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In this lesson we will look at the difference between classical and drumkit technique. Many people taught in schools are often taught both classical percussion and contemporary drumkit at the same time. You will notice as you advance beyond the intermediate standard that the technique required to play advanced material on either instrument(s) is significantly different. This lesson aims to highlight these differences and explain why they exist.


Remember this - all technique on any instrument, is born out of necessity. In this lesson I'm referring mainly to the differences in technique between a drumkit player and a mallet player (marimba, xylophone etc). The marimba is a flat object directly in front of you, at one consistent height. If you need to play higher or lower than your arms can comfortably extend, you can move your feet in order to maintain the same hand grip without lunging. Also, when playing with mallets you have hardly any rebound, so you can't effectively employ any technique that was designed to utilize rebound, such as The Rebound Stroke.

The drumkit is entirely different, it is the most 3D of all instruments, and is not at one consistent height. Each component is at a different height, on a different angle, and all the drums and cymbals have slightly varying amounts of rebound, ranging from lots to none. Because you are sitting down at a drumkit, you cannot move your body with your feet the way a mallet player can, so often you need to rotate your wrist and use circular motions in order to play parts of the kit that are further away.

From this basic observation of the two different instruments, it's not difficult to see that the techniques required to play each would be different.


You difference in technique begins with the type of grip, which is largely dependant on how thick or thin the mallet/stick is. The thickness and weight distribution of a mallet is almost the exact opposite of a drumstick. Mallets are usually very thin, so a fairly closed grip is necessary. Also the majority of the weight is at the front end where the bead is, it feels very front heavy - another reason for needing a closed grip.

If you look at a drumstick, the opposite happens. Firstly the majority of the weight of a stick is in the shaft, while the weight usually tapers off towards the stick tip. Therefore you don't need (and it would be counter productive if you had) a tight, closed grip.


If you look at the movement or motion of a mallet player as compared to a drumkit player, a mallet player often looks fairly strict in form, often using majority wrist stroke and hardly any fingers. This is probably the biggest noticeable difference. The reason is, mallets have hardly any rebound. If you've never played marimba, xylophone etc before, pick up a mallet and try it, it's like playing in quick sand. Obviously, if you're playing on a surface that doesn't offer rebound, you can't employ techniques designed to utilize rebound, such as The Rebound Stroke, Moeller Technique, Finger Control etc. You will need to produce the upstroke yourself using the Wrist Stroke. Therefore mallet players often have very efficient wrist stroke and tend to prefer to play with wrists only.

Because mallet players are standing up, they can move with their feet to reach a lower or higher part of the instrument. Therefore they can maintain a fairly strict vertical movement without the need for too much circular wrist motion.


Being an instrument that has such a large range of movement, we need to modify and also combine traditional snare drum techniques to work effectively on the drumkit. There are often large distances that need to be covered quickly (such as playing the right hand between the ride cymbal and snare), so lots of flowing, circular wrist movements are often very effective. Because we are not standing up, we don't have the advantage of moving our legs to reposition, therefore circular wrist movement is paramount.

If you look at a top level player on any other instrument that has a large range of movement; such as violin or piano, you will notice they always have a very graceful, flowing and effortless technique. This is what your drumkit technique needs to be like. If you watch any of the elite level drummers (Dave Weckl, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jojo Mayer, Buddy Rich etc), they all have amazing control over their speed, dynamics and phrasing and yet always appear to be very relaxed.

You need to use movement patterns that are efficient in terms of economy of motion, finesse and fluidity. Large stumbling movement with lots of excessive pivoting at the shoulder for instance, will just burn up lots of energy with minimal return. Remember drumkit technique is a combination of many techniques. If you're playing on the snare, hihat or ride cymbal (surfaces with rebound), then use strokes designed for rebound (Rebound Stroke, Moeller Technique, PushPull Technique etc), if you're playing on surfaces without much rebound, use more wrist stroke. If you're playing on a surface with rebound, and you still use wrist stroke, you're fighting the instrument and you will struggle to breakthrough a threshold of speed and finesse.

Also remember it is ok/correct to change your grip as you move around the drumkit. If you look at your RH when playing on the hihats or snare, you will typically be playing with a fair amount of wrist pointing up. As your RH moves around the toms down to the floor tom, slightly rotate as you move around, until the thumb is pointing up on floor tom. By rotating your wrist like this, you are releasing the shoulder of any tension or hyper extension.


If you do either to an advanced standard, they are both difficult in their own right. Every instrument has it's unique challenges. Drumkit players have to master many hand techniques, bass drum techniques and hihat techniques (the latter 2 are NOT the same thing), to be able to play all 4 limbs simultaneously as second nature. A mallet player doesn't need anywhere near this level of co-ordination between 4 limbs. That said they have to have a full melodic/harmonic knowledge - key signatures, scales, modes etc, and to be able to improvise with this knowledge is another skill again (jazz vibraphone etc). Plus they have to be extremely accurate or they will hit the wrong note! Although it will be obvious to a trained drummer, the majority of people will not notice if you miss hit a drum or cymbal, but everyone will notice if you accidently play C# instead of C in your marimba solo.


Problems arise when people are unaware or uneducated about the other instrument. Sometimes pride and ego weigh in also. If you keep an open mind and recognize changes need to be made, you will do well on both instruments. There are definitely many players worldwide who can play both mallets and drumkit to a high standard.


There are pros and cons to this, it really depends on the individual. Advantages are, you very quickly realize and appreciate the vast difference in techniques/skills and approaches to each instrument. You also have the option of becoming a very versatile percussionist, perhaps a multi percussionist. The disadvantage can be, many students end up a "Jack of all trades, master of none", whilst others find it all a bit too overwhelming. Remember percussion is a family of instruments! You don't say to a student who wants to learn the trumpet; "Sure you can learn brass; here's a trumpet, a trombone, tuba, sousaphone, euphonium. Now get practicing!"

My advice would be to pick one thing at a time and get competent on it first, then move on to something else. Don't try to be a drumkit player and a Latin American percussionist and a classical percussionist all to a very high standard, all at the same time. Branch out gradually. Remember if you want to play any arm of percussion to a very high standard (be it drumkit, classical, Latin American etc) you will have your hands full as it is.

Most of all enjoy the learning process and have fun!




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