Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Hand dominance: still bull

Advertising a belief.
Yes, hand dominance is still bull. At least with regard to drumming. It happened again this week: a new student, right handed, who had never hit a drum before, automatically led everything with her left hand. I've seen it happen many times, maybe even a majority of the time. I pretty much expect it now. 

Why would they do that? My primitive drummer's brain believes that if hand dominance were a big deal, people would automatically lead with their preferred hand. Don't you think?  

Handedness people like to point out that, doing one-handed activities, the dominant hand does the work, and the other hand helps. We're to believe that that is the universal dynamic for all activities. But if that were the case, I would expect more students to attempt to play an entire rhythm with one hand. I've seen that rarely, and only with very slow rhythms. 

Drumming is a two-handed activity, and as with other activities requiring equal dexterity— and high dexterity— from both hands, people are able to do it. Like playing the piano or typing— both of which are regularly mastered to a reasonable degree of skill by large numbers of humans. For the most part there are no backwards keyboards and typewriters available, and no endless complaints from users about “weaker” hands.   

Where we get people with really weak left hands, it's a acquired thing— they've been playing the drums awhile, mostly playing basic rock stuff, with the right hand playing 8th notes and the left hand playing backbeats. Often they've settled on a left hand technique and movement that locks them into just slamming the 2 and 4. Plus they're used to having the right hand on the hihat all the time, so their left hand is chronically restricted that way. They don't practice a whole lot, and don't really know what to practice if they did. 

And to an extent it's a natural thing with more advanced players— the drum set, and the common vocabulary for playing it, are right hand oriented. So the right hand leads more, and usually plays more.  Unlike with piano, we're mostly not playing a literature that demands we develop the left hand equally, so it's easy to get away with slacking on it.  

It's endless.

But it's acquired— we're practicing to be that way. There's no reason both hands can't be equally able, and no reason anyone can't make any playing orientation work— right handed, left handed, “open” handed— regardless of which hand or foot they believe is dominant. There are other reasons to choose one of those orientations over the others, but that's another conversation.

Dominance and weakness are compelling, comforting words for enthusiasts, and the topic is heavily marketed to them by YouTubers, who are happy to have their viewers be disability oriented. The enthusiasts like talking about their “weak” hand, and having that be their main practice issue— not learning vocabulary, or other things they don't understand.  

Improving a “weaker” hand that has become less able through practice is extremely simple: open up your copy of Stick Control, maybe Accents & Rebounds, and practice it in front of a mirror, checking carefully for, and correcting, uneven stick heights and undesirable hand motion. Play left hand lead exercises about twice as long as right hand lead ones. That's it. You do have to do it.    


Anonymous said...

Are you trying to say that things like 'extreme left hand drumming' and 'go hard or go home; mastering the left hand' are just clickbait ?

Todd Bishop said...

Yes, I have the unmitigated audacity.