Lord Stirling's Fifes & Drums


Drum Instruction Handbook



Stick Grip

The right hand grips the stick just behind its balance point.  The fulcrum created by the grip is maintained with pressure exerted by the pad of the thumb and the area between the first and second joints from the end of the index finger on opposite sides of the stick.  Only use enough pressure to maintain control of the stick.  The back of the stick touches the meatiest part of the heel of the hand, and all remaining fingers curl under the stick with the pads of the middle, ring, and little fingers touching the underside of the stick.  All right hand fingers and thumb should never lose contact with the stick.

The left hand grip is formed by laying the stick across the cradle formed by the “V” of the area between the thumb and index finger, and the area between the last joint and the end of the ring finger as it is curled under the stick.  The index finger wraps over the stick, the thumb rests on the index finger, and the middle finger remains straight, touching the side of the stick.  The point of contact of the ring finger is just behind the balance point of the stick.  The fulcrum of the grip is at the “V” and is maintained by pressure of the muscles between the base of the thumb and index finger.

Hand Position

While gripping each stick, allow each hand to dangle loosely at the sides of the body.  Slowly raise the hands, bending the arms at the elbows until they are approximately 10° below horizontal in front of the body.  With the backs of each hand facing outward, turn each wrist until the beads of each stick touch.  This is the proper hand position, with the beads of the sticks 2-3” below the height of your bellybutton.  ALWAYS adjust the height of any playing surface to one inch below the stick beads.

Stroke Motion

Right hand stroke motion is created by raising the bead of the stick vertically while flexing the hand at the wrist.  Left hand stroke motion is created by raising the bead of the stick vertically while turning the wrist outward.  The back of the left hand should always be aligned with the back of the left forehand.

Remember to always maintain only enough fulcrum pressure to control the sticks.  The left thumb never leaves contact with the side of the left index finger.  All right hand finger contacts should never leave the stick.

Stroke Heights

There are three stroke heights that we will use.  Stroke height refers to the height of each stick bead in relation to the playing surface.  The basic stroke height for taps is 3”.  The stroke height for accents is 9”.  The stroke height for grace notes is 1”.  All strokes begin at the bead height of the stroke to be played, and end at the bead height of the next type of stroke (see Lesson 3).  Combinations of right and left hand strokes used for playing any musical patterns or rudiments will be comprised entirely with these three stroke heights. 

Lesson 1               Eight-on-a-hand

The first lesson will be to learn an exercise called “eight-on-a-hand”, the title of which describes precisely how it is played.  Each hand will alternately play eight strokes with an even tempo, i.e., R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-L-L-L-L-L-L-L-L-, and, so on.

Using a portable electric metronome or the online metronome set to 80 beats per minute (bpm), play each stroke in time to each metronome pulse or click.  Play the exercise using only tap height strokes (3” bead heights).  While playing the exercise, concentrate on the following:

Are both arms and both hands relaxed?
Are fulcrum pressures just enough to control the sticks?
Are all fingers of the right hand touching the stick at all times?
Is there equal pressure between the thumb and index finger of the right hand?
Is the back of the left hand always facing outward at rest?
Is the left thumb always in contact with the side of the index finger?
Is the left index finger wrapped over the stick?
Is the right hand bead motion vertical, created by flexing the right wrist upward?
Is the left hand bead motion vertical, created by turning the left wrist outward?

Practice this exercise until the proper grip and stroke techniques are achieved, stroke heights are consistent, and taps are played consistently in-time with the metronome.  When you have mastered your technique at this tempo, incrementally increase the metronome tempo by 8 bpm, and review technique again.  Gradually increase tempo until a maximum tempo of at least 160 bpm is reached before continuing with Lesson II.

Remember:  take your time in mastering these exercises.  The care and accuracy that you use to play these exercises at slow tempos will pay off when you move to faster tempos and more complex stroke patterns.