Drumsticks are the two long pieces of wood in the drummer's hands with which he makes sound come out of his drum kit, with the exception of the bass drum, which uses a striker and pedal, and sometimes the hi-hat, which has a pedal with which you can chink. Before anyone gets up in arms about term, it refers to the sound that the hi hat makes when just take your foot off the pedal and bring it back down - onomatopoiea.

There are many different kinds of drumsticks, both in brand, size and composition. For example, my favorite pair is made of japan oak, is made by Pro-Mark, and is a size 5A, which is, by drummer's standards, pretty large; about the diameter of a nickel.

Naming convention Thinner sticks generally go by "A", and the more general purpose ones go by "B;" lower numbers are smaller, higher ones are larger and, thus, thicker. So my 5A sticks are the thinner size 5. A general purpose, starter stick would be 2B.

So how do these things effect the sound you get when you play? Let's find out:

Size and Weight will affect the speed with which you can play during rolls and the volume of the sound you get from the drum. A heavier (thus, thicker) stick will give you a louder sound from a half-stroke, but it will be harder to do a fast roll and may cause you wrist problems from trying. Heavy sticks are generally left to newcomers who don't want to buy a new pair every week, and people who play in marching bands. The lighter the stick, the easier it is to go fast, but more velocity needs to be put behind your movement to get a good loud accent. You'll also break really light sticks very easily.

Composition: The higher the pitch of the wood used to make the stick, the better the sound you get will be. This isn't true when you have mismatched sticks, which sucks ... one stick when used to hit the drum in the exact same spot with the exact same stroke will make a different sound as the other when your sticks have different pitches. To make sure your sticks are matched, just tap one with the other and vice versa, listening to the sound they make. Types of wood used are japan oak, hickory, and maple to name a few.
Another piece of the composition puzzle is the type of material used for the tip; most these days use rubber or nylon, but I have a pair of Back Bay 5as that have wood tips. I notice a slight difference when I'm doing a fake roll - that is, letting the stick bounce off the drum repeatedly. The rubber tips are more conducive to this kind of thing, and therefore are more fun.

Brand doesn't really bother me that much. Make sure your sticks are matched (have the same pitch) and of the size and weight you want, and as far as brand is concerned, I can recommend Pro Mark or Vic Firth as my favorites so far - but my other sticks, Regal Tip and Back Bay, sound good as well. The moral of the story is, experiment with different brands and find your own favorite, as I personally like the thick sticks better than the really thin ones.

Are These Sticks, Too?

There are two other types of drumsticks that aren't really drumsticks: the brush, or rake, which can be described as fine metal wires connected to a metal bar and wrapped in a rubber handle. The metal wires are used for striking the drum or cymbal, making a softer sound. Listen to light jazz and most old-school jazz; these songs are where the brush sees most use. The other type of not-quite-stick is the Rute, which is a set of small wood dowels (often birch) contained in a handle of rubber, wood, or maybe just tape. They're like brushes only with a stronger sound. Both are adjustable. Update: I forgot mallets and mallet-style sticks! These are basically around 5-size sticks with a big felt tip on them, usually around 1" in diameter, for being cool with cymbals. They are like strikers for a bass drum, but guys who use gongs - and occasionally wierd drummers - use them for getting better effects off of cymbals. Strikers, incidentally, are the things you see the dudes with the big drums (bass drums) in marching bands use to hit their drums. The same term, AFAIK, applies to the striker (see?) that fits into your bass pedal and is used, oddly enough, for the same purpose - just thanks to the motion of your foot rather than your hand.

I took information from the Vic Firth website, About.com, theguitarfactory.com, and an instructional video from Tom Morello in addition to drawing from my own experience.

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