If you’ve been applying the concepts we’ve discussed so far in this series, you should now be seated comfortably at your kit, with the throne and pedals placed so that your hips and back are in the safest possible positions. Now it’s time to start exploring wrist, hand, and elbow placements and how they relate to the heights and angles of the snare and floor toms.
Given that each person’s body has unique range-of-motion limitations, where you place the snare and other floor instruments can dramatically influence the forces that the body experiences. Of the joint systems in the body that are impacted by drumming, the wrist is among the smallest and most fragile. In this article you’ll learn how high you should position the snare and floor toms in order to maintain healthy wrists while accommodating your unique playing style.
Eliminate the Dogma
The most commonly repeated “rule” related to snare drum placement has to do with maintaining a 90-degree angle at the elbow. But what do you do with your floor toms? Where they go will be determined by the range of motion of your spine and hips from a seated position.
The shape and size of your primary snare will determine how it will be positioned between your legs. The height of the rim can also influence the angle of the drum. Many drumming-related injuries are caused by the snare being placed at an angle that forces the joints into positions with little to no range of motion available. (We’ll discuss proper snare angle in greater detail in the next section.)
As with the snare drum, the placement of instruments to the right and left sides of the kit will influence the forces exerted on the joints. The biggest factor is how far away from the body the instruments are placed. If you have three floor toms in descending order on the right side of your kit, how do your wrist mechanisms change when you’re reaching for the farthest tom? And is that motion safe for your wrists?
There are multiple joint systems working together to create the aggregate motion required to move a drumstick. One is composed of the elbow and radioulnar joint, which has a top (proximal) and bottom (distal) component. The radioulnar system is interesting: the radius bone turns around the ulna in order to position the palm up or down. Another joint system involves the wrist and hand. The wrist is composed of a sack of carpal bones that are attached to the radius bone.
There are the three key points to keep in mind regarding the way you use your wrists and hands in drumming. First, wrist and hand motion completely depends on the placement of the arm joints above them. There’s something in anatomy called “active insufficiency,” which refers to a muscle’s inability to generate force when it reaches a fully lengthened or fully shortened position. In the context of drumming, this means that the palm position you choose—facing inward or downward—will influence the amount of motion (extension and flexion) available from your wrist. So the type of grip you use—French, German, or American—will greatly influence the likelihood of wrist injury. The possibility of injury is further compounded by the height and angle of the snare.
The second thing to keep in mind is that structurally the wrist and hand have some of the weakest joint systems involved with playing drums. They have few stabilizing structures and low amounts of surface area, and they consist of tiny bones that are more likely to become injured. Because of this fragility, as well as the amount of impact the hands and wrists take when applying force to the drumstick, it’s important to position the snare and other instruments so that they allow for a maximum range of motion.
The third point is that everyone’s hand size and range of wrist motion are unique. In a future article, we’ll discuss how to choose drumsticks that are appropriate for your hand size and wrist flexibility. For now, keep in mind that the active range of motion of your wrist and hand will be a major factor when determining the best possible height and angle for your snare.
Let’s go through the process of determining where to position your snare. Refer to the steps outlined in parts 2 and 3 of this series to ensure that you’ve established the correct throne height and pedal placement for your anatomy. This creates a strong foundation.
Now place your snare so that the rim sits just above the thighs, ensuring that your legs aren’t obstructing the path of motion of your arms and wrists. With both stick tips placed at the center of the snare, check the range of motion of your hands with your preferred grip by slowly rotating the sticks up with just the wrists. (See photos.) Repeat this motion slowly several times while remaining as true as possible to your normal playing technique. If you do this exercise too quickly, the inertia of the stick can push your wrist farther back than it would naturally go, thereby incorrectly determining your range of motion. Repeatedly extending joints beyond their range can lead to injury. Once you’ve identified the range of motion of your wrists, you can use that to adjust the height of the snare.
One of Newton’s laws of physics states that every force has an equal and opposing reactive force. In other words, when you hit the drum, the drum will produce the exact same amount of force back into the drumstick. (Of course, the tension of the drumhead will have an influence on this.) When determining the angle of the snare, make sure that the rebound of the drumstick aligns with the natural movements of the muscles and joints in your arms and hands.
If you use a flat snare angle and like to play a lot of rimshots, it will be helpful to ensure that your wrist is in a relatively neutral position.
Angling the snare towards you can cause force to push the drumstick to the end of your range of motion quickly, giving your joints less time to absorb that force. If you play rimshots at this snare angle, there’s a much higher risk of wrist damage. Alternatively, a snare angled away from you forces your hands to work around the snare drum more. While there’s more time to absorb the force of the rebounding stick, the wrist joint has a decreased surface area, increasing the risk of injury.
If you have any questions about these ideas, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]drummer.com.
Muscle and exercise specialist Brandon Green is the founder of Strata Internal Performance Center, and is the owner of the drummer-centric biomechanics and fitness website drum-mechanics.com.