Teachers Forum

Teachers Forum 8_79 1The Gladstone Technique

by Bill Meligari

The late William D. Gladstone was a multi-faceted percussionist who for many years worked in the pit orchestra of Radio City Music Hall in New York. Many well known drummers studied technique with him during the 40’s and 50’s.

The Gladstone technique is a very loose, relaxed method of playing affording the player tremendous power with a minimum of effort. Basically, the wrists follow the sticks rather than pushing them down to the drum and then pulling them back up. With this method you are doing half of the work while the sticks do the other half. Watch some of the better technicians in action. Drummers like Louis Bellson, Buddy Rich and Joe Morello. You’ll notice they make everything look easy no matter how fast they play. The faster they play, the more relaxed they become. The drum set is a very physical instrument and you must be in good shape if you are to play up to your potential. Muscle development has alot to do with playing but one should be careful to avoid building the wrong kind of muscles. Lifting weights and building powerful but rather slow body-builder type muscles is not the answer to a better technique and in fact can damage your chops. Lightning fast race horse type muscles are what’s needed.

Gladstone’s technique consists of three levels of playing; the Full Stroke, Half Stroke and Low Level Stroke. It doesn’t matter whether your grip is matched grip or traditional, as long as you hold them only as tightly as you must so they won’t fall out of your hands. Never use more pressure on the sticks than this regardless of how fast or loud you have to play. The stick has a fulcrum or balance point where it must be held for it to move as freely and easily as it can. To find this balance point hold your stick in your normal grip but very loosely. With the tip of the stick resting on the drum head, tap on the stick near the tip with the fingers of your free hand causing it to bounce up and down on the drum. Allow the stick to bounce back under its own power. If it bounces back quickly and easily, you are holding the stick at the proper balance point. If it hits the drum and stays there, you are holding it too close to the butt end. Bring your grip away from the end and try again. If you must use a lot of pressure to throw the stick toward the drum, you are holding the stick too close to the center and should move your hand back toward the butt end slightly.

Finding the proper balance point is of the utmost importance in the Gladstone technique. Once you have found it you are ready to learn how a basic stroke is made. I compare it to the bouncing of a rubber ball. Hold a rubber ball a few feet from the ground and drop it. The ball will hit the ground and bounce back slightly, but not all the way back to your hand. Now take the ball and throw it down as fast as you can. The ball will hit the ground hard and bounce all the way back to your hand very quickly. This is the exact principle of the Gladstone technique. Think of the tip of your stick as a rubber ball and throw the stick down toward the drum as fast as you can. The stick will hit the drum hard and then bounce back up toward its starting position, provided you’ve maintained a loose, relaxed grip on the stick. Many drummers stop the motion of the stick by locking their wrist and bringing the stick back up to its starting point with a second motion. Some have even been taught to say “up, down,” each time throwing the stick down, stopping it, and bringing it back up again.

With the Gladstone method, there is no up-down to a stroke, only down. The stick
is allowed to come back to its starting position under its own power. For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. This law applies here too. The faster you throw the stick down toward the drum, the louder it will hit and the faster it will return.


Hold the stick in your natural playing position with the tip about an inch from the drum head. Bend the wrist as far back as it will go so the stick is pointing straight up. This is your starting position for the Full Stroke (see photo 1).

Throw the stick toward the drum as quickly as possible and let it bounce back up to the Full Stroke position. Keep the wrist loose so the momentum will carry the stick and your wrist back up. The wrist must follow the stick and not hamper its motion. While practicing the Full Stroke, say “down” each time you throw the stick toward the drum. If you are using this technique properly the stick will return to its starting position before you get the chance to say “up!” Practice single taps at a very slow tempo with your right stick and then with your left, hesitating slightly between each tap to make certain that you are using the technique properly. Here’s a summary of things to watch:

1. Remember to start with the stick pointing straight up or as close to that as
your wrist will allow. As you practice, your wrists will become looser and more relaxed and the position will become more natural.

2. Remember to throw the stick down as fast as possible but without holding the stick any tighter than you have to keep it from falling out of your hand.

Teachers Forum 8_79 23. Do not stop the motion of the stick by applying any additional pressure as it bounces off the drum and returns to the starting position.

4. Let the stick come all the way back up to its original starting position. If you are playing properly you will feel the stick pushing against your wrist on the way up trying to go further than the starting position.

5. During practice, sticks may fly out of your hands. Don’t worry about this as it’s normal when getting accustomed to this relaxed way of playing.

6. Do not use this technique on your drum set or on the job until you have practiced it diligently and have become thoroughly comfortable with it.

The Half Stroke is played in exactly the same manner as the Full Stroke except that the starting point is approximately five inches from the drum head rather than all the way up. Be sure to stop the motion of your wrists thus stopping the stick at the same five inch starting position (see photo #2).


Teachers Forum 8_79 3The Low Level is the same as the Half Stroke except that the starting point is only two inches above the drum. You must throw the stick down from this level and stop it at this same level on the way up. Remember not to apply any additional pressure to the stick. It is not necessary to grip the stick tightly to stop its motion. Stop your wrist at the proper level and the stick will not come to a sudden dead stop. It will shake slightly as it stops. This slight shaking is perfectly alright.

As you begin to use this technique, you will realize that loud playing and accented strokes are played from the Full Stroke position; medium volume playing comes from the Half Stroke Level, and extremely soft or fast playing will come from the Low Level.

The Gladstone technique sounds very easy, and it is easy once you are ac customed to using it. However, drummers who have been playing with the “up-down” method for a long time, generally find it is very difficult to break those old habits. It’s unfortunate that Billy Gladstone’s theory, analysis and application of the drum stroke is not universally taught and accepted. I personally have found it to be a most sensible drum stroke technique for both teaching and performing and completely applicable to every style of drumming.