It is estimated that ten percent of the world’s population is left-handed.  That means that approximately one out of ten drummers will contemplate drum configurations as suggested in this article. 

Right-handed drummers often replicate the basic setups that they see in a majority of photos and videos.  Left-handed drummers, however, don’t have one standardized setup to emulate. 

There are three main configurations that left-handed drummers use. 

  • A left-handed setup played with a left-hand lead
  • A right-handed setup played with a right-hand lead
  • A right-handed setup played open-handed
  • A modified right-handed setup with the ride cymbal on the left-hand side

Each setup has advantages and disadvantages, which are described in detail below. 

Play a Reversed Configuration of a Right-Handed Drumset

Left-handed drummers often reverse the configuration of a standard, right-handed drum setup.  The drummer still crosses his or her arms to play the hi-hat.  The drummer’s left foot plays the bass drum while his or her left foot plays the cymbal.

Left-handed drummers who play this configuration include Ian Paice (Deep Purple), Phil Collins (Genesis, solo artist), and Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs, Winger).

There are benefits and drawbacks to this setup for a left-handed drummer.  Here are a few things to consider.

Advantages

  • Left-handed individuals are accustomed to reversing hands for daily tasks for daily tasks (in comparison to right-handed people).  This drum setup is another example of the accommodations that left-handed individuals are already accustomed to.
  • The left-handed drummer will be able to play in the same fashion as a right-handed drummer.  Since the drums and cymbals are reversed (as compared to a right-handed setup), the drummer simply needs to reverse the foot hits and stickings.
  • The same side that plays the bass drum will play the cymbal.  A right-handed drummer usually plays the right hand on the cymbal and right foot on the bass drum.  The left-handed drummer will use the left hand on the cymbal and right foot on the bass drum.  This method of coordinating one side of the body is usually more comfortable than cross-body coordination.

Disadvantages

  • Drum students will most likely study at a teaching studio that has a right-handed setup. Since most people are right-handed, a majority of drum teachers are also right-handed.  Instructors usually teach back-to-back lessons, without downtime between sessions.  Therefore, precious lesson time is usually spent moving the drums and cymbals around at the beginning of the left-handed drummer’s lesson.

Tip – When a left-handed student is working on sticking and technique with a right-handed drum teacher, the teacher and student should face each other.  This will give an effect similar to looking in a mirror.  The student’s left hand will line up with the teacher’s left hand, and vice versa.

  • Left-handed drummers may find it difficult in school band rehearsals and concerts.  Obviously, concert band will not be as much of an issue since orchestral snare drum (and similar percussion instruments) are neither set up in right- or left-handed fashion.  However, jazz band rehearsals and concerts can be an issue. 

The best-case scenario would include two drum sets in the classroom (and on stage).  If school’s budget and/or floor space does not allow for a two-drumset configuration, the drummers will have to switch the drums and cymbals around between songs.

  • Drummers who are accustomed to a left-handed drum kit will find it logistically difficult when sharing the stage with other bands.  Multi-band performances often require quick changeover: the singer adjusts the microphone stand while the guitarist plugs into the amplifier.  The drummer usually does not have much time to adjust the height of the cymbal stands, let alone reverse the entire drum set.

Play on a Right-handed Drum Set (Leading with the Right Hand)

Some left-handed drummers choose to play on a right-handed drum kit.  The drummer will adopt the same playing style as a right-handed drummer.  The drummer’s right hand will cross over to play the hi-hat.  The right hand will also play the ride cymbal.  The left hand plays the snare drum.

Left-handed drummers who play in this manner include Ringo Starr (The Beatles), Stewart Copeland (The Police), and Travis Barker (Blink 182).

Below are a few pros and cons of using this setup. 

Advantages

  • The left-handed drummer will be able to rehearse and perform on another drummer’s drum kit.  School band students will be able to rehearse and perform without rearranging the drums and cymbals. 
  • The left-handed drummer will be able to share the stage with other bands without taking time to reconfigure the drum set. 
  • The left-handed drummer will be able to take lessons with a right-handed teacher without changing the setup.  This may expedite the learning process.
  • The drummer’s backbeats (loud, consistent hits on the snare drum) will be very strong since they will be played with the dominant hand.
  • The drummer may come up with patterns or fills that a right-handed drummer may not naturally play.  This was the instance in Ringo Starr’s tom patterns in the Beatle’s song, Come Together.

