I’m left handed and I’m playing a right handed… That’s why everyone thought, ‘wow, he’s a genius’ but all I was doing was trying to play backwards… it’s one of those mad accidents, you can’t learn it – Ringo Starr
I play on a standard right-handed drum kit. I play the hi-hat with my right-hand, and the snare with my left hand. Bass drum with right foot, hi-hat pedal with left. Just like 99% of right-handed drummers. But I am left-handed. I write with my left hand, throw and catch a ball with my left hand, kick a ball with my left foot, and am most certainly left-side biased.
So how come I play drums right-handed?
Thinking back, it all started when I got my first drum kit – a very small Thunder kit. I’d watched drummers on the TV and seen photos of drum-kits, so I set my kit up the same way as they did – right-handed. At no point did it occur to me to have my drums it up in a different way. However, as I expanded my very small kit with a couple of extra toms (well, actually snare drums with the snares off), I found I set these extra drums up backwards – ASCENDING left to right. Therefore I played all my fills backwards, moving right to left to descend down the drums. It kind of made sense as I was naturally leading with my left hand, so even-numbered groups of notes flowed pretty easily.
All that oddness ended when I got my first “full size” kit, and I set that up the conventional way, mainly because there was no way I was going get my 16″x16″ floor tom in front of my snare! Ever since, I have chosen a conventional order of toms, and none of the positions of my kit are particularly controversial.
Has being left-handed on a right-handed kit been a disadvantage?
In some small ways, yes. As I mentioned earlier, I have a natural tendency to start fills with the Left hand, therefore I have to think a little bit harder to play the classic “beginner rock fill” (4 semiquavers on each drum around the kit). I also find 16th notes on the hi-hat quite tricky as, again, I try to start them on a Left.
My Right hand is weaker than my left, so I’ve had to work harder to be able to maintain 8ths or 16ths at higher speeds on one surface with this hand.
When I was about 18 I got my first double bass drum pedal (standard setup, not a lefty one). My theory was that as I was left handed and footed, playing bass drum pedal with my left foot would be easy. I’d be the next Tim Alexander or Charlie Benante. How wrong I was. I sold it a few years later and have stuck to single pedal ever since.
Players who use a left-handed setup often lose-out at kit-share gigs as chances are the house kit is set up right-handed, so in that way Im very glad I chose the righty option!
Has it been an advantage?
Yes. I can create much more interesting fills and patterns. Ringo Starr is probably the best known “lefty on a righty kit” player, and it didn’t do him any harm! Many of his signature beats and fills begin on a left hand. Simon Phillips, Carter Beauford and Stewart Copeland are other fellow lefties who play on predominantly righty kits.
As my left hand is my strongest, I don’t have any trouble with stamina on my left side. And also, because I am left-sided, I find my left hand very happy to do more than just 2+4. I often add little hi-hats or extra snares. I am very fond of left crashes.
Another thing I find easier than some right-handed players is adding extra left hand patterns – I often use trigger pads to the left of my hi-hats, and like to add percussion parts (congas etc) underneath grooves. Right hand stays on hi hats, left moves between snare and pads. OR I can play snare and hi-hats with left hand and use the right hand to play interesting things over the top on the right-side of my kit. I have also worked on my “Left-Side Disco” pattern so I can maintain that groove whilst taking a drink, waving at other band members or picking up that stick that I dropped.
When I teach left-handed players, I always give the option of playing a lefty setup. However I also try them out on a conventional right-handed kit and see how it feel. Often they naturally gravitate towards one or the other, and we stick with whatever feels best for them.