Drummers, What’s in your drumstick bag? Learner drummers, what have you yet to experiment playing with? Do we use the tools of trade to their full potential?
Drumsticks, brushes, swizzles, hot-rods, blah-sticks, mallets. Used for different effects, effectively.
There are a vast selection of drumstick materials to choose from. These differences are assessable in the sound they produce. Carbon fibre is preferred for its durability but is expensive. Maple is best for lightness but is less durable whilst Hickory is the most popular and common material used and can put up with the stress and shock of all those millions of times you tap the hi-hat firmly!
Wooden tip drumsticks
The most common type of drumstick. Depending on the shape of the tip and the power behind the drummer’s playing, they can be more likely to crack and break with heavier usage than nylon tipped drumsticks.
Nylon tip drumsticks
Produce a clearer sound on cymbals and give a brighter overall sound. If you want to hear distinct semiquaver accented beats on ride cymbal, I recommend using these. The tone is crisp and bright. They are more hard-wearing as well and if you want a pair of sticks to last, go for these!
For serious practise and performance sessions where hand sweating is a problem, specially painted grip sticks can be an excellent solution when you need a firm grasp of the sticks. Some lacquer finishes can become sticky to the hands with hand sweat so you may wish to go on the lighter side of the varnish if this is something you have experienced when choosing drumsticks.
Often the specialised ‘printed drummer autograph’ sticks you can buy (as inspired by your favourite drummer) will look great for a while but soon the print wears off with use so if you decide to pay for fancy printed sticks, remember the hands will wear away the print with play. Last Christmas I received a great pair of engraved wooden sticks however, and because the wood is engraved in the hand grip end, the message remains. Makes a great gift for drummers!
Look closer at drumstick tips and you will see a variety of shape and size.
Tear drop, Oval, Taj Mahal and Arrow. What do they have in common? All names for different tip types on drumsticks. For further reading, I recommend looking into the following link:
Brushes are used predominantly in jazz and Latin American rhythms. Bringing with them swishy sounds to create playful, dancing beats much softer than what can be produced by drumsticks or hot-rods.
They produce clear ‘swishes’ (for want of a better word!) The wire brushes produce a louder sound on drum heads and cymbals than plastic/nylon brushes. My favourite wire brushes are Vic Firth Jazz brushes, as pictured with the white ends. They have retractable handles (which may require oiling after time as they can become stiff with being pushed in and out.) With retractable handles you can choose how far in or out you want the brushes to be depending on how light or heavy you choose the brush sound to produce. This particular make do have heavier handles than cheaper wire brushes so bear in mind the weight if the drummer is a young learner, for example. You can buy cheaper wire brushes but you do get what you pay for, so rather than going through 3 cheaper brush pairs it makes more sense to buy one pair of excellent quality wire brushes which will last better long-term.
The individual threads of the brush are thicker in diameter than wire brushes. Due to their material however, are quieter than wire brushes. Their advantage is flexibility when playing, they bend with your movements responsively. They are more resilient than wire brushes and last longer as they are less likely to get caught in the rim of the drumheads. I have gone through more wire brushes than nylon ones and even with equal wear and tear the nylon ones look much less like a battered toothbrush than the wire ones will do with playing. If you need to practise drums quietly, nylon brushes are an option.
Sounds like something from KFC? These gems are a collection of thin wooden rods that are bound tightly at the end where your hand grips them and widen slightly towards the top. Otherwise known as Thai sticks. Some are bound tighter throughout the length of the stick than others. Many come with narrow rubber bands that can be slid up and down to adjust whether you want the sticks closer together or further apart at the top depending on your preference for a harder more concrete sound or lighter more flexed out one. They are quieter than sticks and a good go-between brushes and sticks volume-wise.
Like a cross between hot-rods and nylon brushes these are another thing altogether! They can be adjusted to more brush-like tips or denser like hot-rods but the material is vinyl, unlike typical wooden rods. Flexible and light to play, they produce a more muted sound on cymbals than sticks.
To buy a greater selection of percussion sticks like these, try Regal Tip’s range.
Dual-action or Swizzles
As shown in the photo above, are double-ended with 2 different sounds. Think of a pencil with an eraser glued on its end, which can now serve 2 purposes. You can purchase an array of dual-action drumming tools which will have for example, mallets at one end and sticks at the other or sticks at one end and hot-rods on the other. One advantage of these is speed when changing drum sound effects. You can flip one end to the other and vice versa during play much easier than the awkward ‘swap’ between sticks and hot-rods etc. If you want to save some money and buy double-ended double-functioning, it could work out cheaper than individual drum implements. Bear in mind that the balance and grip will be different compared to sticks. These take some getting used to in learning to control and flip effectively. The stick tipped ones tend not to produce as much power behind them as drumsticks would as they are lighter with one end as hot-rods. They are something I wouldn’t be without in my drumstick bag and are worth experimenting with. They can be very beneficial for speed practising and mixing things up a bit when rudiments can become mundane!
I actually have timpani mallets as pictured below which I use for mellow beats on the toms as well as soft, subtle rolls on cymbals for subdued effects which can build up anticipation with varying crescendos and diminuendos. They are something to save for special moments in drumming, rather than use for quick and complex rhythms. If playing in an ensemble before the main rhythm comes in, mallets can produce atmospheric, almost meditative tones!
One more thing…
Cheap and cheerful and fun to use as well, I always keep a pair of egg shakers in my drumsticks bag as these can be incorporated into jazz and quieter mood music effectively. One shaking gently in one hand with a mallet roll by the other can create stimulating stereo!
The serious drumstick bag should have a selection of varying tools for varied drum effects. To enhance drumming techniques and applications, you do need to try out the different tones and volumes produced by varying sticks, hot-rods, brushes, mallets, blah-sticks and sizzles. It can take time to experiment with and costs money to buy all the above so for those who can currently only afford a few choices, go for a nylon tipped pair of 5A Hickory sticks, a quality pair of wire brushes and a set of hot-rods. Each of those will give you the benefits of practising a variety of drumming styles and vary the volume produced.
Please do share what is essential in your drumsticks bag! Thanks for reading.