Disadvantages

  • The left-handed drummer may struggle at first when playing cymbal patterns using the non-dominant hand.  It will take some practice to build up speed and endurance with the weaker hand.
  • The initial learning process may take longer when leading with the non-dominant hand.  The initial learning stages can feel awkward, even when leading with the dominant hand.  This feeling may be magnified when leading with the non-dominant hand. 

Play on a Right-handed Drum Set

Play Open-handed (Ride Cymbal on the Right Side)

Play Open-handed on a Right Handed Set

Standard Right-Handed Setup with Hi-Hat on the Left and Ride Cymbal on the Right

Open-handed playing is very popular with both right- and left-handed drummers.  Open-handed refers to a method of playing where the hands never cross.  The drums are still in the standard right-handed configuration, with the hi-hats on the left-hand side.  In open-handed drumming. The performer’s left hand plays the hi-hat.  The right hand will play the ride cymbal.

Advantages

  • This method of playing allows the drummer to play on a right-handed kit without changing anything.  This will allow the left-handed drummer to play on a right-handed set during lessons, school rehearsals, or multi-band shows. 
  • In this setup, drummers play their left hand on the hi-hat.  The left-handed drummer should feel comfortable playing repetitive hi-hat patterns on the dominant hand. 
  • Since the hands do not cross when playing the hi-hat, the drummer is free to incorporate other parts of the drum set within patterns.  The left hand can play an ostinato (repetitive) pattern while right hand interjects notes on the snare, toms, cymbals, and other accessory percussion instruments (cowbell, tambourine, etc.).  This can open up new sonic possibilities and inspire one’s creativity. 
  • The drummer plays the left hand on the hi-hat, but plays the right hand on the ride cymbal.  This will develop the drummer’s non-dominant hand.
  • Playing the cymbal parts on both hands (left hand when playing the hi-hat, and right hand when playing the ride cymbal) will result in the drummer having a greater amount of coordination.

Disadvantages

  • While the previous point (under “Pros”) stated that leading with both the right and left hand is beneficial, this method certainly will take more time to learn.  If every pattern that the drummer learns needs to be practiced twice (once with the left hand on the hi-hat, and again with the right hand on the ride cymbal), the drum beats will take twice as long to learn.
  • The left-handed drummer may feel awkward when navigating around the toms.  A standard right-handed kit has the drummer moving clockwise when doing fills around the toms.  A left-handed drummer may feel more comfortable moving in a counterclockwise direction.

Play Open-handed on a Right Handed Set (with Ride Cymbal on the Left Side)

This setup has a slight modification: The ride cymbal is placed on the left side of the drum kit.  This allows the drummer to lead with the left hand when playing either the hi-hat or ride cymbal.  The crash cymbal (which is usually on the left) is often placed on the right side.  Drummers may use multiple crash cymbals on the drum set.

While both left- and right-handed drummers find this configuration to be useful, left-handed individuals tend to excel on this setup.  Right-handed drummers have to practice for a greater amount of time to build endurance and speed on their non-dominant (left) hand.  Conversely, left-handed drummers tend to adapt quickly to this setup since they are leading with their dominant hand.  

There are professional drummers (both right- and left-handed) who use this setup including Simon Phillips (Hiromi, independent), Carter Beauford (Dave Matthews Band), Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra), and Lenny White (Chick Corea).

As with the other configurations, there are pros and cons to practicing and performing on this setup.  A few aspects to consider are listed below.

Advantages

  • The left-handed drummer will adapt to this setup quickly, since the left hand plays the ride and hi-hat. 
  • The left-handed drummer is able to play on a right-handed set during lessons, rehearsals, and performances.  There are only minimal changes needed to allow for this setup.
  • When sharing a set, the drummer can switch the cymbals only (without moving the cymbal stands).  For a quick changeover, the drummer can simply reverse the placement of the crash and ride cymbals. 
  • Since the hands do not cross when playing the hi-hat, the drums and cymbals on the right-hand side can be incorporated into the patterns.

