Stick Secrets: Twirling

Six Classic Twirls That Will Turn You Into A Rock God Overnight

Let’s not pretend. Stick twirling isn’t for everybody. But if you want to stand out from the pack, grab some of the spotlight from your haughty lead singer, and don’t mind being stereotyped as a shameless showoff, stick twirling can be a skill almost as vital as playing in time.

Still not convinced? Well, guess what? Tommy Lee didn’t invent twirling. It’s a tradition that spans even beyond the very origins of the drum set, back to the earliest parade drumming. And it isn’t just restricted to heavy metal dudes covered with skull tattoos, either. Jazz legends like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Sonny Payne, and Chick Webb used flashy stick tricks to add some extra spiciness to their performances. It sure didn’t take anything away from their reputations.

So why not take a few minutes to master yet another skill with six of the coolest twirls around? Keep in mind that the following examples are backward twirls — and for good reason. After you hit a drum, you can perform a backward twirl during the upstroke. Once the twirl is completed, the stick is positioned high off the drum, which allows you to take a strong second stroke. And even though the following photos show each twirl performed with the right hand, you can (and should) also develop your left hand twirls.

Twirl 1: The Fake Twirl

Step #1: Start from matched grip.

Step #2: Bring your index finger over the stick toward your thumb, so that the stick is between your index and middle fingers.

Step #3: Open your hand so that the palm faces toward you and swing the stick clockwise in a circular motion, moving in the direction of your floor tom.

Step #4: Continue in a smooth manner, rocking the stick between your index and middle fingers.

Practice Tip: Depending on the tempo, I can often bring the stick up and get two or three rotations instead of just one, so be sure to practice both single and multiple rotations.

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Twirl 2: Matched To Traditional Twirl

Step #1: Start from matched grip.

Step #2: Move the middle, ring, and pinky fingers underneath the stick, while keeping the fulcrum between the index finger and the thumb.

Step #3: Push the stick with your middle finger so that it rotates backwards toward you.

Step #4: When the stick falls downward, bring the ring finger underneath to lock it in place.

Step #5: Pull the index finger around and over the stick to allow the stick to fall into traditional grip.

Technique Tip: This is not a continuous twirl. A lot of drummers do it with the left hand since that’s where they’re likeliest to go back and forth between matched and traditional.

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Twirl 3: Traditional To Matched Twirl

Step #1: Start with traditional grip.

Step #2: Tuck your thumb into your palm so that it is out of the way of the rotation.

Step #3: Swing the stick upward and grab it with your index finger.

Step #4: Then when you swing it over your index finger the stick goes right into matched grip.

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Twirl 4: Index Finger Twirl

Step #1: Start with matched grip.

Step #2: Move the middle, ring, and pinky fingers under the stick.

Step #3: Push the stick with your middle finger so that it begins to rotate backwards toward you.

Step #4: The stick wraps around your index finger.

Step 5: The stick comes right back into matched grip.

Technique Tip: Sometimes I do this technique as a forward twirl, even though it’s more practical with the back twirl.

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Twirl 5: Horizontal Fake Twirl

Step #1: Start with matched grip. Hold the stick so that it is parallel to the drumhead and you are looking at the back of your hand.

Step #2: Move the middle, ring, and pinky fingers under the stick.

Step #3: Push the stick outward with your middle finger so that it begins spinning counterclockwise between your index and middle finger. Tuck your thumb into your palm, out of the way of rotation.

Step #4: After it goes a rotation-and-a-quarter, bring your thumb down to stop the stick when it's pointing at you.

Step #5: Pull the stick upwards.

Step #6: Put the middle, ring, and pinky fingers over the stick bringing it forward and back into matched grip.

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Twirl 6: Full Fingers Twirl

Step #1: Start with matched grip.

Step #2: Move the middle, ring, and pinky fingers under the stick.

Step #3: Push the stick with the middle finger so that it moves backwards, and sits under the middle finger and on top of the index and ring fingers.

Step #4: Drop the index finger so that the middle and pinky fingers are underneath, and the stick wraps around the ring finger.

Step #5: Move your middle finger above the stick to grab it as it begins rotating upwards.

Step #6: Move your index finger up to grab the stick, and flip it back to matched grip.

Technique Tip: You can perform this twirl continuously; just keep in mind that it takes a while to perform.

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Put It All Together

Playing & Twirling

Now that you’ve got a handle on the twirls, the next step is to learn to perform them while playing various patterns. And that comes down to keeping time. You can just tap your foot to provide the pulse but it’s better to use a metronome. Practicing with a metronome will help you develop the twirls in rhythm, making them more even and consistent, which is imperative when alternating right- and left-hand twirls.

Twirls 1-5 are great to use while playing, because they’re very visual and can be performed quickly. This is important because you should be able to continue drumming with one hand while the other is twirling. Ex. 1-3 are preliminary exercises to get you started. Try playing Ex. 1 while performing The Fake Twirl. Next, try the Matched To Traditional Twirl and the Traditional To Matched Twirl.

Even though both of your hands strike on counts 1 and 3 in Ex. 3, they should be played in unison rather than as a flam. You’ll notice that the same sticking is used in Ex. 4, except that the hands now play together on beats 24. I included the hi-hat in the sticking pattern for this example to create a constant eighth-note groove.

Normally, the right hand plays all the notes when you play an eighth-note hi-hat beat pattern, but by switching off between the right and left hand, you allow yourself time to perform the twirls. Slowly work out the pattern before attempting each twirl. I suggest that you move your hi-hat to a position almost directly in front of the snare drum. This will open up a bit more room without having to crossover when performing the hi-hat/snare pattern and twirls at the same time.

Now that you have the right and left hands playing and twirling at once, add the bass drum. Start with a basic pattern playing on counts 1 and 3 and then gradually experiment to create various rhythms as busy or funky as you like.

You can further the visual effect and add some variety to the twirls by mixing them up. While playing the patterns, try performing Twirl 1 with the right hand while performing Twirl 4 with the left hand, or Twirl 3 with the right hand and Twirl 2 with the left hand. There are tons of possibilities, so have fun!

Bobby Jarzombek has played with Juggernaut, Riot, Spastic Ink, Halford, Iced Earth, and has most recently performed with Sebastian Bach.