No. Go with whatever works for you. Unlike science, there’s no fix rule nor a best way to play the drums. Be open minded, feel free to give different drumming styles a chance and go with what you like.
What is Open Handed Drumming?
This refers to the style of drumming using your left hand on the hi-hat and the right hand on the snare. Basically, your arms do not cross over each other while you drum.
It is also frequently described as “playing left handed on a right handed drum kit“.
For drummers who are curious and want to give open handed drumming a go, here’s an introduction from Simon Phillips:
The “Traditional” Drumming Style
Aka “crossed hand”, “over hand” or “right-handed” drumming.
Most drummers play using a cross hand drumming method – left hand (or the weaker hand) on the snare and the right hand (aka stronger hand) on the hi-hats.
That said, many of us didn’t decide on using method, it was simply taught to us.
Your preferred drumming style will influence how you hold your drumsticks and ultimately how you play. It can even affect your creativity around the kit.
Drummers using the cross hand method may prefer the traditional grip (one hand holds drumsticks with palm face down, the other with palm faced up). Comparatively, open handed drummers use the matched grip.
Lately, the open handed method seems to be gaining popularity. In the next two sections, I hope to give you the pros and cons of open handed drumming.
Why you should consider open handed drumming?
No method is perfect, each drummer has to identify what works for them.
In fact, the debate between cross handed drumming and open handed drumming comes up frequently, and in my opinion, will always be a heated topic in the drumming world.
Here’re five disadvantages of cross handed drumming, which may convince you to give open handed drumming a chance:
Disadvantages of cross handed drumming
1 – (Over) reliance on the stronger hand
The cross handed method allows drummers to rely on their stronger hand on the drum kit. This is great for newbies, but could later become a barrier to your improvement.
Also, you end up not training your weaker hand and may end up with lower dexterity.
2 – Restriction
The number 1 issue with cross handed drumming is that you may find your arms in a knot when you’re trying to improvise on your drum solo or even fills.
For example – ever wanted to play the toms with the hi-hat and realised that you’ll have to stretch your left hand, unless you relied on your hi-hat kick? Or, ever find your left hand stuck under the right when you want to hit a cymbal on the left?
Limitations on an bigger drum kit
Open handed drumming is said to provide more freedom on the drum kit. This is especially true if you’re playing on an extended drum kit.
You’ll also find that open handed drummers tend to have a larger drum kit with more sound options.
Limitations on creativity
You may not feel it if you’re on a standard kit, but playing cross handed tends to force us to focus on drums and cymbals on our left. Hence, it takes a conscious effort to open up your drumming across the drum kit.
Comparatively with open handed drumming, your body faces the middle of the drum kit and this simple change in body language opens your mind up to more possiblities.
3 – Unnatural
Unless you’ve seen drummers prior to seating behind a drum kit, it is quite unnatural to cross your arms while drumming.
Think back to the first time you were on a drum kit!
4 – Canned Sound
This can be a little controversial, but…
With the cross handed method, we tend to lead with our left hand. And this tends to create a familiar drum pattern. Unless you’re a rare talent, tbh, most of us would sound similar.
Comparatively, with open handed drumming, drummers can lead with their right hand. This immediately creates a unique groove that could help you stand out, even if you’re not on the Hall of Fame.
5 – Unfriendly for left handers
Now, if you’re left handed and have been playing on a left handed kit, cross hand, there’d be no issues. Until, you start playing at venues (or rental studios) with right handed kits.
Are you allowed to rearrange the kit into a left handed orientation? Do you have the time to even do so?
Unfortunately, this is a pain that only the left handers would experience. If you’re a lefty and can’t seem to pin down the cross handed method on a right handed kit, give open handed drumming a try!
Disadvantages of open handed drumming
As with anything in life, there’re always downsides.
Here’re some of the arguments against the use of open handed drumming:
1 – Redundancy
“Why learn to play the same pattern twice?”
The cross handed and open handed drumming methods each require a different hand to lead the drums. Unless you’re a genius, this means you’ll need to put hours of practice.