Disadvantages

  • Even though the changeover is quick, it still takes time out of rehearsals and performances when drummers share a drum set.
  • As mentioned with the other open-handed configuration, the left-handed drummer may feel awkward moving around the drums in a clockwise fashion.

What about double bass pedals?

Many drummers use double bass drum pedals.  These consist of a primary and secondary pedal.  The primary pedal is basically identical to a standard bass drum pedal with one exception: It has an extra bass drum beater.  This second bass drum beater is connected (via a spanner bar) to a secondary pedal.  This allows the drummer to play the bass drum using both feet. 

Left-handed drummers who use a version of a right-handed drum setup (standard right-handed setup or open-handed) will still play the single bass drum with the right foot.  If a double pedal is added, the drummer simply uses a pedal that is meant for a right-handed (footed) setup.

Drummers who play on a left-handed setup (reversed configuration of a right-handed drum set) will play the bass drum with the left foot.  These drummers need a left-foot version of the double pedal.  The primary pedal will be on the left-hand side, while the secondary pedal is on the right-hand side. 

Are You Right-footed or Left-footed?

People generally know if they are right- or left-handed.  However, they might have to think for a bit to determine if they are right- or left-footed.  Drummers may want take their right- or left-footed nature into consideration when considering their drum setup.

A left-handed person should not assume that they are also left-footed.  There are a few ways to know an individual is right- or left-footed.  A person may be asked to ponder the answers to the following questions.

  1. Which foot would you use to kick a ball?
  2. Imagine trying to stop a piece of paper that was blowing in the wind.  Which foot would you use to step on it?
  3. Which foot would you use first when starting to pedal a bicycle?

If a left-handed drummer also has a dominant left foot, he or she may want to first experiment with a left-handed set (a drum kit set up exactly reverse of a right-handed configuration).

If a left-handed drummer has a dominant right foot, he or she might want to try one of the open-handed setups. 

The drummer should use the setup that he or she feels most comfortable with.  The drum set configuration does not necessarily need to line up with the drummer’s dominant foot.  Some drummers find that, with practice, they can become very proficient using their non-dominant foot.

What About Ambidextrous Drummers?

Ambidexterity is usually not something that most drummers are born with.  Instead, it is something that they strive for.  This is due to the fact that only one percent of the population is ambidextrous.  Even people who are born ambidextrous tend to use one hand more than the other.  Naturally ambidextrous individuals may actually have more dexterity in their right hand, since they grow up using right-handed implements such as scissors and can-openers.

Drummers often learn on a standard, right- or left-handed drum set.  They may then practice leading with their non-dominant hand.  This may result in a change to an open-handed setup.

Drummers who developed a high level of ambidexterity include Mike Mangini (Dream Theater) and Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick).

So, Which Setup is Best for a Left-Handed Drummer?

The right setup is the one that feels best to the drummer.  The left-handed drummer should experiment with all four configurations:

  • Reversed configuration of a right-handed drum set (play left-handed)
  • Right-handed drum set (play right-handed)
  • Right-handed setup (played open-handed)
  • Modified right-handed drum set (played open-handed)

The drummer may also experiment with adapting the drum set in other ways that make it more comfortable to play the kit.  The drum set was originally called a trap set, which was shortened form of the word contraption.  Historically, drum set performers placed drums and cymbals in the places that they found useful. 

When it comes to drum set configurations, there are no written rules, just suggestions.  The main recommendation is to have everything within reach, and positioned in an ergonomic fashion.

Teaching a Left-handed Drummer

Drum teachers and school band directors may want to consider the setups discussed in this article.  There will always be students who prefer a left-handed drum kit (as opposed to an open-handed drum setup).  Therefore, it is recommended to have an additional drum set tin the teaching studio or band room that can be configured in a left-handed fashion. 

Since many drum teaching studios are small, it may be unrealistic to keep another full-size kit in the room.  Luckily, there are smaller kits available.  Most kits in this category are marketed as portable drum sets.  The Traps brand of drum set features a small footprint since the drums have no shells: just drumheads, rims, and hardware (stands, pedals, etc.). 

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