What Is Open Handed Drumming?! Why Do Drummers Do This?

By Evan C

Certain Drumming Concepts

You may have wondered what is open handed drumming and why is it talked about so much. I can understand because I felt the exact same way the first time I heard it.

What Is Open Handed Drumming?

Open handed drumming is a method of playing the drum kit where you don’t play the hi hats, ride cymbal, or any other cymbal with your hands crossed as you typically would.

You’re using your weaker hand to carry the beat/pulse and playing openly (no hand crossing) with that non-dominant hand, while your dominant hand is doing everything your weaker hand would do, like the snare backbeat, etc.

Drummers Learn These Techniques, For Real?

Open handed playing may still not make sense just giving the definition. Why would anyone do that and wouldn’t it make it harder? Let’s go into where it came from, the benefits, and the best way for you to implement it to see results in your drumming!

A Peak Inside Open Handed Drumming

So, open handed drumming is where there is no cross hand and your lead hand is basically doing everything your weaker hand was. Right-handed drummers who typically play with their hi-hats on the left side would play the hats with their left hand and no cross (i.e. open handed)

Playing with hands crossed
Playing with hands crossed

Left-handed drummers, who typically play with hats on their right side, are doing the same thing, but using their right hand to do cymbal work and lead drum beats.

Open-handed playing sounds like you’re learning drums all over again, so why would you even do it??

Well, it’s really great to be able to improve your ambidexterity and work on that weak hand! Imagine, regardless of your drum setup, that it didn’t matter what hand you came back to after a fill. You could just continue the playing the beat with the other hand.

What is open handed drumming? This is!
Playing open handed

This opens up the door to being able to just play without limitations! This is exactly why so many drummers use this technique and practice it. What is open handed drumming shouldn’t be a question anymore!

Are you ready to become a better drummer? Click here and check out these drum hacks and other things that’ll get you on the right track!

History Brief:

The beginnings of Open-handed drumming were first mentioned in Jim Chapin’s book, Advanced Techniques and Gary Chester’s book The New Breed. In these books they both go over leading with both hands/feet for limb independence in drumming.

Famous drummers like Dennis Wilson, Billy Cobham, and Lenny White were some of the first drummers to really be seen using this open-handed technique in the 60s and 70s. It was because they were left-handed drummers (like Dennis Wilson) or because it offered more creativity and less restriction from playing more dynamics on the snare drum, floor tom, and with drum fills in general.

In 2008 and 2011, Dom Famularo and Claus Hessler came out with Open Handed Playing vol. 1 & 2. As you can guess, these books are focused entirely on open handed drumming and building out those chops. Claus also had some lessons in Modern Drummer magazine.

Carter Beauford and Simon Phillips are among some of the other open-handed drummers who have put out lessons on this as well.

Getting Started with Open Handed Drumming:

The first thing we can do to help us with open handed drumming is getting away from our traditional set ups and limitations.

You have to just dive in and start using your weaker hand leading on the hi-hats. Get used to strokes with your weak hand along with your bass drum.

It’s going to feel weird at first. A right-handed player will have to get used to using your right foot your left hand, while a left-handed player (play with hats on the right hand side), will have to get used to using their right hand with their left foot.

First open handed exercise
First exercise from above video

Try this on the hi hat and on a crash. Do it with and without the kick drum. The idea is becoming more free and limb independent. It can feel out of place when we do these and that’s what we want and the only thing to push us forward.

As you do this more it’ll start to become more comfortable. From there you can start changing the subdivisions, doing quarter, eighth, sixteenth, etc.

This might be a technical challenge, but you’ll eventually get used to doing these as you spend more time building up that open drumming muscle.

Try using the subdivision ladder and really get the feel of the syncopation with your weaker hand. You’ll be getting faster as you increase the subdivision and then slower as you move back down, but the important thing is getting equal and smooth with your sticking.

Add the kick drum and snare as you feel comfortable to start doing beats using open handed drumming.

Your natural reaction at the beginning may be do use your dominant hand for certain things and that is completely normal.

It’s important that you practice doing these exercises at a slower tempo and increase the speed only when it feels right. The more comfortable you get with your weaker hand may open up the door to wanting to do more drum fills leading with the weak hand.

You can apply the same logic when doing fills that you did with leading beats. Try doing some single stroke rolls (Right left right left, etc.). For this though, be sure to alternate starting with YOUR WEAKER HAND! See exercise below.

Second open handed exercise
Second exercise from above video and VERY helpful!

Start doing them with quarter notes and then double the speed to eighth notes and then increase as you feel comfortable.

With this exercise, I’d also recommend using a metronome to help you establish your internal clock. You’ll want a smooth alternating pattern between your hands and it’ll feel different because you’re not used to leading with your weaker hand.

When you feel comfortable, try playing open handed and also doing fills with your weaker hand around the drums. This is really the only way you can get good at this. Practice and more practice are the only thing that will make anyone a better drummer.

All of these things are a great start to getting you started with open handed drumming. There are more advanced things you can do when you get to that point, but I won’t go over those in this post.

You can always ease into equalizing your weaker hand with your dominant hand. If you already have things you are practicing and don’t want to deviate from it, a few left hand lead exercises are better than none.

Once you are ready, hit it with all the focus and time that you can muster, and you’ll see a big difference in your playing.

It won’t just be with your open handed playing, but you’ll notice your chops become a little more extensive. You’ll start doing things you probably couldn’t before.

It takes time, but you got this!!

Final Thoughts:

I remember asking what is open handed drumming and really seeing how there were a lot of drummers using this technique to better their chops.

I have a right-handed setup, so my left hand is my weaker hand. I’m always working at this concept of equalization between all of my limbs and really having 4-limb independence. I have been drumming for over 20 years and I still have a long way to go, which is alright!

I just want to give you encouragement and let you know you can do this! If you understand the work it takes and don’t give up, you can get lost in practicing this technique as well as any other that will enhance your drumming.

Even if you feel like no progress is being made, just get up and take action and do it because progress is always there. That’ll already put you in a different category than those who wish and take NO action. You got this, just take the action!


Is Open Handed Drumming Worth It?

So, what is open handed drumming and is it really worth learning? I would say that it is because anything we don’t know on the drums is worth learning.

Everything we learn opens up another door and gives us more opportunity to explore. The greatest drummers realize they are never done chipping away at their craft.

I’d Love To Hear Your Thoughts!

So, what do you think of open handed drumming? Is it something you’re interested in or have you been trying it for a while? I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

Want FREE drum hacks to help your drum chops foundation and get you on the right track?

Get those by clicking here.

Until next time, stay attuned!

-Evan C.

About the author

Hi there, I'm Evan and I love drums.. Also, I love music! I've been playing drums for most of my life and nothing beats the thrill I get from it. I hope to be able to provide you with insightful tips and reviews on things within the drum and music world!

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