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If you’ve been playing drums for a while, you would have undoubtedly developed a few blisters. Blisters form due to the friction caused between your fingers and the drumsticks, and they can be quite nasty to deal with.
While every drummer gets blisters at some point in time, you shouldn’t actually be getting many of them if you play with correct technique.
In this guide, I’ll explain how technique can affect things, but I’ll also offer a few other suggestions for preventing drumming blisters. After that, I’ll give a few pointers on how to deal with blisters when you already have them.
A few brands sell gloves that are specially made for drummers. Anything that stops the friction between your hands and the sticks will prevent blisters, so using a pair of gloves is a great way to stop those pesky blisters from coming.
You just need to be careful of what kind of gloves you use. Some are far too thick, making it feel quite uncomfortable to play drums. They take away the natural feeling of using drumsticks, and that can hinder you from performing various techniques.
I’m also not the biggest fan of gloves, as they tend to protect your hands too much, and you don’t want to start relying on them.
I’ve seen a lot of beginner weightlifters in the gym use gloves before they take the time to feel out the weights. It stops them from being comfortable with heavier weights later on. It’s the same sort of thing with drumming.
If you insist on wearing gloves, I’d recommend using fingerless ones. They offer a bit more control, as you’ll still feel the drumsticks connect with the upper parts of your fingers.
While I’m not a fan of using gloves, there are plenty of high-tier drummers that have had very successful careers with them. The two that come to mind are Carter Beauford and Aquiles Priester.
Improving Your Grip
One of the most vital ways to prevent blisters is by focusing on how you hold your drumsticks. I’ll mention specific grip techniques a bit later, but let’s just focus on grip strength for now.
The tighter you hold your drumsticks, the more force there will be when you strike the drums. That constant force will enhance the friction in your hands, and blisters will come a lot quicker.
You want to have a relatively loose grip while playing. The drumsticks should rebound off the drums when you strike the batter heads, and the sticks should move freely between your hands and fingers.
While this will stop blisters from forming, it will also protect your wrists from getting hurt over time. So, it’s just something to constantly think about for your overall bodily health.
An easy way to ensure that your grip is loose is by making sure your strokes bounce off the drums. If your sticks dig into the heads without bouncing, it’s because you’re gripping the sticks too tightly.
You’re also going to choke the resonance of the drums if you do this.
Right, let’s move on to specific techniques of holding your drumsticks. The main grips that you can use are German grip, American grip, and French grip.
German grip is when your palms are facing completely downward, leading your elbows to point outward when you strike the drums.
French grip is when your palms face each other, leading your elbows to point downward. You get much lighter strokes from this grip.
American grip is a combination of those two. Your palms point in a diagonal direction, with your elbows doing the same.
Sticking to one of those three grips will ensure that you’re striking the drums properly. Any other way of playing will possibly lead to more blisters, as it’s not as optimal as those grips.
I should also mention traditional grip. This is when your leading hand has your palm facing upwards, while your wrist and fingers control the stick movement going up and down. Your other hand will utilize one of the grips that I mentioned above.
I know a lot of drummers that aim to learn how to use matched grip, but they end up playing too stiffly, and that often leads to more blisters. Your hand has to be incredibly loose and relaxed to play matched grip very well without getting any blisters.
I think that drumstick tape is a much better alternative to drumming gloves. You may feel that your grip isn’t great on your drumsticks, leading them to slip out of your hands.
While gloves will stop them from slipping, I mentioned above how they don’t give you a natural feel. Drumstick tape allows you to hold your drumsticks very nicely without them getting slippery.
Some drumsticks come with tape. I know that Zildjian sells quite a few pairs with a dipped design, meaning they have tape built into them.
You can also purchase tape separately and wrap the sticks yourself.
The reason that drumstick tape is a good option is that it stops you from gripping the sticks so tightly. When your sticks are slippery, you’re going to hold them tighter so that they don’t slip out of your hands. As I said earlier, the tighter you grip your sticks, the more likely you are to develop a few nasty blisters.
Some drummers hate the feeling of drumstick tape, though. I recommend trying it out to see if you like it or not, and then you can take things from there.
Change Your Drumsticks
Here’s a lesson I learned very early on in my drumming career. The size and shape of your drumsticks play a huge role in how comfortable you are behind the kit. Sticks that are the wrong size for your playing style can also cause blisters and other drumming-related injuries.
I got started off with 5B drumsticks, but they were far too thick and heavy for how I wanted to play. I developed a few blisters over time, and I realized how those blisters stopped coming when I switched to thinner 5As.
You need to experiment to find what’s best for you, but there are a few general rules that apply to certain playing styles.
