For the beginner, learning how to pick drumsticks can be a task – here we demystify the ‘code’…
Like many things in the musical world, knowing how to pick drumsticks is something that requires a bit of knowledge. Each stick type has a code that describes it, and even then, there is the question of which stick will suit your style of playing. All sticks are not equal, and if picked incorrectly you might be using the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut.
To help you, we present a mini-guide, which will make understanding the differences between the types of stick more straightforward.
The parts of a stick
The first factor that will influence your choice of stick is the thickness. It is this that the number and letter acronym describes- it refers to diameter. The thickness dictates the weight of the stick, and thus the power with which the drums will be hit. Plus, the thicker the stick, the more durable they will be- playing heavy rock or metal with a lightweight pair might result in regularly snapped sticks.
Although some players will have a particular thickness of stick that they prefer, different sizes are better for different purposes.
As a guide, those playing lighter musical styles such as Jazz thinner sticks are better. Typically suitable sizes are 7A or 8D, up to 5A, which is a good ‘average-sized’ stick.
For those playing pop styles through to the lighter genres of rock-pop or indie, 5A is a good compromise of weight.
Rock demands a bit more power, so a meatier stick is in order. A 5B is good option for rock to heavy rock.
For those playing the heaviest styles of metal and rock, where power is everything, the super-thick 2B sticks are a great choice.
The tip is (usually) the part that connects with the drum or cymbal. Its shape plays a massive part in the resulting tone. Tips can be divided into two main material types: wood, and nylon. Put simply, nylon tips produce a brighter tone than wood tips.
Wood tips come in a variety of different types, from bright and articulate ball tips, to bigger, fuller sounding acorn tips. The oval tip is a fairly good compromise of both extremes.
The taper is bit of the stick that becomes thinner towards the tip, and its length affects the way a pair of sticks feel to play. Think of it like this: imagine holding a fencing sword (a foil). All of the weight is in the handle, so it fells very light to quickly manoeuvre.
Compare this to a hammer- if you were to hold this at the end of the handle, it would be very difficult to move quickly (though if you did, it would have lots of power). It’s a bit of crude comparison, but it does explain the principle…
The same goes for drumsticks. The longer the taper, the quicker the sticks will feel to play, and with more flex. The down size is that these will tend to be more prone to breakage as a result.
Drumsticks are made of different materials, each with different characteristics. The most popular material is hickory. This is due to the fact that it is dense, strong, stiff, and has great shock-absorption properties- essential when drumming.
Maple is another popular choice, offering a lighter, quicker option with more ‘flex’, whilst still being very tough.
Other wood options include oak. These days, aluminium and graphite sticks are also very popular, as these very rarely break, and simply require sleeves to be replaced from time to time.
Drumsticks of the same diameter are often available in different lengths according to drumstick range. As you might expect, this affects the distance that the player can reach when playing.
Buying your first pair
If you’re completely new to playing, a good set o0f wood tipped hickory 5A sticks is a good place to start, as these are of average size, with tips that should be able to be used on any kit (nylon tips will damage electronic drum trigger pads over time).
If the sticks are for a young player with very small hands, 7A sticks can sometimes be a better option.
As with all things of this kind, a huge part of this is down to taste and playing style. If you’re unsure, all Dawsons stores have a practice pad for trying sticks, and members of staff who will be able to advise.
Get the latest news and announcements via our free newsletter (see above).
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.