Professional at drum

Both Benny and Thomas possess the enviable ability to turn their hands and feet to a huge range of musical styles, from jazz and fusion to rock and pop and make it all look so easy in the process. So, when Rhythm got face-to-face with these two masters of the kit, they wanted to find out the secrets of their technique and get some handy tips and tricks that you can apply to your drumming.

Tip 1: Set up correctly

What’s the most common mistake people make when setting up their drums?

Thomas: “To set the drums up for the viewer so it looks cool from the front rather than for yourself. I know a lot of young drummers make that mistake. Number two would be to set the drums up so that the bass drum is facing the audience straight on, rather than being off to the right if you are a right-handed drummer, because the bass drum is not the centre of the drumset.

“We, as drummers, often make the mistake of thinking pattern-oriented, which means we focus on what we do instead of how we do it.” Benny Greb

“Number three is to try to make the drumset perfectly symmetrical. Another is to sit too low or too high, or to set up the cymbals too far away from the player so you have to play with your arm completely stretched – I see that a lot.

“Whatever you do with your body mechanically has to be within a spherical space. It’s not a straight plane, you are moving within a spherical space and your set-up has to reflect that, so whatever is higher on the drumset has to be closer to you.”

Benny: “I would say it’s that they don’t really set it up, bit by bit, in relation to how they sit and to their body, but they set up their kit then sit behind it and see whether it feels right.”

Now try this: kit set-up

Benny: “What creates great results is to take your stool, adjust it so it is cool for you, which normally means there is more than a 90° angle between your legs and your spine and between your upper legs and lower legs. Then you set up the snare drum so it is comfortable, then a bass drum where the foot really sits, then a hi-hat where the foot really sits, and so on.

“If you let students do this, it really results in a very natural set-up.”

Benny, you play matched grip. Do you prefer a French timpani grip or a German grip?

Benny: “Being patriotic I like the German grip! I think there is this conspiracy on the internet where someone always pays some people to say that this or this is the best grip and blah blah blah. The thing is that you can’t do everything with one grip, it’s not possible, so you need these different grips to do different things. You can’t do any accents with finger technique, you need the wrist, you need the Moeller technique.

“I think I am generally in a more German position but it’s a little weird with me – it’s not out of the teaching rulebook, what I do. My right hand tends to be more French and my left hand tends to be more German grip. It’s not very symmetrical.”

Thomas, you’ve played with both matched and traditional grips. What would you say are their comparative strengths?

Thomas: “I think the strength of traditional is that it’s an asymmetrical grip and it affects the way you think. The asymmetry of the grip lends itself to asymmetrical thinking and therefore playing, a bit like playing the guitar where the left hand is on the fretboard and doing something completely independent from the right hand which is strumming, but together the two hands produce one sound.

“I look at playing traditional grip the same way where the two hands use two completely different techniques – one hand from underneath the stick, the right hand from on top so there is a push-pull dynamic in your upper body.

“Matched grip is more modern, it’s more powerful, it’s more balanced. You have better reach with matched grip. It causes fewer injuries. Traditional grip causes a lot of bruises, abrasions, chafing, all sorts of issues. Of course you get blisters with both grips but less surface and skin injuries with matched grip. It lends itself to a more ambidextrous style with open-handed playing, which would be awkward using traditional grip.”

“Rule number one: for speed you must compromise volume. There is no other way, you can’t play ultra-fast and ultra-loud at the same time.” Thomas Lang

What’s the one piece of advice you would give someone looking to improve their playing with their hands?

Benny: “Have a catalogue of parameters that you go through focussing on while you’re playing and adjust your technique according to that list. Some people say it’s boring to play a paradiddle every day for an hour and they are totally right. It’s absolutely boring to play a paradiddle but it’s not boring if you listen to the sound that it makes and try to get it consistent.

“If you take time for one of these parameters, just the sound, does it sound the same? Do you have to play on the same spot? Do you find it hard to play on the same spot? How does it sound if you don’t play on the same spot? Is that a different sound that you want to cultivate, to have in your repertoire? Do you always make rim shots when you try to accent? Can you accent without doing rim shots, focussing on dynamics only?