Traditional Grip: Should You Switch?

If you’re considering switching your drumming grip, you might be pleased to know that almost every drummer has that moment when they consider changing their drumming grip. This article covers all you need to know about the traditional grip to help you decide if you should switch it up.

If you’re considering switching your drumming grip, you might be pleased to know that almost every drummer has that moment when they consider changing their drumming grip. Drumming traditional grip could be an amazing decision that opens up a new world of drumming, depending on your music style.

Traditional grip focuses on the snare, so if you’re playing anything that does, it could suit your music style to perfection. Some drumming greats, such as Stewart Copeland, used this grip style, and there’s even the popular case of Thomas Lang, who switched to this grip halfway through his career after suffering hand injuries.

The traditional grip is also known as the “Jazz grip” because it is used more in jazz than in any other music style. The grip started to become popular among drummers playing jazz before growing throughout the drumming world. Since learning a new type of grip is learning a new type of art style, you should know everything about the traditional grip style to help you decide whether or not you should switch.

Table of Contents

What is Traditional Grip?

Traditional grip is where your off-hand or weaker hand holds the left stick differently from your right or lead hand. Your right hand should hold the drumstick with an overhand grip while your left hand holds the other stick with an underhand grip.

Tip: With the match grip, both hands “match” and use the overhand grip.

Traditional grip has other names such as:

  • Orthodox grip
  • Conventional grip
  • Fundamental grip

It is also known as the jazz grip for obvious reasons. Because of the unique finger and thumb placement required, many drummers find it difficult to play and master the traditional grip. The traditional grip also requires intense finger control and can be difficult on your middle knuckle.

Since the matched grip is an efficient and easier alternative, it is more popular than the traditional grip. When you play match grip, both hands hold the drum sticks the same way and do not require tricky finger control. Consequently, it’s a lot easier on your fingers and thumb.

History of Traditional Grip

British Marching Band. Photo Source: Mark Leishman on Unsplash

The traditional grip started when marching drummers had their marching snares slung over their shoulders or neck. This was done at a slight angle for easier reach and play, with the drum holding closer to one hip than the other.

This holding method was to stop the soldier's knees or thighs from banging into the snare while they marched, causing a wobble and making it difficult to play. The drum’s position made it hard to use the overhand grip on the higher angle of the drum.

With a matched grip, your elbow would stick out, causing a ruckus.

Switching the left hand over to an underhand position makes playing more comfortable, as the drummer has much more control when marching. Marching drummers sometimes take the liberty to adjust the angle of their drum set as they see fit, but placing it at an angle maintains shoulder and spine alignment.

Traditional grip is more popular in the jazz community and among players like Buddy Rich, who advocated this grip style. Jazz drummers evolved their snare style from early marching and military-style snare technique. However, drummers in other genres, such as rock, occasionally borrow from the traditional grip.

One popular example is Neil Peart of Rush, who played mainly matched grip but occasionally switched to Traditional Grip when needed. Other drumming greats that used the traditional grip method are Todd Sucherman from Styx and Cindy Blackman of Santana.

How to Play Traditional Grip

Photo Source: FreeImages

Playing traditional grip correctly can be tricky, but with these simple steps and a bit of practice, you'll get the hang of it in no time.

It's all in the wrist

Before you get the hang of holding your stick in a traditional grip, you’d need to consider your wrist motion. If you can present your hand out as if you're going to turn a door knob and rotate it from side to side, you've gotten the basics of the wrist motion required for the traditional grip.

Get a Grip

There are two major ways that this grip is executed. Some drummers prefer to combine their index finger and thumb, while others prefer to use their index finger and middle finger.

Let’s explore the index finger and thumb method.

  1. Hold your stick in your left hand (or right hand for lefties) between your thumb and palm. The left stick should be at the 3/4 or 2/3 point from the tip depending on what drum sticks you use. This is known as the balance point, fulcrum, or pivot point of the drumstick.
  2. You can use the nail of your ring finger as a support, with your pinky finger remaining underneath the ring finger, acting as its support. Remember to keep the drumstick at the balance point.
  3. The left stick should be around a 45-degree angle from your forearm. This is so your thumb and index finger (or first finger) can easily operate the drumstick from above. You'll notice your fingers stay quite loose and open so that the stick has room to maneuver freely.
  4. Once you're in that position, get the index and middle fingers to gently curl and support the top of the stick, keeping your ring finger in position.
  5. Finally, get your big ole thumb and attach it to your index finger. If you do this right, your middle finger should balance the whole stick with support from your index finger. If you're using a fat stick, you might not get your thumb all the way around unless you have sausage fingers.

 And there you have it, you've finalized the basics of holding your stick in the traditional grip way. Well done.

Snare Drum Positioning

Everyone has different ways of positioning the snare. Depending on your size, arm length, body structure, and even hair color, you'll have a unique way that's comfortable for you. Generally, if you're playing matched grip, your snare will be quite low because it's agreeable with that particular drumming style.

With the traditional grip, you can adjust your snare slightly to get the most out of the playing style.

Here’s how to do this:

  1. Take your stick, and place it facing outwards from your waistline. Bring your snare up to the height of your drumstick.
  2. Sit upright in a natural position and loosen your snare stand, so it moves freely. This will be easier to do if you have a ball-head snare drum stand, but you can adjust any stand type.
  3. Angle your snare slightly on the traditional grip side, so the drum is tilted.
  4. Finally, tilt the snare slightly forward, away from you.

This should give you a more comfortable drumming position when you play with the traditional grip. You can experiment with slightly different positions until this feels comfortable.

