The 5 Links of A Percussionist’s Stroke

Posted in Learn | Last Updated on October 4, 2018

It is crucial for a percussionist to move in a manner that visually represents the sound she or he intends to create. If intending to create a loud staccato note, (s)he should refrain from moving the limb in a slow manner with a small stroke because this type of movement would create a soft and delicate tone instead of the intended. Under these circumstances, it is clear that movements of the body largely influence the tone that percussionists create.

To dissect hand technique for percussive purposes, one must first observe the process of a stroke and acknowledge that the limbs are comprised of a series of links. All links in the series must work effectively and efficiently with one another in order to achieve a chain reaction that creates the desired sound. If kinks exist between links, the player will struggle to create the desired tone since their movement is both ineffective and inefficient. It is important to acknowledge that any given link has the potential to ruin a stroke. If just one link moves in an undesirable way, it will affect all of the links following it in the series.

It is thus critical for a percussionist to break down the stroke by evaluating every individual link and make adjustments to ensure the reaction is both effective and efficient.

There are 5 prominent links that percussionists must study for the purpose of creating the desired tone. They are organized in a pyramid of priority where the base link provides the most support and the top level provides the least amount of support of the chain. Furthermore, the base link creates the largest motions and the top level creates the smallest motions. As a result, the top link of the pyramid provides the most flexibility and finesse whereas the bottom link provides the least amount of flexibility and finesse. In sum, every link in the series is equally important but held responsible for different aspects depending on the stroke.

All links obtain two pivot points including the Starting Pivot and the Transfer Pivot. The Starting Pivot is the point where the energy initiates the link and the Transfer Pivots is the point where the energy of the currently activated link is transferred to the next link. Most Transfer Pivots double as Starting Pivots for the subsequent link.

Here are the levels of links with their respective pivots:

Link 1 – The Back

The back of the percussionist is the root system of the stroke. It provides ample support and stability to keep the limbs grounded and works in tandem around the spine to create a center of gravity. The back should remain loose and keep the shoulders broad without stress. It can be utilized as both a shock absorber for large impacts and a transmitter for smaller motions needing energetic movements. The spine is the initial Starting Pivot for the back and the shoulder is the Transfer Pivot.

Link 2 – The Upper Arm

The upper arm is the second link in the chain and contains the biceps and triceps. Both of these large muscle groups must work with one another in a trade-off of flexing and relaxing to effectively and efficiently transfer the energy through the link. The energy is mostly bundled as one unit throughout this link. The shoulder is the Starting Pivot and the elbow is the Transfer Pivot.

Link 3 – The Forearm

The Forearm is the first link where the energy is split in a significant manner. The energy is distributed throughout multiple muscles that surround the radius and ulna bones. These muscles receive different amounts of work and responsibility depending on the intended stroke type. The Starting Pivot for the forearm is the elbow and the Transfer Pivot is the wrist.

Link 4 – The Hand

The fourth link further distributes the energy amongst even smaller muscles and tendons. These muscles and tendons start to spread the energy throughout the area of the hand and directly lead to the fifth and final link. This is also the only link that has multiple Transfer Pivots. The Starting Pivot for the hand is the wrist and the Transfer Pivots are the knuckles.

Link 5 – The Fingers

The fingers are the fifth and final link. Every finger receives a different amount of energy and responsibility from the hand depending on the intended stroke. At the point of stroke climax, the energy is released outwards and quickly dissipates so that the link is ready to receive the next wave of energy for the following stroke. The Starting Pivots for the fingers are the knuckles and the Transfer Pivots for the fingers are the climax of the stroke where the energy is released.

As demonstrated, the energy of a stroke is transmitted and distributed amongst muscles and tendons throughout a series of links. All of the links must work effectively and efficiently to create the intended stroke. If one link malfunctions or is used in an inefficient way, the player will severely struggle as she or he attempts to create the desired tone. Percussionists must periodically examine, adjust, and fine-tune their links and pivot points to ensure they are all working in a manner that always creates the intended stroke.