Despite being a simple music accessory, there are many factors to consider when selecting drumsticks. The most important considerations for traditional drumsticks are diameter, length, weight, taper, tip, and type of wood. Then, there are specialty sticks with unique designs or added features. Ultimately, your choice will also depend on the type of music you play and the sound you hope to achieve.
Stick diameter is fundamental to its feel. A difference of only a millimeter or two will affect the feel of a stick in-hand. Heavier styles of music often rely on high-diameter heavy-weight sticks whereas softer styles, like jazz, call for slimmer, more articulate sticks. Stick length affects leverage and reach. The type of taper will determine how quickly the stick rebounds. A longer taper produces more flex and faster response, while a shorter taper is stiffer and offers additional strength. The amount of taper and location of the shoulder (where the taper begins) help to determine the balance of the stick.
Another important consideration is the tip itself. There is a huge range of tip shapes from acorn to teardrop, each producing unique sounds and complimenting specific styles. A perfectly rounded small tip will create a bright, clear tone, while an arrowhead will produce a light, sharp tone.
Weight, density, texture, resonance, flexibility, and durability vary from one type of wood to another. For example, oak sticks are exceptionally durable, and allow drummers to play louder, with less effort. Maple sticks are lighter and more flexible, but less durable than oak. Hickory drumsticks are resilient, responsive, sturdy, and are good shock absorbers, making them the most popular choice.
When shopping, always check for design flaws such as cracks, snags, and splinters along the shaft; a quality stick will be free of defect. Resonance of sticks can be tested by simply tapping them on a hard floor and seeing how well they bounce back. Any odd vibrations might be due to a fine crack in the stick, so look for minor imperfections. In addition, the best sticks for any player will be straight, sculpted, and well-lathed. Rolling them on a table or across the floor, while following their trajectory, is a great way to test evenness and roundness. Look for sticks that roll in an even, straight line. Finally, be sure that both sticks in a pair have the same sound and feel.
Shape, sound, and thickness are all important factors in choosing the sticks that suit you best. Try out different woods–oak, maple, or hickory–with plastic, nylon, or natural tips. This type of experimentation can lead to the discovery of new sounds.
Dowels and Rutes
Dowels and rutes provide a lighter touch and a splashier sound on cymbals. They’re excellent for low volume practicing or for backing up acoustic performances. Sometimes rutes have a movable band to adjust tightness and produce variations in sound.
Brushes are a hallmark of jazz players, producing a swooshing, gentle sound on snare and a light, skittering touch on cymbals. Some models are retractable, or feature varying bristle materials, widths, and shapes.
Different genres and settings calls for varying sounds and volumes. Diverse designs and materials can give unique sounds and feel to drumsticks. Specialty sticks may have features that improve feel or balance and make playing easier.