How to Practice Traditional Grip?

You have the hand position and the snare all set up. What now? Time to hit some skin.

The best way to learn traditional grip is to practice and practice some more. The steps below will give you a springboard to launch yourself into improving and mastering the traditional grip method.

Here are the steps to get you started:

  1. Once your stick is balanced at the right point, try free or full strokes. Turn your wrist like a doorknob and allow the stick to bounce off the head.
  2.  As it bounces back, take control of the stick on the rebound. You should be stopping the stick from sliding up or down.
  3. Now bounce the stick with your thumb once you've got control.
  4. Practice doing this a few times until you can easily control the stick's rebound. You'll notice it bounces back at the same speed you throw it at the head.
  5. Continue to practice singles and free strokes using quarter or sixteen notes.

Finally, you'll be able to try playing double strokes but just with your traditional grip hand to start. When you get the hang of it, get your metronome and start practicing to the beat of around 160 BPM with single strokes. Once you're locked in, you can start increasing the speed.

This method is a great exercise for finger, thumb, and wrist movement and control. Using a practice pad before you transition to your snare allows you to concentrate on feel and play rather than sound. Remember to keep the balance point on your stick when using the traditional grip.

You'll also notice that the sound with this grip is different. If you use the traditional grip, you'll hear a lighter, woodier, and resonant sound as the stick bounces. This is because there is less of you making contact with your stick. You'll soon be bouncing your stick off your ride cymbal while your traditional grip stick dances over your snare.

Other Types of Drum Stick Grips

Traditional grip is one of many styles of grip that drummers use. Some other popular grips are:

  1. Matched Grip (Or Parallel Grip)
  2. German Grip
  3. French Grip
  4. American Grip

Matched Grip

Matched grip is one of the most common grip styles. In this grip, both hands hold the stick the same way, with the palm facing down. It's a hybrid of the German and French grip, where the palms are angled, neither perpendicular nor parallel to the snare head. Matched grip gives drummers more power when hitting the drum set.

The highest percentage of drummers use matched grip due to its:

  • Natural feel
  • Increased hitting power
  • Ease on the wrists

You probably started playing your drum set using a matched grip. It's most drummers’ default grip and feels natural and comfortable because it makes it easier to strike the drum head with a decent amount of power. Rock players tend to use the matched grip for this reason.

In DBO Academy, we teach the matched grip in our first lessons.

German Grip

German grip is like matched grip except that the palms are positioned completely parallel with the drumhead. Having your hands in this position gives you more striking power than a normal matched grip.

French Grip

The French grip doesn’t offer as much power as the matched and German grips. However, it makes up for this with control. To play with this grip, your palms should be positioned perpendicular to the snare drumhead while your thumbs should sit on top of your drum sticks. This hold gives you more finger control which results in a more polished and precise strike on the snare drum.

American Grip

The American grip is a hybrid of the German and French grips, where your hands are at a 45-degree angle to the drum skin. Your hands should not be parallel or perpendicular to the drumhead, like they usually are in German and French grips.

Instead, it should lie somewhere between to give you the perfect balance of finesse and power. This will give you more control of your snare rudiments and general drumming

Grip Style Summary

Grip Name

Grip Style

Play Style

Traditional Grip

The weaker hand has an underhand grip and the lead hand has an overhand grip

Suitable for military, marching, and jazz playing

Matched Grip

Both hands grip overhand facing down

Increased hitting power for rock and metal. Great for all musical styles.

German Grip

Similar to an overhand matched grip, but palms are positioned parallel

Great for hard rock and metal due to the power increase over matched grip

French Grip

Similar to an overhand matched grip, but palms are positioned perpendicular to the snare

More finesse than the German grip making it suitable for Indie, rock, and pop

American Grip

Hybrid of German and French grips

A great all-rounder that has a balance between finesse and power. Perfect for rock and pop

Matched Grip vs. Traditional Grip

If you need help determining which grip is for you, we've created a table with the Pros and Cons of the two grips.

Matched Grip vs. Traditional Grip

Matched Grip

Traditional Grip


When you play matched grip, you get more striking power

When using traditional grip, you have more finesse across the whole of the drum kit

Matched grip has a natural feel to it

When you use traditional grip, there is increased control when playing quieter

There is consistency between left and right hands when you play matched grip

Multiple bounce strokes are simpler to perform when you use traditional grip

Easier to play on drum kits that aren’t yours

Traditional drumming values familiarity and history


When crossing over while using matched grips, the left hand can get in the way

Playing traditional grip is difficult to master

Matched grips make it difficult to emulate some jazz styles of drumming

There is less striking power when playing traditional grip

Not as flexible as traditional grip

Using traditional grip might be uncomfortable at first


Should I change to a Traditional Grip?

Photo Source: Unsplash

Traditional grip isn't just for Jazz drummers. Many drummers across different genres have utilized this style to create a unique and beautiful music style. Mastering the traditional grip is difficult for many drummers, and it could take some time to learn how to integrate it into your playing.

Some players grasp the playing style in weeks, whereas others will take months. Both types of players must practice daily if they want a shot at mastering it. So, if you’re considering making this switch, a pro tip is to take regular lessons playing with the traditional grip.

Regardless of which drum style you choose, you should ensure that your hands are trained for it. You should also remember that drumming is an art, and each artist has their style. If your left hand is your dominant hand, accept it and work with it.

And if you have more control over your right hand, do your best to play to your strengths. What is important is that your first finger, thumb, and index finger are trained to do what they should.

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