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L.A. Beat

Drum Beat #18— use the right stick for the right job

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In this column we are going to explore the drumstick. There are many implements to hit drums with such as sticks, mallets or brushes. I touched briefly on this information in column 6's lesson but this will be a more comprehensive overview. It seems not every drummer is aware of the different types of sticks and the uses for them. I have seen drummers using thick sticks  to play jazz and skinny sticks to play metal. It seems like common sense a drummer would explore the many different types for different playing situation but that is not always the case.

Here are some basic questions surrounding drumsticks and their answers.

1. What type of band will you be using them in? Rock, pop, jazz?

If you are playing in a metal band you will want to use some sticks that are thick and heavy. In most metal situations the rest of the band is playing very loud. If you use a small, skinny stick you will never create enough volume to be heard. You will not be able to create enough sound or tone to match the rest of the band.

When playing rock I prefer to use a medium size stick. In a rock band you are going to want to use dynamics. A medium stick allows you to get loud as well as be quiet without too much difficulty. You can get the tones you need and use finesse. My favorite stick for rock is the Vic Firth SD4 combo. It seems to never let me down, provides versatility and feels great in the hands. If you are playing jazz use a lighter stick.

I like to use a 7A from any manufacturer. They just seem to work for swing jazz and are very easy and light in the hands allowing you the execution you need to play jazz effectively. I could touch on every genre or style of band but the point is use some common sense. If the band is loud use a thick stick, if it is somewhere in the middle use a medium size stick and so on. Of course the size of stick differs depending on your strength, ability and personal style. Experiment until you find what works for you. Try and not get caught in a trap of using the same stick for everything you play. Remember size does matter.

2. Are they straight? Don't forget to roll drum sticks on a flat counter top.

Make sure they are not warped. A warped stick leads to difficulty in executing your beats. My favorite brand is Vic Firth because they check every pair of sticks they ship to make sure they are straight and not warped as well as they weigh the same. A pair of sticks that does not weigh the same feels weird and does not make for quality playing.

3. Do you want wood tips or nylon tips? How will the cymbals sound?

In my opinion nylon tip sticks should be outlawed. They make cymbals sound bad and create a bad tone on whatever surface you are hitting. Wood tip sticks make tones sound sweet. They provide a better feel and rebound from the surface they are hitting.

Additionally when hitting drum heads wood tips tend not to damage the heads. I have seen nylon tip sticks make indentations in a head rendering the heads unusable. One other aspect of nylon tip sticks that makes them useless is the tips sometimes will come off. Now wood tip sticks will sometimes chip away but it is much better than the pointy end that is left from a nylon tip stick when the tip falls off.

4. Ultimately, make sure the drumsticks feel good in your hands.

This is the most important aspect of sticks to pay attention to. You can have many factors involved in picking the correct stick but ultimately if they do not feel good in your hands you will never be comfortable playing.
Make sure they feel good and are long enough to do what you want them to do.

5. What type of wood are they made out of? Maple? Hickory? Oak? Are the made out of other materials?

Each type of wood provides a different sound. Every drummer has their own preference as to which wood to use.
Buy a pair of sticks made out of every type of wood and try them out. There are also many different kinds of sticks on the market these days. They are made of metal, rubber, plastic, etc. I have found that these sticks do indeed last longer but they are more expensive than wood and sound terrible. Stay with wood and you will be happy.

A drumstick has 4 basic parts. The bottom is called the BUTT of the drumstick, the long middle part is called the SHAFT, the taper is called the SHOULDER, and the bead is called the TIP. Each part of the stick can be used to create different sounds. Do not get into a rut where all you use is the tip to hit your drums. For instance I use the taper to hit the ride cymbal when I hit the snare drum at the same time to create a great accent when playing jazz. I use the butt of the  stick to play a rimshot on the snare drum. The possibilities are limitless.

Drumsticks are how you play the drum set. It could be said the kind and type of stick you use is the most important aspect of your drumming. Do not just go out and buy any pair of sticks if you are a serious drummer. Do some research on sticks. Familiarize yourself with all of the sizes and the ways you can use them in your drumming. Have several types and sizes of sticks in your stick bag so you are prepared for any situation or setting that can arise when you are playing.
You will be prepared and glad you did. Make sure to have at least three pairs of your favorite or most used stick on hand so when  on the rare occasion you break a stick you will not be left holding your stick so to say.

Keep practicing and take it easy


— By Stanley Jackson, Special To L.A. Beat
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