Being a drummer or percussionist is not a have stick, will drum proposition, as you might have heard.
You may already know that learning how to play the drums takes effort and selecting your kit depends on a lot of factors.
What type of music do you prefer to play? Do you practise on your kit every day or is a practice pad what you use to build and keep up dexterity? Do you have a Standard or Fusion kit?
Do you have/want wood or metal shells? And if wood is what calls you, how many plies? What type of wood and what degree bearing edge? Which drum heads are you looking at?
The questions go on and on, touching on cymbals – size, thickness and brands...
Once you’ve answered all of the questions pertaining to your kit, it is time to consider what you will beat them with.
A drumstick is not a drumstick is not a drumstick, contrary to popular belief. There is a science and precision to drumming that is reflected in the sticks you choose to play your drums with.
Let’s go take a look at what makes a good drumstick for every style of music, every level of playing and every drum you could think to play on.
You may also want to look at the different types of drums...
Anatomy of a Drumstick
Any drummer worth his/her salt carries a stick bag containing several types of drum sticks, each pair perhaps made of different wood, and most likely with several different heads.
The teardrop shaped head is most versatile, providing a range of sounds
The oval-shaped head is more for fuller tones that one might want for playing in a rock or metal band
Barrel-shaped heads make broader, more diffuse tones
Round heads make a crisp, focused sound.
In addition to the shape of the head, you may opt for nylon, Delrin or uncoated heads. There are advantages to each of these types.
Wooden tips have a deeper, darker sound as they strike the drum heads, and they tend to not play as well on cymbals.
Depending on the type of wood, they may also chip rather quickly
Delrin, a type of polymer, is sometimes used in the place of nylon for its extreme durability and minimal friction
Nylon provides great rebound and sounds clear on the cymbals. A nylon head significantly prolongs the life of the drumsticks.
You might wonder, if nylon prolongs drumstick life, why isn’t the whole stick made of it, or at least coated in it?
Well, some are! One of the smaller stick fabricating companies called Ahead makes a wholly nylon stick.
If you wanted nylon coated graphite, you might enjoy a marvel of technology that helps prevent fatigue in drummers who play long sets, and they’re just the right size for the beginner drummer!
We’ll talk about sizing sticks in a bit. For now, more about how a drumstick is built.
Also learn everything you need to know before buying a drum set...
The Neck, Shoulder and Taper
The neck is the part just below the drum head; the shoulder is the part of the stick just after the taper.
The taper is exactly what it sounds like: the portion from the neck to the shoulder of the drum stick.
Note: some drummers consider the shoulder and the taper the same part of the stick.
The length of the taper is one factor that influences the sound of the stick when hitting the drums, and how it feels when you hit.
A shorter taper will feel stiffer; a long taper will make for a more mellow sound.
The body of the stick not only transmits your movements to the head and rebounds when you strike the drum head, but it also can be used as a percussion instrument in its own right.
You may play flat-sounding rimshots with them or hit one stick body with the other, in what is called the cross-stick sound.
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What to Look for In a Drum Stick
We’ve already covered the heads of the drumsticks, so you may have an idea of what kind of sound you are hoping to produce and which head to select in order to produce it.
Now, let us go into what type of wood sticks are made of.
Hickory is well suited to drum sticks. It is very flexible and impact resistant
Oak is very dense but is a wonder at transmitting vibrations. They’re heavier, yielding a bigger sound
The danger with oak sticks is that they break without much warning!
Laminated birch is also very heavy; they elicit deep sounds from both drums and cymbals
Maple is much lighter, allowing for bigger sticks and a sweeter sound.
Maple sticks tend to break rather quickly!
Whether you choose wood, nylon, or the carbon fibre sticks that Vic Firth company puts out, the most important thing is that the sticks feel right in your hands – in absorbing vibration and their degree of flexibility; weight-wise and size-wise.
They should also play well on your kit: do you know what the best drum kits are?
Sizing Your Drumsticks
Drumsticks come in a variety of sizes that seem to have a secret code, all their own.
Generally, you will find a number and a letter which, together, designate both the intended purpose and diameter of the sticks.
A stands for orchestra: a lighter stick which would play well on percussion instruments in an ensemble.
B stands for band, originally meant to accompany a symphonic or brass band. These sticks are heavier than A’s.
S stands for street: these sticks are the largest and heaviest of all, originally meant for a marching band. They can take abuse and keep on grooving!
Now things get confusing...
The number component in sizing represents an inverse value, meaning that the lower the number, the larger the diameter of the stick.
Those numbers are generally 2, 5 and 7, with 7 having the smallest diameter.
To make things simple: your child would have a hard time playing the drums with a 2S stick, and a 7A might feel a bit small in the average adult-sized hand.
The rule of thumb for beginner drummers is to start with a 5A hickory. From there, you can find the sticks that suit your style and hands best.
Join the discussion: how much should one expect to spend on their drum kit?
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What About Electronic Drum Sticks?
Noteworthy on sticks for these drums is the exceedingly short taper. Because the bounce from such a drum is vastly different than an acoustic drumhead, there is less of a need for a long taper.
Besides, electric drum sounds are controlled via the module, not the interplay of sticks on mylar and cymbal!
The usual names feature in sticks for electronic kit as for acoustic drum kit: Zildjian, Firth, Pro Mark and Vater, and so do the materials – maple wood, oak and hickory.
Some proponents of electronic drums aver that hickory sticks are the best because they are denser and heavier. Others prefer maple because they are lighter, making easy to play faster.
Every performer has their preferences so it would be best for you to try various sticks out to find which one suits you best.
Everyone has their preferred way to tune a drum set, as well!
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What Drummers Want
Good articulation, sweat-resistant grip, decent size and a material that can stand up to innovative percussion: that’s what drummers want!
If you think that you can simply walk into a music store and pick up a pair of drumsticks on the fly, think again.
Picture this scenario: you walk into your local music store and the attendant points you to the drum stick section.
There they all are: different sizes, different colours, made of different materials, all arranged in their cubbies, just waiting for you to select what you really want.
Thing is, what do you really want?
What you’re looking for is a well-balanced stick of satisfying weight that fits comfortably in your hand; one that will articulate well on your drum set and complement your style of music.
Remember the general rule of thumb for beginner drummers: 5A, hickory wood stick with/without nylon tip.
Sooner or later though, you should explore other stick heads and materials, if only to see what they do, how they sound and feel when you play drums.
No need to bring your snare drum or your whole drumset to the shop every time you want to try out a stick!
You can ask to try a pair out, either on a practice pad or, if they are particularly amenable, on one of the drum sets in the store.
Please be gentle, though!
Plying your Gene Krupa skills or Latin percussion backbeat is not necessary to see how responsive a drumstick will be, and such beats might actually damage the stick, preventing its eventual sale.
Once you've made your selection, as long as you’re at the music store, why not check out other drum accessories?
Maybe you'd like a set of brushes to try your hand at jazz drumming or a second pedal for your bass drum!
Now find out the best way to maintaining your drum kit...