Left Handed Drumming, 9 Tips and Differences
There are far fewer left-handed drummers in the world than there are right-handed ones. So, left-handed drumming is a very small thing that doesn’t get too much attention in the drumming space. This often leads left-handed people to feel a bit confused when they start playing.
Drum kits are naturally set up for right-handed people, and patterns are always taught with your right hand being the leading aspect.
This guide is going to break down a few aspects of left-handed drumming. I’ll give a few tips for left-handed drummers, and I’ll also explain the main differences between left-handed and right-handed drumming.
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What is Left Handed Drumming?
Left-handed drumming is when a drummer sets their kit up in a way that allows them to lead everything with their left hand and left foot. It’s essentially how left-handed people should be playing the drums.
However, it’s not as common as you may think, as a lot of left-handed people end up playing on right-handed kits, and no one even realizes that they’re left-handed.
There are also a lot of drawbacks to being a left-handed drummer, including educational resources not catering to you, kits being set up in the opposite way that you’re comfortable with, and the general stigma floating around that everyone should play on a right-handed kit to make things easier.
If you’re left-handed and you want to learn to play the drums, you should take everything that people say with a pinch of salt. I’ll explain all the differences here as diplomatically as possible, and then you can decide whether to start learning on a right or left-handed drum kit setup.
I’ll also give you some valuable tips to follow if you do end up deciding to learn on a left-handed drum kit.
Biggest Differences Between Right and Left Handed Drumming
Drum Kit Setup
The most obvious difference between right and left-handed drumming is that the drum kit gets set up differently. A left-handed kit will basically mirror a right-handed kit so that you can use all the opposite limbs as your stronger ones.
When setting up a lefty kit, the snare drum will be placed on the right of the bass drum pedal, and the floor tom will be placed on the left. The hi-hats will then go on the right of the snare drum so that you can play the pedal with your right foot. You’ll then play the bass drum pedal with your stronger left foot.
You can put the ride cymbal on the left side of the floor tom, and then you’ll put the smallest rack tom just above the snare drum. If you have a middle tom to use, that will be placed to the left of the smaller one.
That’s the basic premise of a left-handed drum kit setup. Some drummers develop their own preferences, such as having the ride cymbal on the same side of the kit as the hi-hats.
The next difference is that all the sticking patterns you play will start with your left hand instead of your right.
For example, a single stroke roll will have you playing alternating hands by starting with your right hand. As a left-handed drummer, it will be more comfortable to start that pattern with your left hand.
You’ll also need to start with your left hand if you want to comfortably move that pattern around a lefty drum set.
The main reason for this is that left-handed drummers will have their left hand as their dominant option. You’ll feel much better when starting patterns with it as a driving factor. You can also start them with your right hand if you want to, but you most likely won’t be able to play the patterns as quickly or comfortably.
This gets a bit tricky when you learn sticking patterns, as most educational material is clearly written for right-handed drummers. You just need to do a bit of adjusting with those patterns to make them suit your lefty setup.
Another huge difference between left-handed and right-handed drumming is that right-handed drumming is a lot more popular. Most drummers in the world play on right-handed kits, so that’s how people think the drums should be played.
This often comes as a detriment to left-handed drummers, as it leads to a few issues. It also means that left-handed drummers have a much smaller pool of drumming influences to look up to.
They can, of course, be influenced by right-handed drummers, but it’s good to watch drummers that play the same way as you.
There’s a common assumption that playing on a right-handed kit is just easier for everyone. While that’s true to an extent, it’s just not the greatest advice to be giving to drummers who feel most comfortable playing on left-handed drum sets.
If you’re a left-handed drummer, the chances are very low that you’ll know someone in person that is also a lefty. That’s just something that left-handed drummers have to get used to.
A house kit is a drum kit that lives in a performance venue. When drummers play gigs, they’ll sometimes need to bring their own gear for the show. At other times, a house kit will be provided, and then the drummer only needs to bring a few cymbals to complete the setup.
Something to note about house kits is that they’re always set up for right-handed drummers. You’ll never find a house kit that is set up for left-handed players.
If you’re the only drummer playing at the show, you can just switch things around to suit your left-handed playing style.
The problem comes in when there are shows that have multiple bands and drummers playing. Left-handed drummers are at a disadvantage as there isn’t often time to switch the kit around.
The worst aspect of this is at public jam sessions. This is when multiple musicians come to jam with each other. A left-handed drummer typically won’t be allowed to change the drum kit setup, as all the drummers that play in the jam only play for a few songs.
Tips for Left Handed Drummers
Play What’s Most Comfortable
When you first start learning to play the drums, you should try both right and left-handed setups to see what is most comfortable. If you find that the right-handed setup feels okay, you may just benefit in the long run from keeping to that setup.
Drumming feels awkward for everyone when they first start, so a lot of drum teachers advocate for starting everyone on a righty setup, no matter what their dominant hand is.
However, you should stick with a left-handed setup if that’s what feels more comfortable to you. The more comfortable you feel while playing, the quicker you’ll learn things and get accustomed to playing them.
That’s why I don’t think it’s the best idea that everyone should play on a righty setup. If the lefty setup makes you feel good, then that’s what you should keep playing and learning on.
