It’s known by a few names: “Open handed drumming,” playing with a “left hand lead,” playing “uncrossed,” or simply “open.”
Whatever you decide to call it, open handed drumming is a way of setting up and playing your drum set so that one hand doesn’t cross over the other while playing the time-keeping cymbals (like the hi-hats, or ride).
It can equate to playing time with your non-dominant hand, and it also can mean playing the hi-hats or ride cymbals in unusual locations around the set to keep your hands from crossing.
In this article, we’ll share the proper way to learn the open handed drumming style, as well as its pros and cons. First, let’s take a quick look at how open handed drumming began.
A Brief History of Open Handed Drumming
Open handed drumming is not a new phenomenon at all. When Jim Chapin’s book Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer was first published in 1948, he encouraged drummers to play with their hands “uncrossed.”
The first wave of high-profile open handed drummers came about in the mid ’60s, and it has continued through today. This is only a fraction of the well-known, open handed drummers:
- Gary Chester (studio drummer/author)
- Lenny White (Miles Davis, Return to Forever)
- Billy Cobham (Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra)
- Dennis Wilson (the Beach Boys)
- Joe English (Paul McCartney & Wings)
- Rayford Griffin (Jean-Luc Ponty)
- Scott Travis (Racer X, Judas Priest)
- Phil Gould (Level 42)
- Mike Bordin (Faith No More)
- Carter Beauford (Dave Matthews Band)
- Mike Mangini (Dream Theater)
- Bobby Jarzombek (Halford, Fates Warning)
Pros and Cons of Open Handed Drumming
Could this style of playing be right for you? Here are some of the pros and cons of open handed drumming to help you decide.
The Pros of Open Handed Drumming
The biggest advantage of open handed drumming is the most obvious one: ergonomics! You can set things up more easily to work with your arm and leg lengths, your hands don’t get in the way of each other, and you’ll be able to hit parts of your set without having to stop hitting another.
With your arms in an open position, your torso opens up, and your lungs can take in more oxygen, which is necessary for your muscles to work properly. Your posture is also likely to improve.
With open handed drumming, your hands can become equal strength partners. Making sure that you don’t have a “weak hand” opens up a lot of possibilities for you.
You can also get more creative with your set-up. With the parts of your drum set in non-traditional spots, your mindset will be different and your playing has a much better chance of sounding unique.
Working on open handed drumming can benefit ANY player, regardless of whether they’re right-handed or left-handed. It also works in ANY genre of music. There’s really no musical situation in which this approach wouldn’t work.
The Cons of Open Handed Drumming
The biggest con with open handed drumming is that you might struggle to make your non-dominant hand do things it’s just not used to doing. It takes a lot of time, effort, and consistent practice to make it happen.
If you concentrate on open handed playing exclusively, you run the risk of having a hard time playing on other drum sets. On the flip side, if you’re the one providing a drum set for a multi-band event, other drummers will all have to adjust things to play on your set.
Another potential issue is cost. In order to place things in non-traditional spots around your drum set (for example, a hi-hat on the right side for a right-handed player), you might have to get some specialized hardware (like X-hat or cable hat rigs, percussion mounts and clamps, additional cymbal and snare stands).
How to Get Started with Open Handed Drumming
If you’ve decided that you want to give open handed drumming a try, it won’t take much to get started! Here are a few simple steps you can take:
- The first step is simple – just lower your hi-hat cymbals to a level that permits you to play them with your non-dominant hand comfortably, with all the stick angles of attack that you use with your dominant hand.
- Next, begin to play very simple grooves with just quarter notes on your hi-hats at first, then eighth notes, and eventually, sixteenth notes.
- Concentrate on the evenness and timing of your hats, but keep in mind that it’ll affect your snare drum hand and bass drum foot too, so remember to keep your hands and feet hitting together consistently.
At first, things will sound a little rough and ragged, but keep at it! Before you know it, it’ll start to sound a lot smoother. You can decide later if you want to move any other parts of your drum set around to experiment.
As mentioned earlier, open handed drumming is a technique with rich history and a lot of great, inspirational drummers choose to play this way. It takes some getting used to if you’ve already been drumming for a while, but there are several benefits that definitely make it worth considering.
To get the most out of your drum learning quest, it’s always best to work with an experienced drum teacher. There are lots of highly qualified teachers at TakeLessons, so you can be sure to find someone who’s a good fit for you and your needs. Best of luck learning these and other drumming techniques!