Whether you’re a percussionist, a drum set player – or something else entirely – it’s essential that you equip yourself with the right types of drumsticks to suit your needs.
Most drummers are going to be just fine with a pair of ordinary sticks to start off with, but as you explore further in the world of drumming, you’ll probably start to mix it up a little!
Here’s the essential info you’ll need to know to point yourself in the right direction.
The five most common types of drumsticks are…
Types of Drumsticks
- Sticks – The standard, most useful choice for drum kit players and other percussionists
- Rods – Rods feel similar to sticks but are significantly lower volume
- Brushes – For very quiet playing, this type of stick suits jazz and low volume environments
- Mallets – For orchestral percussion including cymbal playing, and producing a deep, warm tone from drums
- Timbale sticks – Designed specifically for timbale percussion in afro-cuban and latin music
If you’ve decided to start playing drum set, snare drum, electronic drums or electronic pads – you’ll need a pair of sticks to get started.
A pair of standard drumsticks is going to be the correct choice for 90% of the people reading this article. In my work as a professional musician, I use sticks the vast majority of the time.
Not all sticks are made the same however, and certain types of sticks suit certain styles of music better than others.
You can either buy a stick that’s a good all-rounder, or choose something more specific if there’s a certain style of music you enjoy playing more.
Rock and metal drummers normally prefer heavier stick sizes such as 2B and 5B, whereas jazz drummers typically prefer lighter sizes such as 7A and 8D.
The standard stick size which is the best all-rounder is the 5A, so if you’ve just started drumming and need to buy a pair of sticks, this is your best option!
The tip of the stick, the main area of the stick used to strike the drum, is normally made out of wood or nylon.
The wood tip is preferred by most drummers for the warmer, darker sound – this is the classic choice if you’re just getting started.
However, you’re also welcome to experiment with nylon to see if you prefer the ‘bright’ sound that these kind of sticks produce. Nylon sticks also tend to last longer before breaking.
There are three woods that drumsticks are typically made from, maple, oak and hickory. Hickory is the standard choice and is a safe bet as a beginner drummer.
You can check out my best drumsticks for beginners guide to see my top recommendations for a new drummer.
If you want to find out more about what makes drumsticks different, you can also check out my drumstick sizes chart article, which you can find here.
Rods look and feel a little like drumsticks, but there are a few key differences that every aspiring percussionist should know about.
Rods are significantly quieter than sticks, so they make a great lower volume option for small gigs.
Rather than being made out of a single piece of wood like a stick, rods are made out of lots of tiny wood pieces called dowels. Smaller dowels typically produce a quieter sound.
If you need to be VERY quiet in a tiny venue, you can go even further and choose a pair of brushes instead.
Rods feel and perform differently to normal sticks, so be aware that volume won’t be the only difference you notice.
Rods also have a different shape to regular sticks, so will produce a different tone out of your drums.
Bigger dowels typically create a fuller, thicker tone, whereas smaller dowels will sound thinner overall.
If you want to hear what a rod typically sounds like, you can check out this demo video from DrumDog which compares a few well-known models.
Rods tend to be a great choice when you just need to lay down a groove or play simpler music with a band in a low volume setting.
If you’re practicing more complicated drum patterns that involve a lot of precision and complex technique – you’ll probably need to switch back to regular sticks.
Despite this, I always have a pair of rods in my stick bag ready to go for those more laid-back, smaller venue performances.
If you’re a jazz drummer, or you simply need to play with very low volume, brushes are an essential tool in your stick bag.
Brushes have two main functions. The first function is to create unique sounds by rubbing the brush against the surface of the drum you are playing.
This artistic brush playing is the kind of playing you would traditionally hear in jazz music.
To understand this further, have a listen to the video below where jazz drumming legend Jeff Hamilton demonstrates how this type of drumstick works.
This style of jazz drumming works fantastically with smaller bands and in smaller venues.
The other function of the brush is what you might consider the ‘unofficial’ way to play with brushes.
Because brushes are so quiet, drummers often substitute a stick for a brush, but play drums in exactly the same way that they would if they were using a stick.
Brushes don’t make the drums sound amazing when they are played in this way – but it’s a very helpful life hack to be able to play very quietly when you need to.
If you’re playing gigs in tiny venues, perhaps a small cafe indoors – consider bringing a pair of brushes to your gig. Your audience will thank you!
While other materials are available – a wire brush is the standard and traditional choice for drummers.
Mallets are pretty rare for a modern drum set player to use, but extremely common if you’re playing percussion in an orchestra.
The most famous use for mallets is to play the timpani drums. If you want to become a very well rounded orchestral percussionist – you’ll eventually experiment with playing the timpani.
However, if your orchestra doesn’t have any timpani – or you don’t know how to play them yet – you still may need some mallets, depending on what percussion instruments you’ll be playing.
Other common uses for mallets include cymbals, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes and vibraphone.
It’s important to know that different mallets suit different instruments, and you’ll need some different mallet types to get the best results.
If you know what instruments you’ll be playing, it’s best to research and buy mallets specific to those instruments.
While you could use a normal stick on some orchestral instruments, it’s often not the best choice for creating the perfect sound.
For example, mallets can be very helpful for playing notes on a cymbal because they create a very pleasing, warm tone from the instrument.
It’s very common to play a ‘cymbal swell’ with mallets – this technique produces a long sustained sound which sounds fantastic in orchestral settings.
The mallet isn’t going to be the most important choice for most drummers, but it’s worth knowing that in more traditional settings, you’ll need a pair or two in your stick bag.
If you are exploring afro-cuban or latin music in your percussion and drumming journey, a pair of timbale sticks might be just what you’re looking for.
Timbale sticks suit the lighter, brighter sound of the timbales better than a regular pair of sticks – and they sound great on other percussion instruments too.
Check out the video below, which gives a demo of how this type of stick is used.
You can recognise a timbale stick by its shape – unlike a regular stick, the timbale does not have a pointy end with a tip.
Because the timbale stick has this straighter shape, it’s easier to get a highly preferred ‘sharp’ sound when striking the metal of the timbales.
A normal drumstick would produce a weaker, duller sound on this metal because of the difference in shape.
Timbale sticks are normally significantly thinner than regular drumsticks.
So if you’re a drum set player, you’re normally better off with a pair of regular sticks. They’re likely to last you longer and sound better on the full drum set.
But if you’re an aspiring timbalero or latin percussionist – don’t forget to bring a pair of timbale sticks with you to your next practice session!
So there you have it! Everything you need to know about which type of sticks are going to best suit the music you play.
As you develop as a drummer, you’ll probably start to build up a stick bag with different types of sticks for different musical situations.
It’s great fun to experiment with different models, sizes and brands of stick and see which ones allow you to express yourself the best.
All the best drummers know their gear inside out, and they’ll have chosen a specific drumstick that suits them really well.
You’ve now taken the first step on your journey to picking the right tool for the job – and sounding like the kind of drummer who knows their stuff!