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I'm in a slightly strange situation. I have been playing the piano ever since I was a kid, and have in recent years taken an interest in drumming. Not having consistent access to a real drum kit, I got into the habit of performing rhythmic passages using alternative means (my desk, my body, the car's steering wheel, etc.). This has gone on for several years, and when I finally sat down next to a real drum kit, I was pleasantly surprised to find my practicing translates well to a real kit, and I can perform and maintain fairly non-trivial rhythms on it.

The problem is that for some reason, it seems I self-trained unknowingly as a left-handed drummer, even though I'm normally right handed. That is, even though my dominant hand is my right hand, when I play a regular (right-handed) drum kit I find it significantly easier to use a left-handed hands assignment, i.e. when playing a basic rock beat, I uncross my arms, hitting the snare with my right hand and the hi-hat with my left; hitting the ride requires crossing them again which is slightly awkward. Additionally, since the pedals cannot be exchanged in the same manner, I end up doing essentially left-handed but right-footed (?) drumming: right and left feet do bass and hi-hat respectively, while right and left hands do snare and hi-hat (instead of the other way around).

When I try to play the kit "correctly", it feels like taking quite a few steps back and I can't do half of what I can easily achieve when my hands are switched.

Now that I have somewhat more regular access to a (right handed) drum kit, I need to make a decision: I can either continue to play and practice as a left-handed-right-footed drummer, building on the foundation of what I've already trained for; or I can try to unlearn everything and start from scratch as a normal right-handed drummer.

So, my question to drummers and drum teachers: is it even possible to unlearn something like this? Would using this strange layout limit my progress in the future? Conversely, would I gain anything from switching now, despite the price of retraining my hands to do the opposite of what they're used to?

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Can you not just reverse your drums, so that you have a "left handed" kit? I don't play drums, but I thought they were pretty much symmetric. –  Matthew Read May 12 '11 at 21:28
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They are, except that it isn't my kit so I can't tinker with it. And most other kits I will come across will be right-handed as well. Another more important point is that I fear that using my non-dominant hand to do what my dominant hand should've done might hurt my progress in the future, which is basically what I'm asking the drummers here to confirm or refute. –  Avish May 12 '11 at 21:31
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Thanks for making me clarify :) –  Avish May 12 '11 at 21:32
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Most drummers and drum teachers I talk to insist that every drummer train to be ambidextrous. Any exercise done starting on the right hand is repeated starting on the left. Any polyrhythmic passage where the right hand is playing rhythm A and the left hand is playing rhythm B and then practiced with switched hands. This is applied to snare drum or percussion sections, but I'd be surprised to hear someone tell you NOT to train your right hand in the way you're asking for drum set. Also, try playing some left hand only or left hand melody piano etudes to program your left hand to be melody. –  SRiss May 13 '11 at 0:41
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As long as you CAN play either way, then you should train to do each equally well. I've known one person who played the way you mention, and it was a struggle for him to constantly swap equipment around. If you can do either, you'll be a stronger player for it. If you can't do either, and you commonly play other folks' kits, you should make sure you play in the traditional manner. –  Josh Fields Oct 24 '12 at 22:20
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4 Answers 4

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Avish,

My answer agrees with Ariel and SRiss but I'd like to add my own experience.

I've had drum lessons for about a year, during which I've played left-handed right-footed the whole time. Like the other answers say, it doesn't make any difference in the long run because in the long run you'll be ambidextrous anyway. So no, it won't limit your progress in the future.

About switching to right-handed. In my experience it would be a waste of time. From your question, the only discomfort you have is moving weirdly to hit the ride. Well why don't you just practice hitting the ride with the right hand and leave what's good the way it is?

That's just what I did when I played the drums. Eventually I could play the 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 on the hi-hat with the left hand and then switching to playing it on the ride with the right hand, no problems. Just watch that the snare sounds the same with both hands.

I disagree with Ariel that switching hands before a break is any bad. If you're used to playing right handed or left handed only, that may be discomfortable. But if you're used to changing what function each hand performs all the time, then you won't even know you're switching hands, it's just natural.

Short answer: Keep up what's good, adapt what's not. You're surely not going to have any future problems for it.

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That's not to say you won't have to learn to play right handed in the long run. You will. But don't worry about it until you have to! –  Allan K. May 14 '11 at 12:04
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I agree with SRiss. The fact that you have a "natural" tendency to do something doesn't mean this should be your ONLY way of doing it. However, since your strong arm is your right one, you want it free to improvise. Don't play in a way that necessitates switching hands before a break. Same goes for the right foot - the bass drum must be very agile and fast for some rhythms, and having only your left foot on the bass will make this much more difficult.

Altogether, I find that if you've played any instrument unprofessionally for a bit, learning how to play professionally means suffering through a month or two of annoying, simple, mindless drilling, and even taking a few steps back in your playing just so you can start moving forward in a more organized technique. You have to grit your teeth and bear it.

Lastly, do you have ear-plugs? Get a pair to save your hearing.

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Actually, left is my strong foot (at least according to high-school PE classes), so it might actually be easier for me to play bass with my left foot; but I can't test this hypothesis since the kits I can get to are all right-footed. When I play on things that aren't kits I naturally use left as a bass, although that might be due to my right foot usually being used to control the car's pedals :) What do you mean by "switching hands before a break"? –  Avish May 14 '11 at 12:55
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What you've learned can certainly be unlearned. It just takes a lot of time and patience. I would keep building what you already having going for you and make sure you make progress.

I am left-handed, but when I started there was only a right-handed kit to play on. I learn that from the start and it has always made sense for me. For the past 10 years though I've played open-handed. To me it's the most natural way. I can't find a single reason to cross your harms. That means you're locking one under the other, greatly limiting its abilities.

If I were you, I would keep leading with the left hand. You can have a hi-hat AND ride on the left side of your kit, which means you can play pretty much every beat without switching the leading hand or crossing over.

The only problem I could see you facing is fills. If you lead with your left hand, but a normal fill would go from left to right (rack toms to floor tom, smallest to largest) then that might be awkward to play, as the right hand is always moving "ahead" of the left one. But if fills are natural for you to play on a right-handed tom set up, you're good to go.

As for the bass drum, whatever feels comfortable for you. If you lead with left hand and right foot, it might take a bit more time reading notation/doing exercises where these things matter, but that's about the only "problem" I see you might be facing.

You might want to consider practicing also leading with your right hand, enabling more freedom, but it does take time. Still, I would prefer trying to build both hands as equal over forgetting what you do now and starting from scratch.

Happy drumming!

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Avish, what you've described is "open-handed drumming", which, although it's not traditional, is nevertheless gaining acceptance - Billy Cobham's been doing it for about 40 years.

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Move a ride cymbal to the left side of the kit and keep on playing open-handed. Billy Cobham, Simon Phillips, Carter Beauford, Lenny White are some of my favourite open-handed drummers. The wikipedia page I linked above lists about 50 open-hand players. –  Stretch55 Oct 13 '11 at 1:59
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