Ilan Rubin plays open-handed
One of the biggest challenges I have faced since I began playing the drums is compensating for my weaker hand. I’m right-handed so of course I’m going to favor it. My left hand is going to be weaker naturally and this affects things like strength, smoothness and continuity. Some drummers are able to play open-handed and are ambidextrous like a switch-hitter in baseball. According to my neurologist others have trained their brain to trick their mind into doing things equally with both hands. I haven’t accomplished either of these skills.
So what are some exercises we can all do to aid us in strengthening our weaker hand? Some drummers have gone to the extreme and switched everything they do with their right hand to their left. This includes things like eating, shaking hands and opening doors. Others have gone in the direction I prefer. They do exercises on the drum pad to teach their left hand to think like their right. After all, it’s all about muscle memory right?
One of the first exercises starts with the most basic of rudiments, the single-stroke roll. If you are right-handed like me, play single-strokes while leading with your left hand. The pattern would go: left-right-left-right-left-right. Once you get both hands in balance (and don’t think this will go fast, it takes a while to achieve consistent strokes and rebound) move onto a double stroke roll: left-left-right-right-left-left-right-right, once again working to achieve consistent strokes and rebound.
Work through the rudiments like the paradiddle: left-right-left-left-right-left-right-right, leading with the left hand each time. You can throw in accents to make things interesting. I know it sounds so basic and easy anyone could do it but take it from me, doing these exercises in perfect synchronicity at first is easier said than done. Especially playing the single-stoke roll fast. I know I was so dependent on leading with my right hand I really struggled with that one.
Another exercise involves setting up your kit left-handed. This forces you to lead with your left hand on the hi-hat and ride and play your fills in the opposite direction. Talk about a challenge! Keeping time at first is virtually impossible. This also affects your feet which automatically wrecks your three and four-way independence. Imagine this is what left-handed drummers feel like when they have to play on a right-handed backline kit that is set up for a festival or open night jam session.
Finally, try working through your favorite books leading with your left hand. Stick Control is a good one. One educator recommended that you work on pages 8, 9, 10, and 23 often, playing the exercises leading with the left two or three times longer than the ones leading with the right. Stick Control for the Snare Drummer by George Lawrence Stone is the original classic, often called the bible of drumming. To be honest I haven’t read it in years but this post has prompted me to grab a new copy. I’ve been occupied going through Ted Reed’s Syncopation book, another staple for every drummer. I let myself go but my reading chops are slowly returning.
Most of us will never become ambidextrous so the only way we can strengthen our less dominant hand is through exercises and repetition. I’ll never be a two-handed drummer but I can try to get close. I’ll have to spend some serious time with the pad. I can say this, I’m a rabid baseball fan and I’ve come to respect the switch hitter even more.