You may just run into a few hurdles down the line with other people’s kits, but the trade-off is well worth it.
Get Inspired By Left Handed Drummers
I briefly mentioned this earlier, but you should try to find a few famous drummers that play on left-handed setups. You may just get more inspiration from them than you will from righty drummers.
As humans, we always gravitate more toward people that are similar to us. So, you’ll love seeing someone play on a similar drum kit to you.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get inspired by right-handed drummers. It just means that you should check left-handed drummers out that have made it big by playing on left-handed drum sets.
Learn Various Sticking Patterns
As a left-handed drummer, you have an advantage in your playing in that your drumming will sound unique compared to right-handed drummers. This is because you’ll approach the kit slightly differently, and unique ideas will always come out that right-handed drummers don’t think of.
The best way to take advantage of this is by learning multiple sticking patterns. You should learn all the basic rudiments and get comfortable playing them with your left hand leading.
When you’re comfortable with that, you should learn to play those same patterns with your right hand leading. Using your right hand as a lead on a left-handed drum setup will lead to these unique sounds that I’m talking about.
Don’t just stop at rudiments, though. There are thousands of hand combinations that drummers can learn, and a lot of them will sound better coming from a left-handed player due to your left-hand taking the spotlight.
Consider Open Handed Drumming
Open-handed drumming is when you play on a right-handed kit, but you keep your hands open instead of crossing them over each other. Your left hand will stay on the hi-hat, and your right hand will stay on the snare drum.
The difference is that your right leg will play the bass drum as opposed to your left leg playing it on a left-handed setup.
Open-handed drumming has become a very popular style in modern music, and a lot of left-handed drummers are choosing to play like this due to it being easier to sit on a right-handed drum setup.
You get to utilize the advantages of your left hand being stronger, and then you just need to get used to using your weaker right leg on the bass drum pedal.
A lot of open-hand drummers will also place their ride cymbal on the left side of their kit so that they can play it with their stronger hand.
If you want to have the most versatile playing style, open-handed drumming is the way to go. However, I don’t think you should settle for it if you feel most comfortable playing on a left-handed setup.
Teaching Left Handed Drummers
My last tip here is one for drum teachers that teach left-handed players. You should always encourage them to play in the most optimal way possible for their abilities. If that means that they feel most comfortable when playing on a left-handed set, then you should switch the set around for them whenever they come for lessons.
However, you should also test them out on a right-handed kit to see if they can handle it comfortably. If they can, you should ask them if they’d like to play on that set every time, as it would make it easier for everyone.
You should also explain to them what open-handed drumming is and then see if they love how that feels when they play. The chances are high that they will prefer that to playing cross-handed.
In fact, a lot of drummers argue that even right-handed drummers should be playing open-handed, as it’s the most optimal way for any drummer to play the kit.
Popular Left Handed Drummers to Check Out
Here are a few world-famous left-handed drummers to watch. If you’re a left-handed drummer, you should watch a few YouTube videos of them performing live to get some inspiration. It’s great to watch drummers that play on a similar setup to you.
Phil Collins is one of the most well-known left-handed drummers due to the fact that he’s a world-famous musician. There aren’t too many videos of him playing drums nowadays, but there are plenty of clips to watch where he was playing in the 80s and 90s.
He always played on a huge drum set, and the signature look was that none of his toms had resonant heads on them.
A fun fact is that the famous “In The Air Tonight” drum fill was played on a left-handed drum kit setup.
Daniel Glass is a fairly well-known jazz drummer, and he’s a big advocate for left-handed drummers playing on left-handed drum kit setups.
He’s a fantastic left-handed drummer to watch as he fully embraces his left-handed nature with his setup.
If you’re into jazz and old-school big band music, you’ll love all the projects that he’s worked on. He’s also done a unique series of videos where he breaks down the history of the modern drum kit setup. It’s great to watch, no matter which dominant hand you have.
Apart from Phil Collins, Ian Paice was perhaps the most popular left-handed drummer to come out of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. He’s the drummer for Deep Purple, and he’s one of the most influential rock drummers to play the instrument.
Deep Purple has a song called The Mule, and it always involves a crazy drum solo played by Ian Paice. You can check several different versions of it out on live recordings posted on YouTube.
Robert ‘Sput’ Searight
Robert ‘Sput’ Searight is completely ambidextrous, so he’s a great example to watch of a left-handed drummer who sometimes plays open-handed and at other times plays cross-handed.
If you’re looking into open-handed drumming, he’s a fantastic drummer to watch. He’s played with countless big artists throughout his career, but his most notable role was when he played drums for Snarky Puppy. He was one of the original members.
Left Handed Drumming, Final Thoughts
While left-handed drumming isn’t as popular as right-handed drumming, it’s a vital aspect of the drumming world. It’s something that should be celebrated, as it’s often the most comfortable way for left-handed drummers to play.
While it’s true that there are many setbacks for drummers who play on left-handed kits, you shouldn’t let those stop you from playing on a comfortable setup. If it really bothers you that you can’t hop in on jam sessions, you should consider learning how to play open-handed on a right-handed drum kit setup. Otherwise, you’ll just need to accept that there are certain areas where you’ll need time to make drum kit adjustments.
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