before have switched to the matched grip because of a hand injury.

drum cadence

Can you play jazz with matched grip?

Because jazz puts a big emphasis on the tradition and studying the greats and their technique, the preferred method has always been the traditional grip, as the parts were written to suit this technique. But is it at all possible to play jazz with matched grip?

The traditional one makes playing certain things much easier, like a very soft sound and tilted drum. Because of how your left-hand works in it, a very different set of muscles are involved, and there is a difference in the tension and amount of work each hand does. Because of that, for lots of people, it’s more difficult to learn and develop properly.
Matched grip is easier because both hands are doing the same thing in a similar way, and some of the perks that a traditional grip offers can be compensated for if you develop your match technique. It takes time to get to the level of control you need to nail the subtleties of jazz grace notes, and softer sound and it is also more difficult to use when you cross your hands.

But is it possible to play jazz using a matched grip technique? Sure, it’s possible. It’s just that it was developed to serve a different purpose, so it might take time to adjust and hone your technique properly.

Who popularized matched grip?

Matched grip became popular in the 70s. Before that, many jazz musicians like Buddy Rich were opposed to it, and the early popularity of the matched grip is attributed to bebop musicians who went against the grain.

There wasn’t one person or one music genre that truly brought matched style into the mainstream, rather the change was gradual.

It’s a popular belief that Ringo Starr made matched grip popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Before that, the traditional style was very popular in the West, but Ringo not only brought the match grip drumming into the spotlight in the Beatle’s performances, but his match grip drumming also caught the attention of many drummers to be.

Summary: which grip is the right one for you?

At the end of the day, the best grip is the one you are comfortable with. Viewing the traditional or matched as a binary choice you have to make is not productive, it should suit your needs and the style of music you’re trying to play. The groups of muscles used in match grip drumming allow you to achieve good control and produce a great loud sound in the case of german grip, more subtle faster finger work in the french grip drumming, and get the best of both worlds in the American grip drumming.

Which different drum grips do you use? Are you a traditionalist or do you find matched grip more practical? Write about your experience in the comments down below.

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