The Drums

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 68,787
    Expert drummer Wes Crawford discusses the basics of learning to play the drum set.

    Wes Crawford

    Wes began his professional music career after graduating with a B.S. in Psychology at Virginia Tech. Soon thereafter, he began performing drumset with the extraordinary Jazz/R&B singer Jane L. Powell, a musical association that lasted eleven years and continues as a managerial relationship. The group toured throughout North America and the Caribbean performing at festivals, universities, resorts, nightclubs, and cruise ships. They opened for such acts as Ray Charles, Melba Moore, Freddie Jackson, Lou Rawls, The Crusaders, Joan Jett, Ernie Watts, and Paula Poundstone, and occasionally performed alongside artists such as Tony Bennett, O.C. Smith, and Dorothy Moore. The 1,300 colleges and universities comprising the National Association for Campus Activities voted the group Entertainer of the Year in 1990, their highest honor, and Jazz Artist of the Year for 1990-1992. During these years of touring, Wes also recorded two albums with Ms. Powell as well as for several outside artists. Wes also conducted electronic percussion seminars at VA Tech and at the Virginia Governor’s School for the Gifted. In 1992, Wes settled with his family in the Washington, DC area as an independent artist on drumset and percussion where he currently performs and records with acts such as Shahin & Sepehr (Higher Octave/Narada world music recording artists), Cocktail Nuts (aka “C-NUTS”- Jazz versions of rock classics, on Wildchild/Mapleshade Records), mrudangam virtuoso Umayalpuram K. Shivaraman (including a clinic at PASIC 2000 and a featured performance at Baltimore Drum Day 2000), Squeeze Bayou (1998 winners of the “Best Non-Louisiana-Based Cajun Band Recording” awarded by the Cajun French Music Association), and Night Life (high-energy show band). Wes has also regularly performed and/or recorded with Aisha Kahlil (of Sweet Honey in the Rock), Eva Cassidy, Catalyst Events’ “Beatswork!,” Zydeco Crayz, Mary Ann Borelli, “Oh Susannah!”, Sugar Jones, and Armadillo recording artist Daryl Davis. His other noteworthy performances and recordings include those with the David Bach Consort (2nd place winner in the 1998 BET unsigned band video contest), Hennesy Jazz Search regional winner Jerry Gordon, and performances with Milestone recording artist Ron Holloway. Wes considers education to be an important link to the future of the percussive arts and teaches drumset privately and at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. He also performs in public school assemblies with Mosaic, which provided the musical instruction and curriculum for the 2000 Maryland Artist/Teacher Institute. Wes serves as the Director of the annual Drumset And Percussion Camp of the Goucher Summer Arts Institute and as Vice-President of the MD/DE chapter of the Percussive Arts Society. In 2000, Wes started, a site to feature his interactive educational media such as his popular “Drumset Play-Along DVD.” His latest “A Rhythmic Murder Mystery” interactive DVD features a solo electronic drumset concert, which he also performs live. Wes holds Associate Artist relationships with Maryland Drum Company and with Trueline Drumsticks, and he occasionally works as Music Consultant for the not-for-profit Sustainable Environments for Health + Shelter.

    Hello, I am Wes Crawford, and we are going to talk about my favorite subject, the drum set, but first a little bit about me. I toured for 11 years with the Jazz, Rhythm and Blues singer, Jane L. Powell, before settling into the Washington D.C., Baltimore region, where I now freelance and perform and record with a lot of different groups, including Shahin & Sepehr on the Higher Octave Narada Label. I also teach drum set at Goucher College in Baltimore and privately in my home studio.

    First, lets talk about holding the sticks now. Of course anybody can come up to a drum and hit this drum, make a sound, and there is this great immediate gratification aspect about the drum set, but we do want to do things properly. By properly I really mean most efficiently so that you can make the most progress in the least amount of time and not develop bad habits that will hold you back and maybe keep you from ever learning something.

    So, with that in mind, I like to teach people to use the matched grip. We call it the matched grip because each hand holds the sticks similarly. You have also seen the traditional grip that looks something like this, turn around. I also learned that grip -- and in fact I learned it first, but I found I could get more power, more reach, and just more even sound out of doing match grip, so I highly recommend it, its also a lot easier to learn.

    So, lets begin, first, grip the stick about this far up on the stick. So, what's that, a third of the way up, and grip it between the first joint on the first finger and the fat part of your thumb. So, if youre holding it like this, you can see how my thumb is really just going straight into the stick and it's pressing the stick up into this joint, which -- isnt it nice to have a little corner to back something around into and to keep it there. This is where most of the tension should occur when you hold the stick, this is your anti-gravitational device, to keep it from dropping.

    After you do this easy step and youre conscious and youre feeling it and youre thinking about what youre doing, then just simply curl the rest of the fingers around the stick, such that the stick lays across the base of the fingers, just inside it, and the fingertips can be felt on the bottom of the stick. Now, as we play faster and louder, we might drop our fingers a little bit, so there is more room for the stick to give and to bounce back off of the drum. As we play slower and softer, we might want to grip the fingers in a little bit more firmly, not tightly, were not tensing our hand, but more firmly so that the stick has less play in it, and we can be more precise. This occurs as we play, in the middle of passages, as were playing something.

    So, again, as I put my fingers around the stick, do not loosen up here, because you want to keep this part very firm, this is called our fulcrum, both hands will follow the same procedure. As you can see, my wrist, is coming straight off my arm and my hand is straight, but the stick goes out at an angle. Dont get confused by this, the stick is coming out of your hand at approximately 45, so that when you put both hands ready to hit the drum, youre pretty close to a 90 angle. This is for the basic match grip, there are different variations, this comes from a German timpani grip. A French grip, you put the thumb on the top of the finger and it's more like a handshake, but the easiest to learn, to get the most solid sound, is going to be this grip with the palm facing the floor.