One of the most important things any drummer should learn is how to properly hold their sticks. Without this knowledge their technique and rudiments may suffer. It is also very easy for a poor grip to become something of a bad habit that a drummer may carry with them even with proper instruction. There are four main grips that most drummers should know, each with unique characteristics and traditionally used to play different instruments.
Common to All Grips: Finger Wrapping
With the exception of traditional grip, the “wrapping technique” will be employed for both hands. Find a point about one third between the butt and the tip. You want to grasp the stick between the 1st and 2nd knuckles of your index finger and the pad of your thumb, creating a fulcrum where the stick will pivot, just like the middle of a seesaw in the park. Wrap the remaining fingers around the stick. They should touch the stick, but not squeeze it. The stick should fit in the palm of your hand, with about an inch sticking out on the butt side of the stick. Your grip should be relaxed to allow the stick to rebound and pivot freely with the vast majority of the minimal tension coming from the index finger and thumb. It should not be so relaxed that you feel you have no control as to when the stick will strike the head.
Grasp both sticks as described above. German grip relies on the players palms being completely parallel with the drumhead. This will cause your elbows to push away from your body and the sticks will create an obtuse (larger than 90 degree) angle on the drum head. This grip allows you to use a lot of wrist, finger, and forearm providing a more powerful sound. I suggest this grip when playing a singular drum, like a concert snare, or when you need considerably more volume and power.
American grip is considered a hybrid of the German and French grips. Percussionists argue as to whether the grip is a consideration of both grips or a dismissal of both grips. An American grip is very similar to the German grip except you will rotate your forearms to where the palms are at about a 45 degree angle in relation to the drumhead. Your elbows will come in slightly and the tips should create an angle much closer to a 90 degree, or right angle, on the drumhead. This grip will probably feel most natural to young and self-taught players. You lose a little power but gain considerable lateral speed. As such, it can be very effective when you need to move from drum to drum, such as when playing the drum set or marching tenors.
NOTE: If you are asked to play in “matched” grip it is likely they are requesting either German or American grip. Play in whichever style is most comfortable or applicable to the music to be played.
Rotate your forearms so that your palms are perpendicular to the drumhead with your thumbs pointing up. Your elbows will come in and the sticks will be almost parallel to each other. This grip takes most of the movement responsibility from the wrist and transfers it to your fingers. This results in less power but more control. It is most commonly used to play timpani, compensating for the increased vibrations of the larger, tunable drums.
Traditional grip is based on early military drumming. In early military use, a snare drum would be slung across one shoulder and rested on the hip at a 45 degree angle. Due to this angle, the player would turn their non-dominant hand over, placing the palm up and allowing the elbow to drop into a more relaxed position. It has since been appropriated for drumming on a level surface.
Your dominant hand will utilize the American Grip. Your non-dominant hand will be turned palm up. Place the fulcrum point of the stick on the skin between your thumb and index finger. Curve your ring and pinky fingers, resting the stick on the cuticle of your ring finger. Wrap your middle and index fingers over the top of the stick, with your thumb and index finger creating a cross. This grip can help compensate for power or control loss in your non dominant hand, but many percussionists argue it only has aesthetic advantages over a matched grip. This difficult grip should only be pursued by serious drummers and is most often used in corps style marching drumlines and jazz drum set.