Developing Ambidexterity for Drummers

ambi = both

dexterity = grace and skill of movement, especially with the hands

Almost all of us have a dominant hand. This hand is significantly more coordinated than its counterpart, and for our entire lives, we have used it to perform activities that require precise movement while the other hand goes mostly unused. We brush our teeth, use a fork, turn keys, and keep time on the hi-hat with that hand. We use that side of our bodies so much more than the other that this arm becomes hyper-coordinated while the other becomes ridiculously clumsy.

On the drum kit, this translates into big differences in playing ability from limb-to-limb. Most drummers keep their left hand on the snare drum while the right hand plays the hi-hat, because that’s how they were taught to play. But the only reason why today’s drummers play cross-handed is because early drum set players were attempting to compensate for a weak left hand, and this became the accepted way to play. All that playing this way accomplishes, however, is limiting left-hand movement and exacerbating coordinational imbalance.

If we as drummers are to reach our fullest potential, we must fight our right-handedness or left-handedness and develop ambidexterity. With two opposing limbs of equal strength and coordination, we’ll be able to perform at a hugely elevated level on our instruments. Our strokes will be more even and more consistent in tone, and our hands will un-cross and open up countless new paths and opportunities around the drums.

The first step to overcoming dominant-handedness is to understand why we are dominant-handed in the first place. It’s not genetic, and it’s not permanent. It’s a learned behavior, and one that we continue with simply because it’s easier that way. Why should we clean the sink with our left hand when it’s clumsy and stupid, and our right hand is efficient and strong?

The next step is taking practical action to increase coordination in our non-dominant hand. On the drum kit, a simple way to start is by un-crossing your hands and playing the hi-hat with your left hand. However, I recommend (and personally have found breathtaking results by) taking it further than that and setting up your entire drum kit in a mirrored image of itself. Now your brain is forced to think with its non-dominant side. You will likely feel like a beginner again when first doing this, which may be psychologically uncomfortable or even painful. Imagine though, the confidence and comfort you will feel when reverting back to a normal set-up. I really believe you should try this. Practice with a mirrored kit for a few months and I can’t promise enough that it will be worth it.

But let’s take it further still. If you want to develop your non-dominant hand for drumming, don’t just practice more with that hand… using your non-dominant hand in your daily activities is what will most quickly develop ambidexterity. It’s not as difficult and time-consuming as it seems, either. You will be surprised how quickly you gain coordination in your non-dominant hand if you just start doing stuff with it. Any time you find yourself doing something you always do with your dominant hand, simply switch hands for a minute and see how it feels. Take notice how you perform the task with your dominant hand and try to replicate that motion (slowly at first) with the other. Be okay with your clumsiness for now, it will fade in time. Being able to perform the precise motions that daily life requires with both hands will not only significantly help your coordination when sitting back down at the drums, it will boost your efficiency and skill as a human being.

Becoming ambidextrous takes time, practice, and emotional growth (to develop the patience needed to brush your teeth left-handed and to surpass the feeling of idiocy that comes with playing a mirrored kit). But it is so brilliantly worth it. Your world will be opened in ways you can scarcely imagine, both in drumming and in life.

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