how to develop the perfect snare drum grip.

12 years ago, you would have found me in the top row of the balcony at the detroit symphony orchestra hall, armed with binoculars, zoomed into my teacher brian's hands while he played timpani.

i was obsessed with grip and how to hold the sticks.

i talked about grip to all my friends, my teachers, and my youth orchestra colleagues. i thought about it during my practice sessions, during lunch, during physics class, and even in my sleep.

are there rules about my grip?

there are "kind of" rules out there. there are these codified systems of playing. you hear about the german style versus the french style and everything in between. i'm not too sure how accurate those are or if they actually use those styles in germany or france (probably not, who knows), but that's just kind of how americans are taught in high school.

there are also these different schools of playing, like the cloyd duff school of timpani playing that is taught through his students and now at masterclasses. then there's the alan abel or the philadelphia orchestra way of playing snare drum, and i'm sure there's a ton of variation within those schools of thought as well. but one of the things i always remember when i went to the masterclass is that you use a lot of arm, especially for snare drum rolls. and that's something that's been really useful to me.

one thing specifically has stayed with me. i'm really not even sure where i learned it, but for the longest time there was this voice in my head saying "never put your pinky out when you're playing snare drum rolls!" i would look around from teacher to teacher and see these people who would have their pinkies out and i would think "wow, they're breaking the rules."

and wouldn't you know, after a decade and a half of playing snare drum and achieving an orchestra job, recording all the delécluse etudes, and teaching all over the place, i looked in the mirror the other day as i was practicing downstairs at the MET, and I realized: in my snare drum rolls, my pinkies stick out.

rules like that are important as a sort of guideline. things for you to think about and try out as you're learning your own perfect snare grip. after learning all these rules, what you find is that nobody can get in your head, understand *exactly* what it's like for you to hold the stick and what the stick actually feels like as you're playing. everybody's fingers and hands are shaped differently. your thumb sticks out differently than mine. your fingers my be bonier than mine. certain muscles in your hand are stronger than other ones in a unique way that only and specifically applies to you. so the best, perfect snare drum grip for you is your own. it's totally find for you to play in a different way than the codified, hard-and-fast rules that you learned.

what you really need to do to find the perfect snare grip is to think about developing your own school of playing that works best for you. how do you play soft rolls? how do you play loud rolls?

so here are 3 steps you can go through to develop your own school of playing.

  1. learn. learn from your teacher, learn from other students in your youth orchestra, watch other professional orchestras and bring your binoculars. try to take in all the ideas that you can from people you admire and respect.
  2. practice and ingrain. bring those ideas you learned back into the practice room and actually ingrain them into your playing. whatever your teacher says, use more arm when you're playing snare drum rolls. fine. when you're playing soft, make sure that your back fingers are still on the stick a little bit. learn these things as though they're gospel.
  3. make decisions. start making decision for yourself about your school of playing based on feedback from yourself and from musicians you really trust. what's the best way that you can play a soft snare roll? is that the way you used to play it? is it the new way your teacher taught you? or is it some kind of frankenstein version that's halfway old and halfway new? you start to develop the best grip that you can use for soft snare drum, for loud snare drum rolls, loud singles -- all kinds of techniques.

i made this diagram of my 5 most commonly used snare drum grips that made up my school playing. i tried to get really detailed of what i actually do with each part of my hand, the exact way my fingers are positioned next to each other, how my knuckles sit in comparison with the sticks -- i was really honest with the hopes that you would be honest too! take some or all of my grips, try them out, keep what you like, change what you don't like. this is to help you find your own voice in your snare drum playing, and i think that's pretty cool.

rob knopper

hailed by @nytimes and james levine as needing 'louder triangle notes'. recorded delécluse: douze études for snare drum, percussionist in @metorchestra.