The Alexander Technique and Percussion
by Michael Grogan with Mikal Hauser
The grip is the most basic way of relating to the instrument. Even when you are not playing you relate to the instrument by holding the stick. Therefore, a problem with the grip is almost certain to affect your playing in every aspect. The solution—perfect the grip. Whether in the palms-up position or palms-down position, or anywhere in between, the finger that grips the most is the pinky (little finger). Second most important is the ring or fourth finger, then the middle finger, finally the index finger. This can be modified TEMPORARILY and with full conscious control of the fact that you are modifying it. To play very soft, articulate, embellished passages, or to get a brighter sound from the instrument, are good reasons to perhaps shift the main grip energy forward to the ring and middle fingers, and maybe, sometimes, every once in a big, big while, to the index and middle fingers. Gripping with two fingers is usually more secure then just one. All of the fingers should be in continuous contact with the stick at all times, however, whether gripping or simply supporting.
The stroke is not when you have a burst blood vessel in your brain. It is when you actually touch (not strike, never think of striking the instrument) the instrument with your beater or mallet. The stroke has a down portion and an up portion. When performing a single stroke by itself, the upstroke should always be used. For continuous notes, play the 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc. notes (here we are talking about with one hand at a time) down and the even numbered notes with an up feeling. Down-up, down-up,. etc. When playing notes in alternation, it goes left-down, right-down, left-up, right-up, and so forth. For double strokes, the first note is always down, the second note is always up. Always maintain a feeling of lift in your playing, think of continually picking up the sticks or continually pulling the sound out of the instrument. Always, Always, remember the importance of the pinky and ring finger in the grip. Everything relates to the grip.
General considerations—start every practice session, rehearsal, and performance by warming up on a pillow until you are truly God on the instrument, so to speak. The pillow never lies. Play always, if possible, with mallets that are balanced toward the beating end, not the gripping end. This is in line with the technique mentioned above. Finally, to play accents, or simply to play very loudly, relax your hands and pick the mallet up higher and higher. Always, Always remember, when choosing instrument height and orientation, as well as your own elbow level, remember that a joint is strongest and least vulnerable to injury in the direct middle of its range of motion.