In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest.
In my case it is definitely my left hand.
I started drumming in my early years on my Dad’s Sonor Trap set playing traditional grip exactly the way he had taught me to do (as the picture to the left clearly demonstrates ha). I did so for many years even playing traditional grip up until high school where it was basically mandatory to switch over as I gravitated to the tri-toms as my first marching band instrument. I think out of all the drumline instruments I found that to be a cool option for me, sans that they weighed what seemed like 100 pounds back then. I never really wanted to be a snare drum “freak” with mad speed and chops for some reason. I left that to my buddies Jimmy Cole and Scott Fowler. They were bad asses.
As I progressed through high-school I continued on to play quads until I graduated but mainly pursued the drumset at home. Do I regret not playing the drum set more in school? Yes. For some reason I never gravitated to Jazz music. Though I admire its complexity and rich history with great drummers like Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Gene Krupa and others, I never chose to go down that path. My drumming practice consisted of daily bashing away to the progressive and rock greats of the early 80’s in the bedroom of our second story house with never a complaint from my Mother, what a wonderful lady.
I was self guided for the most part with occasional sessions with my buddy Scott Fowler, an amazing drummer in his own right. He had a dedication and drive that pushed him deep in to great technique at a young age. I always seemed to be ten steps behind him. I also would jam with my buddy Clark Kirkwood on occasion at his place and I later studied under a local drummer in Jacksonville back then named Joe Bragg to garner some fundamentals in form and style with a taste of Jazz. From then on I took care of things myself with practicing along with great songs and dissecting drum tabs if needed. I was very fortunate to learn how to read music in junior high school. Later in high school occasionally another local legend Jimmy Glenn Jr. would drop in and help the drumline with our chops. I still loved the drum set though.
Lo, I digress.
I think the thing that most held me back with advanced speed or “chops” most of my life has been lack of focus of development of my non-dominant left hand. I did work through the essential rudiments of the time often and pushed myself to get faster and faster. Only to a point. I love drumming greatly but I do love other things too. I averaged a couple of hours a day practicing when I was young and then would be off to other childhood interests. I just never actually took the time to focus on the left hand and my grip, endurance and form.
Until this last year that is…
After practicing on my leg watching tv, (yes my leg). I noticed I was holding the left drumstick differently than the right and had much less control with the same placement of my fingers. I could get great speed from my right hand progressively moving the control from my forearm down to the wrist and then fingers isolated to do fast single strokes. Out of curiosity, I tried to mimic what my right hand was doing with my left and holy crap… It was sloppy.
When doing fast single stroke rolls I was using my “digits” to control the stroke with more speed and I had a lot more strength in my right hand and fingers due to years of repetition and dominate usage. When trying to match the same movement with my left and finger placement to mirror the right, I couldn’t.
Here is a pic of how I generally held the stick with my left hand from an underneath view most of my life:
I then took a close look at the placement of the sticks in my right hand in relation to the wrist and placement of the index and other fingers along the butt of the stick. I then started, very slowly mind you, forcing my left hand to mirror the right hand exactly. It started out very sloppy and my left hand was very weak compared to my right in all aspects. So I remembered about the weakest link in a chain quote and started to focus on my left hand in attempts to bring it up to par with the right. I still work on this daily.
Here is a shot of how I am forcing myself to hold the stick in my left hand now for more detailed work and speed focusing on placement and form:
In my down time my wife and I like to watch TV shows and movies and may spend some time on the couch in the evenings. (Up next Better Call Saul, we have yet to venture into this prequel to Breaking Bad but it will happen as my wife is a huge fan of the character Mike.) You will now see me with sticks in my hand all the time when at rest and will diligently (and hopefully quietly) be chiseling away at the left hand either on a practice pad or my knee. Well actually, the area just above the knee where the thigh muscle meets the knee. I found that whether I am sitting upright or even laying on my back I can get positioned to do a complete isolated workout for my left hand. I can also vary the bounce response by bending my leg in for more bounce or extending it for less bounce and greater effort in practicing.
*** Now don’t tell your drum instructor this, he might freak, but I think any practice at this point of my life can certainly be beneficial.
I have now gotten my left hand closely mimicking the right and have noticed a great improvement in single stroke speed. I still have a long way to go to get them close to equal. Speed and muscle memory development takes time and a lot of repetition and I should have worked on that harder when I was younger. I really haven’t set any baselines for improvement as far as metronome speed comparisons and what not. I just watch my progression and can gauge that the time is takes my left hand to tire at faster speeds compared to my right is gradually getting shorter. Something that I hope will show in my playing more and more.
So what next? I am seeing improvement in my left hand control and will continue to practice. I am also incorporating in exercises from a myriad of books I have collected over the years to change things up. I plan to share them in a future post for S&Gs. You can certainly find a ton of information on the web too about improving your non-dominant drumming hand.
Until next time, keep on drumming.