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Traditional grip or matched grip: is one better than the other?

While matched grip is the standard for most drummers these days, traditional grip does have some benefits. But unless you’re playing jazz or marching snare, the benefits of trad just don’t outweigh the benefits of matched for most people.

If you learned to drum many years ago or love watching videos of classic drummers, you might be wondering if anyone still uses that legendary underhand grip. What happened?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane for a minute.

 

 

It’s Sunday evening on February 9th, 1964. You’re winding down with your family before another week of school and work. And then…

BAM!

Four British kids appear on your dimly lit RCA color television and create a musical Big Bang that alters the course of history. And of the four mop top Beatles, it’s the one in the back where the real drama is unfolding.

Because as he busts into “She Loves You” holding his drumsticks the same way with both hands, Ringo influenced a whole generation of drummers to put an evolutionary bullet in over 100 years of drumming.

Was Ringo the first one in modern history to play matched grip? Not by a long shot. But when Beatlemania swept the world, drummers saw this guy in the spotlight doing things differently. And they wanted to hold their sticks like him.

Even a young Dom Famularo was learning to drum with a teacher who wanted him to play traditional (underhand) grip. But when Dom saw Ringo play, he begged that teacher to let him play matched!

As it turns out, matched grip really was the natural next step in the evolution of drum set playing.

Trad grip used to be the only way to play the drum set

The drum set evolved from the marching drum, which the drummer had to carry on a sling over one shoulder. Since the drum tilted down, the most effective way to play it was to hold one stick ‘upside down’.

When drummers started sitting behind the kit, they’d tilt the snare drum forward so they could still play it properly using the underhand grip.

But drums existed long before they were used in the military. Drummers around the world had probably been using matched grip for eons. When you think about it, calling it ‘traditional grip’ when it’s actually a relatively new technique seems a bit funny, doesn’t it?

Traditional vs. matched: Which is better?

If you learned to play trad grip years ago, you might wonder why matched grip has become such a popular choice for modern drummers. Here are some of the benefits and downsides of each:

While each grip has its pros and cons, matched has taken over as the dominant technique. Think of it like throwing a baseball: if you know you’ll get more power pitching overhand than underhand, you’re more likely to avoid the underhand pitch.

As the drum set has matured as an instrument, players and teachers have refined techniques and found better ergonomic setups. Over time, matched grip has emerged as a better one-size-fits-all approach.

But has traditional grip gone the way of the dodo?

It may be less common these days, but it’s still alive and kicking. There are many drummers today who use trad grip – either 24/7 or when it suits the part – including:

  • Todd Sucherman
  • Cindy Blackman Santana
  • Dave Weckl
  • Vinnie Colaiuta
  • Steve Smith
  • Stewart Copeland

Some drummers – like Jack DeJohnette and Thomas Lang – have switched to matched grip mid-career due to hand injuries.

One common misconception is that all the classic jazz and Big Band drummers only used traditional grip. In reality, they sometimes switched to matched grip. Check out Gene Krupa doing it in this video, and watch this clip of Art Blakey. Louis Bellson alternates his grip during this solo too.

And guess what? Even Buddy Rich, who has famously condemned matched grip, plays matched during one part of this drum battle!

Today the underhand grip seems to carry the legacy of the legends. It’s still popular in the jazz genre. And we’re starting to see young drummers like Greyson Nekrutman bringing traditional grip back.

Are there advantages to learning both? Sure. But think about what style you’re playing, what kind of dynamics you need, how you want to move around the kit, and even how you want to look on the kit.

If you want to pay tribute to the drumming greats – like Gene Krupa, Tony Williams or Buddy Rich – traditional grip might be how you choose to channel their spirit. Trad hasn’t quite gone extinct, but matched grip seems to be the best all-around choice in most situations.


Samantha Landa is a Canadian metal drummer and writer. She currently plays with Conquer Divide, The Anti-Queens and Dead Asylum and has toured with metal bands Nervosa and Introtyl. Sam has been featured by outlets such as Sick Drummer Magazine and DRUM! Magazine, and proudly endorses Mapex Drums, Sabian Cymbals and Los Cabos Drumsticks.

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