How Freddie Gruber Helped Me

SKF NOTE: I’ve mentioned before in my writings that Freddie Gruber, when I interviewed him, helped me overcome a bad drumming habit I had developed. A few people have asked me to talk about how Freddie helped me. I’ll do so now.

After hearing for awhile about drummers, like Joe Morello, using “finger technique,” I gleaned what “finger technique” info I could, mostly from magazines, and developed my own version. The basis of “finger technique,” as I understood, was that the stick was controlled – mostly the left-hand stick – by the fingers, not the wrist.

As a result, I developed a bad left-hand habit of almost holding my left-hand stick between my middle and fourth fingers, much more than I was holding it in the fulcrum between my thumb and index finger. (Photo 1).

Photo 1

Freddie Gruber showed me, first, how to properly hold a drumstick in my left hand. Position the stick on the open fulcrum between my index finger and thumb, and adjust the position of the stick until, without the hand trying to hold the stick, it balances on that fulcrum. When the stick is balanced, said Freddie, that’s where you should hold it. (Photo 2).

Photo 2

At first it felt, when the stick was balanced, as if I was holding the stick too far up the shaft. But Freddie also showed me how to play with my left-hand naturally, and how to let the stick do the work. In other words, controlling the bounce. Freddie pointed out that the well-known method book, “Stick Control,” is “not meant for developing hot licks.” The exercises in that book, he said, are designed to help drummers control the sticks.

It took practice to break my years-long bad left-hand habit, and to experiment and get comfortable with balancing the stick and controlling the bounce. It’s a technique I could always improve, but it made a huge difference in my playing. Certainly what Freddie Gruber showed me that day was one of those “plateaus” musicians hit throughout our lives. (Photo 3).

Photo 3

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