- Learn how lefties play percussion.
- Explore the pros and cons of this approach
- Learn the difference between open and left-handed drumming
- Also, check out our post on the best left-handed electric guitars!
The concept of left-handed drumming sounds funny at first. You might ask internal questions like: But don’t drummers play with both hands?!
And the answer to that is obvious: Yes! But there are some benefits to left-handed percussionists playing ‘left-handed.’
This is like the left-handed guitarist situation: Some left-handed guitarists are cool with playing a regular right-handed instrument, whereas others do best with left-handed instruments.
Playing left-handed drums means that everything is left-lead and mirrored. The snare and bass are set up so you can drum with your left foot and start beats with your left hand.
On the other hand, right-handed drumming typically involves crossing your left hand over the top of your right (at least if you are in the basic position to play snare and hi-hat).
Also, check out our guide to the best snare drums for all budgets and play styles!
When Did Left-Handed Drumming Begin?
Left-handed drumming and open-handing drumming are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.
Let me explain: Left-handed Drummers first began playing differently around the 1960s.
Dennis Wilson (of The Beach Boys) is an example of an early open-handed player. Playing ‘left-handed’ or mirrored didn’t begin until the early ’70s.
Left-handed drummers who play mirrored play with crossed hands, and open-handed players don’t.
The First Mirrored Drumset
Alice Cooper’s Neal Smith was the first drummer to have a mirrored drumset specifically for his left-handed drumming (Modern Drumming Magazine).
This set was made in the early 1970s by Premier and looks extremely flashy. The mirrored drumset was fittingly made of dozens of tiny mirrors. Check out the glitzy set in this video with the original drummer below.
Open-Handed Drumming (Alternative Method)
Open-handed drumming is a good solution if you don’t want to rearrange the kit or need to share your instrument with a right-handed player. As the name suggests, the open-handed method involves playing with uncrossed hands.
Your left-hand play the hi-hat, while your right plays the snare. Open-handed drumming makes me feel like I’m on a spaceship. If you usually play crossed, it’ll feel quite strange at first.
Beginners who ‘don’t know what they are doing yet’ naturally tend to assign the drums like how I just described; your right hand is the one that travels around to the toms and cymbals, while your left stays in a smaller space.
Metal has many open-handed drummers compared to other genres because it opens up your limbs in a way that allows you to reach for everything quickly.
Also, check out our post on how many cymbals are in a drum set and how many you actually need.
Left-Handed Drummers Who Played Open-Handed
Some examples of open-handed drummers include:
- Deen Castronovo (Journey)
- Simon Phillips (The Who)
- “Sput” Searight (Snarky Puppy)
- Neil Sanderson (Three Days Grace)
- Rob Davidson (Pompeii)
- Boris Williams (The Cure)
- Josh Eppard (Coheed and Cambria)
Some lefties prefer to switch between open and left-handed/mirrored drumming, depending on the genre or song.
There are more open-handed lefties than mirrored-playing lefties as a whole. Let’s look at some pros and cons of both styles next.
Pros and Cons: Mirrored and Open
Mirrored / Left-Handed
You may feel more comfortable on the set
It will be hard to share drum sets with right-handed players
Playing left-lead can speed up the learning process
Left-handed teachers are hard to come by
As a whole, it just ‘sits right’ with some people’s brains!
The plethora of right-handed online tutorials can be difficult to play with
Easy to share a set with others
This method can lack power
Cymbals are easier to get to when compared to cross-handed styles
Similarly to mirrored, it can be difficult to find a teacher
You can get more speed
Online tutorials may not have the songs you want to learn
It lends well to playing metal
You may need to move the hi-hat over to feel more comfortable
Tips for Left-Handed Drummers
- Spend more time with your non-dominant hand than your dominant hand
- Practice alternate sticking often
While I can make lists of left-handed drummers all day long, at the end of the day, left-handed drummers run into the same roadblocks as right-handed drummers.
Namely, the non-dominant hand is going to need a lot of trips to the rhythm gym.
Drumming (at least for me) is a contrast battle of consistency. You want both hands to be equally good (or bad), depending on what kind of a day it is at the set!
You can strengthen your weak hand by drumming it into a pillow. This tip was given to me by a professor during undergrad. While it might sound silly, this wisdom got me through the class with an A.
Practice alternate sticking patterns often. By alternate sticking, I mean the strokes will be L-R-L or R-L-R. Often, when we are first getting started, it’s tempting to do everything with our dominant hand (IE Left, left, left).
The only exception to the rule is if there is a pickup, you might have two Ls or Rs in a row.
Again, right-handed and left-handed drumming is an interesting concept because the aim of every drummer is for our hands to have the same amount of strength and agility!
Make it simple: Do what’s comfortable for you. But remember that the goal is to make both sides of your body equally capable.
Should Right-Handed Drummers Ever Play Left-Handed?
Yes, give it a try! Us right-handed drummers are notorious for having weak left hands. Switching to open-handed or left-handed drumming will help you detect sneaky weak points in your technique.
And, aside from musicality, playing instruments mirrored is good for strengthening your brain.
What Hand Is On Top When Drumming Left-Handed?
When drumming left-handed, when your kit is mirrored, the left hand is on top. But if you’re playing open-handed, no hand is on top.
Do You Need A Special Drum Kit for Left-Handed Drumming?
No, you don’t need a specialty drum kit to learn to play left-handed. All you’ll need to do is a little bit of rearranging! That said, if you are into chugging music, you must buy a specialty double reversible bass pedal.
Side note: Some companies make left-handed kits, like the above Premier kit that Alice Cooper’s drummer had for sale. But they’re often unnecessarily expensive and can be hard to find.
The only real set I think would be good to have as left-handed is a left-handed electronic kit because everything needs to be wired in, so it gets a bit more complicated. Unfortunately, these aren’t a thing yet.
Do You Need to Rearrange the Drums as an Open-Handed Leftie Drummer?
Not necessarily. Some musicians prefer to nestle the hi-hat closer to the cymbals to the right. Open-handed has more leeway when it comes to setup than mirrored.
Most open-handed drummers keep the setup the same as right-handed drummers. But Harry Miree is an example of an open-handed drummer with a starkly different setup- His snare is between two toms!
But What About Different Grips?
Things start to get interesting here. Left-handed drummers who play on mirrored kits usually use French grip, but a few drummers have used traditional grip.
Traditional grip is also known as unmatched grip because the way you hold the stick varies from each hand.
I feel like a traditional grip plus a left-handed setup tends to be too much for beginning drummers. If you are a leftie with some chops, though, feel free to try it!
Can Electronic Drums Be Set Up Left-Handed?
Yes! But it will take a bit of time and unconventional arranging. Roland has a very helpful tutorial on how to set up electronic kits for left-handed folks.
Whether you are a righty who is looking to mix things up and strengthen those synapses or if you are a leftie who is a budding percussionist, I think left-handed drumming is worth a shot. Try left, right, and open, and see which feels most right to you.
Before you go, check out our guide to the 5 Best Drum Sets For Beginners!