To many drummers, this may not be worth the effort, which brings us to the next point:
2 – Not the most immediate source of improvement
Rather than spending the time and effort to rewire the way you drum, some believe that there are other skill sets they could work on for a greater ROI like:
- practicing time signatures to improve your timing,
- expanding the repertoire of drum rhythms,
- practicing drum fills,
- learning to drum more creatively and,
- so much more.
3 – More difficult
Limb independence is something that comes only after years of practice on the kit, not all of us are fully efficient in it.
This means that we may tend to find it easier to coordinate our left feet with our right hand (like the way we walk) – hence it is said that kicking the bass drum with the right feet and playing the snare on the left is easier than trying to do both on with the right side of our body.
P.S. This may not make full sense in text. But if you’re a cross handed drummer, try playing the hi-hat with your left hand, in time with your bass drum. You may notice that it takes awhile for your brain to activate the right limb😅.
That said, anything is possible with time and practice. Afterall, most of us weren’t able to drum freely right from the start!
Should a newbie learn to drum open handed?
Now, this is another common question that doesn’t have a fixed answer.
It really depends on who or how you’re learning to drum.
Remember, most drummers use the traditional cross handed drumming method and many drum educators will teach their students that way.
Although you can start learning to drum open handed, you should be aware that you may have access to less guidance or learning materials should you meet any challenges.
In my opinion, unless you’re highly self motivated or have access to drummers who advocate the open handed drumming method, you should not start learning to drum with the open handed method.
Simply because it’ll raise issues that you cannot solve easily, when you’re learning about fills or even basic drum patterns.
When should I give open handed drumming a try?
1 – When you’ve gotten the fundamentals down
In my opinion, you should change your drumming method only when you’re already comfortable on the drum kit. Preferably when you can handle a couple of songs.
2 – When you want to challenge yourself
It’s never easy to change a habit. so…be warned: It will take effort and time to get used to!
3 – When you want to gain more freedom on the kit
When you switch to open handed drumming, you’ll immediately feel a sense of freedom. Suddenly, you’ll have the option of freely playing a wider range of toms with the hi-hats (depending on how your kit is set up).
Plus, switching to open handed drumming from a cross handed style allows you to hold your timing on the hi-hat and snare using both hands. Though this is easier said than done.
Of course, for the amount of effort required, you may find it easier to work on things like your drum fills, timing, and drum rhythms across other music genres, if you’re just looking for ways to improve.
Main Barrier to switching drumming styles
Drummers who recognize the issues mentioned in the previous sections tend to agree with the importance of being about to play open handed.
But for many of us who are used to the cross hand drumming style, switching over to open hand drumming means that we’ll need to rewire ourselves to timing our beats on the hi-hat with our weaker hand. This will take a significant effort, time and practice, a commitment that many hobbyist drummers may not want to take on.
Here’s a great video from a drummer who share his experience of switching to open handed drumming:
Ultimately, it’s really what works for you that matters. However, as drummers who are continually looking to improve our craft, my stance is that we should explore what’s out there in order to expand our repertoire.
Famous drummers who use open handed drumming
Many of us ended up drumming crossed hand because of how we were taught, or because it seems like everyone else is doing it too.
However, there are several famous drummers who use open handed drumming too! You may have heard of:
- Ringo Starr
- Lenny White
- Bennis Wilson
- Simon Phillips
- Scott Travis
- Rod Morgenstein
- Tom Hunting
- Will Carroll
- Billy Cobham
- Boris Williams
- Neil Sanderson
- Todd Friend
- Geinger Fish
- Ilan Rubin
- Daniel Platzman
- Ray Luzier
- and many more
A full list has been curated on Wikipedia.
History of open hand drumming
For those who want to geek out, here’s a quick video on the history of open hand drumming:
So…is open handed drumming bad?
I’ll end with how we started this article – there’s no fixed rules to your drumming method. Be open minded, feel free to give different drumming styles a chance and go with what you like!