Open-handed playing refers to a method of playing the drum set without crossing the hands when playing the hihat or ride cymbal and snare drum simultaneously as opposed to the more traditional way of playing drums which features crossed hands as the basic playing position.
When playing open-handed, left-handed (and right-footed) drummers will play the hi-hat with their left hand (instead of the right hand) and the snare with the right hand.
However, there are right handed drummers who have developed their ambidexterity on the drum set as referenced in Jim Chapin’s book “Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer Vol. 1”
In addition, setting up hi-hats and ride-cymbals on both sides of the drum kit will also help to avoid the crossing of hands which limits the range of musical options. Absolute beginners often choose this open-handed way of playing as their first and natural attempt to drumming.
Pioneers of open-handed playing are drummers like Billy Cobham and Lenny White who started this way of playing in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Even before Billy and Lenny, drum legend Jim Chapin pushed the idea of playing open-handed in his groundbreaking work on coordinated independence “Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer Vol. 1”.
As well, open-handed exercises could be found in Gary Chester’s book “The New Breed”.
Many other great drummers to check out who play open handed are Simon Phillips, Carter Beauford, Will Kennedy, Dom Famularo, Claus Hessler and the list goes on with many new up and coming drummers choosing this way to express their playing.
The first drum set method book ever written expressly on the issue of playing open-handed is “Open Handed Playing Volume 1” and most recently “Open Handed Playing: A Step Above Volume 2” by Dom Famularo and Claus Hessler available through Wizdom Media.
(These are great books that are a must for all drummers. I recommend these to all my students.)
Dom and Claus have taken the open handed playing concept to the next level expressing the logic and creative expression one can have playing in this manner.
I had the chance to meet and see Claus perform last month at the PASIC show in Indianapolis. His clinic presentation was incredible, inspiring and motivating.
Check out this performance piece by Claus at PASIC 2011
Just seeing him play with a relax and musical approach inspired me to pursue the open handed concept further.
The best way to start is to take a simple 8th note groove you are comfortable with and play it slowing at first open handed.
Try applying this to a simple 8th note based tune. I do this to “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson on gigs and see if the band members notice any difference in the groove from the traditional way I use to play the song.
Here is a great video of Dom Famularo sharing his views and ways to get started playing open handed.
There are many great songs with the grooves played and recorded in the open handed style. Check out the groove for “Don’t Stop Believing’’ by the band Journey.
The drummer Steve Smith created such unique parts for this song. Here is a link to a video with Steve demonstrating his ideas.
Imagine the challenge one would have to play this in a traditional style crossing the right hand over the left.
Have an open mind and challenge yourself today to work on some ideas in the open handed style. You will be amazed at what creative ideas come out of you.
Be patient, stay relaxed, be musical and most of all, have fun.
Jeff Salem (A.K.A.) Noise Organizer