As I mentioned before, the Beck performance on that new Nigel Godrich website is pretty rad. I enjoyed his drummer, but I don’t recognize him. Anybody know who it is? My friend Bill thought it might have been ?uestlove, but Beck’s guy is a lefty, and ?uest isn’t. Thinking about this gives me an opportunity to bring up my thoughts about left-handed players.
To clarify, I don’t want to pick on left-handed people, just guys who play drums in a left-handed way. There are two main versions of this: 1) setting up the drums in the opposite configuration, and 2) playing “open” – with the left hand on the hihat and right hand on the snare. These two methods of approaching the drums stem from the belief that left-handed people should play drums in a different way than right-handed people do, much like swinging a golf club or using a writing utensil. Again, to be clear, I have nothing against left-handed people, but I do have an issue with this belief that drumming is dominant-hand sensitive.
My thesis is this: playing drums instrument should NOT be a right-handed vs. left-handed issue. I’ve got a few reasons for thinking this, but I’ve narrowed it down to three…
1. Drums are hard for everyone when you start. If you’re a beginner, then trying to learn to play grooves feels weird no matter what. Familiarity with the instrument grows with time spent practicing, and things that once felt totally awkward eventually become second nature. If I, as a life-long right-handed player, committed the next 6 months of my life to playing only left-handed kits, I believe the scales would tip and my comfort and preference would change. So, I’m basically saying that the traditional arrangement of a drum set shouldn’t be thought of as a “right-handed configuration” that needs to be reversed for a left-handed player, because I don’t think the case can be made that playing the hihat with the dominant hand produces any actual advantage. This leads me to my second point…
2. The piano has always been configured the same way. Right-handed… left-handed… doesn’t matter. You sit down at the piano and you learn to play it the way that it is: low notes on the left, high notes on the right. Wind instruments such as saxophones are also this way. At some point drummers (and guitarists I guess) decided that the set-up of the instrument should be reversed to accommodate for left-handed players, but this only happened because changing the instrument’s configuration is possible. For the piano, left-handed people just learn it and do it… and they don’t seem to have any trouble. This is the same with driving a manual-transmission car: you put your left hand on the wheel, right hand on the stick shift, left foot on the clutch, and right foot on the gas/brake. Nobody gets to select the “left-handed” version transmission, and I don’t hear left-handed people complaining about that.
3. Left-handed players are setting themselves up for inconvenience. This last reason is a pragmatic one, and probably the most compelling. The short of it is this: left-handed players spend their entire lives dealing with the headache of switching around right-handed kits to fit your needs. Professional drummers (and serious hobbyists) are constantly put in the position of needing to play someone else’s kit. Maybe the gig has a house kit, or all the bands at the club need to use the headliner’s gear, or you’re just sitting in for one song, or whatever. Taking the time to switch a right-handed configuration around will always be a nuisance, and not only to you. I’ve heard of left-handed players not getting called for a tour because nobody wants to deal with reversing the drums. Regardless of how “discriminating” this may seem, it’s reality. I’ve talked with numerous left-handed professional players over the years, and they ALL lament the fact that they chose to reverse the instrument when they first began learning it. Their reason is always simply the annoyance of always having to switch everything around.
To reiterate, my answer to the overall issue is to suggest that drums are not dominant-hand sensitive. I have nothing against the left-handed folks of the world, I just think it’s a mistake to assume that left-handedness requires someone to reverse the way drums are set up.
At this point it’s worth asking why I’m posting about this topic. I mean, I’m right-handed, so I don’t have anything to worry about. If the left-handed players want to reverse the way they play the instrument, why not just let them? I guess I’m bringing this whole thing up mostly on a philosophical level. As I teach my private lessons, I always tell my left-handed students that they should really consider switching to a right-handed approach, because of the whole inconvenience thing. I spell out my reasons like I did above, and they usually just respond with “well, I want to do it my way.” That’s totally fine, but as a philosopher, I’m not satisfied with that answer.
I’m basically just hoping that someone here can give me a good reason for turning a guitar upside down like Hendrix did, or playing the drum set in a reversed configuration like Beck’s current drummer.
So… challenge extended.