How to Build Drum Speed, Part 2: Hand Speed

Here are some more tips to get your hands flying around the drums:

  1. Practice on a pillow. Dennis Chambers recommends pillows over practice pads. Dennis has said on many occasions that Buddy Rich used to this to develop wrists, fingers, and forearms. A good pillow will have very little rebound. The purpose of this is that you have to do all the work. Practice single stroke rolls at different volumes, speeds, add aceents, play rudiments, etc. Practicing doubles on a pillow will improve your ability to play doubles on a floor tom. One great thing about pillow practice is that it won’t disturb anyone.
  2. Develop Finger control. This will improve your ability to play really fast grooves. Your wrists have a limit to how fast they can move. French grip gives you the most room for the drum sticks to move around and have the most leverage. The faster you play, the lower the height of your sticks will be. Strengthening each finger individually really helps. Your pinky acts as a stabilizer for the drum stick, but can cramp up. Keep in mind that finger control can be very frustrating to develop.
    Technique Patterns
    (affiliate link) by Gary Chaffee has some great exercises. Also, don’t do finger control exercises on a pillow until you have control on a pad.
  3. Practice the Lock Grip Technique. This technique is practiced by gripping the stick the 2nd joint of the index finger. Some people call this power grip. This really strengthens the wrist and forearms. Despite the name of this technique, it’s important to stay relaxed. This technique is a real hardcore workout for the hands. Try this on a loose floor tom that feels soggy. This will also develop power. There is no rebound in this technique.
  4. Practice new rudiments. Do a certain amount per day. The most important rudiments to work on are single strokes, double strokes, paradiddles, flams, drags, and buzzes. These are sometimes referred to as “The Big 6”, because most other rudiments are built off of these.

How to Build Drum Speed, Part 1: Hand Speed

Building drum speed is one of the top priorities of most drummers in the world. Playing faster is part of the fun in developing yourself as a drummer. Check out an impressive demonstration of hand speed and some great exercises to build it in the Mike Michalkow’s Complete Drumming System (affiliate link).

Here are some tips:

  1. Even out your hands. We all have a stronger hand. Whatever you can do with your strong hand you should be able to do with your weak hand. Keep in mind that the hand that usually plays the hi-hat and ride is getting so much more practice than the hand that plays the snare. Practice open handed playing. Open handed playing usually means that the left hand plays the hi hat (for right handed players). Check out the book The Weaker Side (affiliate link) by Dom Famularo and Stephane Chamberland and The New Breed (affiliate link) by Gary Chester.
  2. Set a goal. For most hand speed goals that you set, the weaker hand is going to need to get stronger. It might be necessary to isolate the weaker hand and work on it. Increase the tempo in small increments. Keep in mind that certain techniques might take months (or years) to improve. Be patient and trust that it will get easier. If you can play 16th notes at 110 on each hand, then you can play 32nd note singles at 220 bpm. I recently set a goal of playing the Moeller technique relaxed with sixteenth notes, at 120 bpm for five minutes straight with each hand.
  3. Practice on drum pads that give very little rebound. Putty practice pads and Moongel Workout Pads (affiliate link) have become popular in the past decade. Mike claims that he put a putty practice pad on the left side of his dashboard and would tap the left stick while driving. Although this is an excellent use of time management, it does not seem to be safe. Don’t drive and drum.