If you’re a hard-hitting drummer, you should be using a relatively thick pair of drumsticks. The thinner your drumsticks are, the more likely they are to break. However, you may also try to compensate for that with the way you hold them, and that will naturally lead to a few blisters.
If you’re a light drummer, you’ll also develop plenty of blisters by using thick and heavy sticks. The more contact the wood has with your hands, the more likely you are to get those blisters, especially if you’re not going to utilize the force of the extra weight.
Constant friction is another big reason for blisters developing. When you practice the drums for hours at a time, you’re far more likely to get blisters than if you were to practice in short bursts.
While you can’t avoid playing lengthy gigs, it’s a good idea to structure your practice sessions so that you give your hands plenty of breaks.
It’s good to have endurance, but it’s also more optimal to have good rests in between intense practice blocks.
When I have a day to practice, I prefer to play for about 40 minutes at a time. I’ll then take a 20 minute break to give my body some rest, and that does well to prevent blisters from developing.
It can also help to take days away from playing the drums. If you love playing the drums, that can be very hard to do, but it also has a sort of psychological benefit for improving. After you haven’t played for a day or two, you’ll come back to your kit with more motivation to get better.
My next piece of advice is to accept the blisters that come. When you develop several blisters in the same place, calluses will start to develop on your hands.
This is when your skin gets harder and rougher, and you’ll stop getting blisters once a callus forms. So, calluses are good for preventing blisters, but you need to get a few blisters before they come.
This is why completely preventing blisters can actually be a bit detrimental when you first start playing. You should accept them and understand that they’re part of the process of getting calluses.
However, you shouldn’t have to deal with too many of them before forming a callus. If you get several blisters without any calluses, it’s likely due to your technique being a bit off.
So, you should monitor what is happening with your hands, look for calluses, and see them as a sign that you’re practicing and improving at a decent pace.
My final piece of advice is to just play the drums as often as you can. The more you play, the fewer blisters you’ll get over time.
This point is a bit of a combination of all the ones I mentioned above, but it’s good to know and think about.
Play drums often, but remember to take breaks in between long practice sessions. The more you play, the faster calluses will form, leading to fewer blisters.
You’ll also improve your technique over time, which will also lead to fewer blisters.
I’ve been playing drums for over 20 years, and I only get one or two blisters a year. The main things that cause blisters are big gigs where I need to practice for hours and play long sets. You just can’t get away from blisters in those sorts of settings.
But know that because I’ve been playing drums for several hours every week over decades, I just don’t get blisters like I did when I first started playing.
How to Handle Blisters
While preventing blisters is key, you often just can’t get away from them when playing the drums. For this reason, it’s good to know how to deal with them too.
They can be really painful to play with, especially when they break and open to leave raw skin on your hands and fingers.
Here are a few tips to make drumming a bit easier when you have a blister or two.
Bandages and Plasters
An easy way to deal with a blister when drumming is to simply cover it with a plaster or bandage. Most people have some sort of first aid kit in their homes, or just a box of plasters somewhere.
Pull one of those out to cover your blister, and it should block that part of your skin from rubbing against your drumsticks when you play.
This will lower the amount of pain that you feel. You may still feel a bit, but it will be a lot less than if you weren’t to cover the blister at all.
My only frustration with using a bandage or plaster is that they’re often quite thick, and that can make it a bit uncomfortable to hold a drumstick.
The next solution would be to use finger tape. This essentially works the same as a bandage or plaster, but I find finger tape a lot easier to work with.
Plasters can be tricky to place neatly on your fingers, while finger tape is specifically designed for them. You can also find some tape options that are a bit thinner than a typical plaster.
The downside is that you likely don’t have finger tape freely available in your house, so you’ll need to go buy some. This makes it a less likely solution for most people compared to bandages and plasters.
I highly recommend this option, though!
My final suggestion is to use chalk on your hands. This is something that bodybuilders do when they lift heavy weights. It helps with grip, as the bar is less likely to slip out of their hands.
The same thing applies to drumsticks. You get more grip between your sticks and hands, so you won’t need to hold your drumsticks as tightly. While this is good for preventing blisters, the chalk also creates a bit of a barrier between a current blister and the sticks.
So, it’s a lot less painful to play drums when you have a bit of chalk on your fingers.
How To Prevent Drumming Blisters, Final Thoughts
Blisters are a huge pain, but they’re one of the side effects of improving on the drums. You need to get them to develop calluses, so don’t do too much to prevent them when you first start out.
Once you have calluses developed, you shouldn’t be getting too many blisters. That’s when you should apply some of the prevention methods that I mentioned above.