It’s not that uncommon to see a fusion studio drummer laying quick light licks using traditional grip. It is extremely uncommon, however, to see traditional grip used in a hard rock atmosphere in live shows night after wrist-breaking night. The Soul SirkUS tour is just such a gig, yet Virgil Donati sticks with his traditional grip.
The How/What/Why from Donati himself: “Sheer perseverance. I started playing that way when I was three years old. I was just copying what I saw at the time in the ’60s. To me that was the correct way to play and nothing was going to stop me from developing that the best I could. By the time I joined a rock band when I was 16 I had the power I needed. That’s what taught me about power and endurance was playing with that band maybe five to six nights a week, and that’s where I first learned how to play power in the backbeat. And that’s probably the only way to get that strength because no matter how much you practice, it’s never as intense or as powerful as playing live.
“Very occasionally I’ll flip it over to matched grip for a few bars here or there. I don’t know that traditional grip is any better. I might even go as far as to say that matched grip is probably the way to go. If I was to start again maybe I would try matched grip because physically speaking it probably makes more sense. And as far as maintenance goes I’d have to say that if you don’t play for a bit, even for just a couple of days, you always feel it more in the left hand paying traditional grip. It’s not a natural movement for the left hand, but I’ve developed it and I’m quite happy with it.” – Jared Cobb
Donati's Power Drumming Workouts
Power Drumming was the video that introduced the world to Virgil Donati’s incredible technique. His power, interdependence, and double-bass skills raised the bar for über-drummers everywhere, and Power Drumming is a must-have for every serious drummer’s collection.
Donati plays all of these exercises along with a drum machine, programmed to increase the speed every eight measures until he’s playing them at extremely fast tempos. And he uses a firm/tight grip at fortissimo levels. – Brad Schlueter
Used with permission from Warner Bros. and Alfred Publishing
Flat Flam Crescendo/Decrescendo Exercise
Here Donati plays an exercise consisting of seven notes played in unison, usually on a couple different drums. What makes this challenging is that he starts very soft and gets very loud (crescendo), or reverses dynamics (decrescendo). The transcription shows this played in groups of four for simplicity, though he actually plays many more of each, and randomly varies the cycle. Finally, he plays the same seven-note patterns with one hand at a time, switching from hand to hand as shown, eventually moving around the kit.
Double-Stroke Bass Drum Exercises
These patterns are designed to increase the strength, speed, and consistency of your bass-drum double strokes. He plays a straight rock beat with his hands and plays doubles with his foot. He plays each note powerfully regardless of tempo. These should also be played with your left foot leading.
Double Strokes In Groups Of Three
This exercise is polyrhythmic. Donati plays a foot pattern that is phrased in groups of three (note-note-rest) under a straight rock groove. Notice how the kick pattern shifts underneath the hand pattern, taking all three measures to return to the beginning. On the video he even improvises over this idea, which is very, very difficult.
To develop your double strokes, Donati has you play loud, wristed (sorry, no bouncing allowed) double strokes around the kit. If this isn’t taxing enough, he also plays four notes on each bass drum (RRRR LLLL) at the same speed as these doubles. Though not indicated in the transcription, when he reverses his hands, his feet follow (LLLL RRRR). Finally, he does it all again but this time his hands play twice as fast as his feet, with thirty-second-notes on his hands and sixteenth-notes on his bass drums.