Around the World (with velocity) – Part II of Stick Yoga

March 17, 2010 5:33 pm in Marching by Murray Gusseck

While Part I of this Stick Yoga series focused on the fingers, Part II will present a very simple way to get blood flowing to the wrists while increasing range of motion in both wrists, regardless of grip. I say “regardless of grip” because we’re actually going to be touring ALL the different grips!

I call this “Around the World” because we’re going to visit Germany, France, and America via the grips we use. The “(with velocity)” subtitle refers to a type of stroke that is to be incorporated into playing the exercise. While there is nothing fancy about the exercise itself, I have found it to be a useful vehicle for the following concepts.

Bear in mind that the various grip concepts presented here, while based on a variety of commonly accepted practices, are essentially my own definitions, practices, and observations based on a lot of time studying various players and trying to learn how to do what they do!

The Exercise

Here’s the “Around the World” exercise:

The idea is to go through this sequence a number of times, each time using a different grip. Here’s what I mean:

The Grips

Go through the exercise the first time with both hands holding the sticks in what is commonly referred to as the German grip. In this grip, the palms should be essentially flat to the ground. The angle of the sticks to one another is quite large (about 90º), while the fulcrum for this grip will be more the thumb and middle finger, rather than the thumb and index finger. In fact, it is common to see the index finger completely relaxed off the stick in (my version of) this grip.

Also, the angle of the stick to each forearm is not straight, but rather curves in slightly. If you raise your right hand (“Sir, raise your right hand please…”) and place a drumstick in your hand without changing anything, the stick sits in the hand at a slight angle to the forearm. This is a good thing for our purpose here! The motion of each wrist would be straight up and down with a small tendency toward rotation, given the angle explanation just above.

German Grip

Now try it again using French grip this time. In the French grip, the hands are turned to the side with the thumb on top of the stick. The fulcrum is back to being between the thumb and index finger (rather than the middle finger). The angle of the sticks to one another shrinks substantially in French grip, as the hands are brought in towards one another. The motion is akin to that of turning a door knob.

French Grip

Now try the whole thing again using the American grip. The American grip seems to be the most commonly used grip, as it represents a middle ground between the French and German variations. The hands are tilted slightly at about a 45º angle, and the fulcrums of both the index and middle fingers are available to use depending on the player’s preference. In general for this application, using the index finger fulcrum is probably best. The stick is a more straight extension of the forearm, and the motion is straight up and down.

American Grip

Next, if you are a traditional grip player, I recommend doing the exercise again using this grip as well…IN BOTH HANDS. If you’re like me, you will find that by doing this, you learn a thing or two about the grip by way of studying how your right hand tries to accomplish these simple stroke types using a grip it may have never tried before.

Double Trad

One suggestion for this particular variation is to not try to play very hard with the “new” hand. Play lightly and see if you can get the stick to bounce a little bit while maintaining a consistent fulcrum connection. Don’t worry about equaling the sound of your more experienced left hand!

Cycling through these different grips and hand positions is a good way to get the blood flowing to the wrists in a healthy way, as well as increasing each wrist’s range of motion. Since you are specifically targeting different angles of stick motion (e.g., straight up and down for German and American, doorknob turning for French and traditional), your wrists can find new ways to relax while playing straight up-and-down strokes.

Lastly, whichever grip you would call your “home base” grip (e.g. “conventional” traditional grip, shown below), do a final repetition of the exercise using that grip. In this fashion, you will have toured the world briefly and finally returned home!

Conventional Grip

The last piece of the puzzle here is to work towards developing a certain snap to the strokes accompanied by a level of relaxation that allows the rebound of each stroke to be super quick and fluid. In rudimental circles (and probably elsewhere) this is commonly known as the “velocity stroke.”

The Velocity Stroke

When I reach the middle of the exercise (where it’s all or mostly all 8th notes), I start to focus on using “velocity” strokes. This is a term that is relatively common in drum corps and/or rudimental contexts. It denotes a quick motion—very fast on the downstroke—resulting in the fastest possible upstroke and aided in turn by the rebound of the playing surface and a relaxed set of hands.

There is a wealth of information on this concept available to anyone interested in searching for it. For the purposes of what I’m describing here, the small muscles of the hand should be as relaxed as possible (tight enough just so the stick stays in contact with the various connection points of whatever grip is being used).

When you reach the middle of each repetition (the straight 8th notes), you can maximize your attention on using velocity strokes for each motion. As the 16th-note patterns start re-entering, try to carry forward the velocity stroke motion into those quicker patterns as well. Think about slightly accenting the 3rd note of each “digga-dut” rhythm—a quick but effortless snap downward followed by a huge, springy rebound stroke.

Conclusion

Hopefully the explanations here are sufficient to carry forward the idea. I’m very interested to hear what you guys think! If anyone has experience with these (or similar) ideas regarding a progression through the various common grips and associated exercises , I’d love to hear other ideas.

Thanks for reading!