Articles

Teaching Lefty Drummers
by Don Skoog

The Lefties' Page

     Let's face it, left-handers generally get the short end of the drumstick. Not only are there absolutely no drum books for lefties but we are met at every turn by right-handers (or, as we like to say, northpaws) who are clueless about our neurological makeup and the problems we have coping in a righty musical world. And it's not just drummers.
     There are millions of young left-handed musicians (we make up over ten percent of the general population) who put their trust in right-handed teachers. Many end up frustrated and confused, not because they lack talent, but because their teachers lack understanding -- and training. Time and again I hear stories from ex-musicians who blamed themselves for their slow progress, only to discover later that their teacher started them wrong, putting them in a situation where they couldn't help but fail.
     Well I say enough's enough. LEFTIES OF THE WORLD UNITE! Throw off the shackles of righty oppression and join The Southpaw Liberation Army. As Commander-and-Chief of the SLA (actually I'm the whole army 'till someone else joins) I vow to fight for proper training and materials for left-handers. If that doesn't work I'll run for president. I'm as qualified as anyone else who's running. Here's my campaign platform:

     Lateralityis the scientific term for side-specific preferences in hands, feet, eyes, and ears. There is more lateral variety among lefties than righties so there are more options to consider when starting a left-handed student, but basically there are two categories 1) dominant left hand/dominant left foot and 2) dominant left hand/dominant right foot.
     Left-handed left-footers should be started on a reversed drumset -- that is, highhat and snaredrum on the right side. These are the students who are really screwed if you start them on a righty kit. (If you've already started this way don't despair. There are some techniques for overcoming the inherent disadvantages of this setup. We'll get into them later.)
     Left-handed right-footers can be started on a righty kit but it's important for them to lead with their left hand when doing stick control and learning drumset beats. That way they can take advantage of both their strong hand and strong foot. The obvious problem is that there's nothing written for people who play this way, but that will change as teachers become more aware of the importance of this option. Here's an example:


    Students who start with this setup can also experiment with right-handed patterns to see which work for them, creating a playing approach similar to Billy Cobham who uses a combination of left- and right-hand leads when he plays (see his World of Rhythm DVD with Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter to get a better idea of his playing style).
    Since drummers develop their own patterns for themselves it's important for you to write yours out as a record of your musical evolution. If you have exercises or concepts for lefty players please send them to me and I'll post them up here, giving you credit of course, as a resource for others. As members of the SLA we've got to stick together.

    Also, I'm interested in talking to musicians and teachers of other instruments who have stories to tell or teaching materials for lefties. So if you know a left-handed bassoonist who's got insight into the lefty predicament please have him (or her) call or e-mail me here.

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