We’ve all seen it, the “Death Grip!” When a percussionist grips the stick/mallet so hard that their hand begins to cramp or their knuckles turn white. It causes discomfort, senselessly uses energy, and makes a horrible sound. Loosen up your grip and let the stick breathe! Let’s take a deeper look at why letting the stick breathe’ is a good idea.
Discomfort. As percussionists, we rely on our hands to produce the sounds that we desire. Ensuring that these instruments (our hands) are in the best possible condition is ideal for playing. Gripping too hard causes cramps and stiffness. Relax the hand and allow muscles & joints to move a little more freely. You still want a bit of firmness, but the slight relaxation will cut down on the pain and ultimately increase your playing stamina.
Senseless Use of Energy. Running around a field that stretches 100 yards and aggressively beating a drum for almost 10 minutes can be quite draining. Conserving your energy is a great idea. “Energy, like all the energy one might be putting into clamping down on his/her sticks extra hard?” one might ask. EXACTLY! It seems like it may only be a small amount of energy that one would save, but it all adds up. Maybe use the energy being directed into the finger & hand muscles for that crazy strong grip somewhere else. Loosen the grip and redirect that energy toward the wrists, where stroke initiation happens. As most young percussionists tend to have weak wrists, this would certainly be a better use of one’s energy.
Sound. Resonance is key to a full sound, especially in the percussion section where we have a limited ability to sustain notes. To achieve maximum resonance, one must allow the sound vibrations to flow through his/her entire environment; the drum head, the shell, the air, and yes – the stick! When a player grips too hard, he/she dampens the natural resonance that the stick would otherwise have. Let the stick vibrate by loosening the grip, it actually does add to the overall sound.
DISCLAIMER: All this talk about relaxing the grip may have some thinking that we should have spaghetti noodles for hands when holding a stick. This is absolutely not the case. The phrase we use at DOA for describing the grip is “firm yet relaxed.” This means that the hand should be relaxed enough to allow for good resonance of the stick, but still be firm enough to allow for an accurate stroke and not have and sticks fall out of hands. So don’t death grip your sticks/mallets; get a pretty firm grip on it and then… LET THE STICK BREATHE!