How to Hold Drum Sticks: A Beginner’s Guide

What are the best drum sticks for beginners? More importantly, what are the different ways on how to hold drum sticks the proper way?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This article will go over the main types of drumsticks and grip techniques. We’ll also give step-by-step instructions on how to hold your sticks, depending on the technique you choose.

Table of Contents

The Different Types of Drumsticks

When it comes to picking out the best drumsticks, there are many factors you need to consider: the size and material of the sticks, the drums in the set, and the style of music you’re going to play. To determine the best pair of drumsticks for you, it’s a good idea to go into a music store and try several types yourself.

Types of Drumsticks

  1. Standard Sticks

Standard sticks are long and thin and have a tapered edge. The small rubber at the head of sticks protects the drumhead (the skin or membrane that’s stretched over a drum), gives an extra bounce, and helps produce a slightly fuller sound. They’re usually made of wood, but they can also be made from carbon, nylon, plastic, and rubber.

  1. Rods

Rods, also called as rutes, are made up of several dowels (cylindrical rods) that are bundled together to form one stick. They offer good balance when you need drumsticks that are louder than drum brushes or quieter than standard sticks. You can adjust the tone of a rod by changing the position of the band that keeps the dowels together.

  1. Mallets

Mallets are usually used by more experienced drummers, especially those who play in a loud band or classical concert band. Aside from large, loud drums, they’re also used with a wide number of percussion instruments, such as chimes, marimbas, and xylophones.

In terms of their length, mallets are the same with standard drumsticks. The head of a mallet has a condensed ball that’s made with any of these materials: cotton, cloth, plastic, rubber, or yarn. Meanwhile, the thick handle or shaft is made of wood (birch or rattan) or synthetic materials (fiberglass).

  1. Drum Brushes

Commonly used as a substitute to the ever-popular standard sticks, the drum brushes are used for playing Jazz, Pop, and Ballad songs. They’re great choices if you want to create soft (compared to sticks), snappy, or crisp swishing sounds. One good example of a non-traditional drum brush that’s well-received by both beginners and professionals is the Steve Gadd by Vic Firth.

Drum brushes are available in two types:

  • Metal wire – When people say drum brushes, the metal wire type is usually the first thing that comes to mind. A metal wire brush has a short rubber handle and pieces of steel wire that fan out. However, more recent types of wire brushes have plastic or nylon wire strands.
  • Retractable – A retractable wire brush still looks the same as the standard drum brush. The only difference is it has a metal rod at the bottom of the handle, which you pull to put the wires back in the handle case.

Types of Materials for Drumsticks

Drumsticks are mostly made from wood, or, more specifically, Hickory, Oak, and Maple. Manufacturers also use more modern materials, such as metal and plastic.

Let’s take a quick look at each of the wood species used for making these sticks:

  • Hickory – Among the three, this is the most common wood species used for making drumsticks. It’s reliable and more long-lasting compared to Maple. It also has excellent shock-absorbing properties, which allow you to comfortably play longer.
  • Oak – The great thing about drumsticks made of Oak is they give you the option to play louder without exerting too much effort. That’s because this wood species is dense and heavy. What’s more, they’re incredibly tough.

The only downside to Oak drumsticks is they don’t absorb shock well compared to drumsticks made of Hickory and Maple.

  • Maple – This wood species looks great and is durable and flexible. It’s often used to make drumsticks that are lightweight and thick at the same time. They also help drummers avoid hand injuries, thanks to Maple’s energy-absorbing properties.

Maple drumsticks would make an ideal choice for practicing difficult drum patterns and playing softer tones.

Types of Drumstick Sizes

The average length of drumsticks ranges from 15 up to 17.5 inches. The right size for you will mainly depend on your hand size and personal comfort level. Contrary to the common misconception, longer drumsticks don’t mean better fulcrum (the part of a drummer’s grip on which a stick or mallet rotates) since each person has different physical characteristics.

The size of a stick is usually represented by a letter and a number. The letter tells you the size and the style of music the stick is designed for—letters range from A to CC. For instance:

  • “S” refers to street, and sticks that belong to this category produce louder sounds compared to other types. They’re intended for marching bands or other open-air street performances.
  • “B” refers to band. Band sticks are intended for drummers who play in a brass band or rock band because they’re easy to control. The most appropriate size of band sticks for beginners is “2B.”
  • “A” refers to orchestra. These drumsticks are usually lighter than “B” drumsticks. They’re used for jazz bands, orchestras, small bands, or other situations that need reduced drum volume.
  • Meanwhile, the number tells you the thickness of a drumstick. The rule of thumb is the higher the number, the thinner and lighter the stick—or vice versa. So, 7A drumsticks are thinner and lighter than 5A drumsticks.

The weight of drumsticks is indicated by numbers ranging from 1 to 9, with 2, 5, and 7 as the three main weight indicators. Here’s what they mean:

  • 2 Model Number – Drumsticks in this category are heavier compared to those in the 5 and 7 series. Thus, they’re great for playing rock and metal music.
  • 5 Model Number – When in doubt, start out with 5A drumsticks. Beginners can’t simply go wrong by buying a pair of 5A Hickory drumsticks, which are great for playing a broad range of musical styles and genres.
  • 7 Model Number – Are you planning to play for a Jazz band or marching band? A 7 drumstick is one of your best bets. Jazz musicians and drummers who are just starting out can try the 7A drumsticks.

Drumstick Grip Techniques: Traditional versus Matched

Proper technique and form is crucial for playing the drums efficiently and safely. Skipping this could increase your risk for injuries and failure.

The main types of grip techniques are the traditional grip and the matched grip. When choosing the best technique for you, think about these things:

  • The style of music you usually play
  • The part of the drum set (e.g., shells, hardware, breakables, and extensions)
  • The volume of your drums (for instance, if you’re playing in a large venue, you can play as loudly as you want.)

Remember, there’s no right or wrong technique. Sometimes, if you need to, you can switch between the two grip techniques.

The Traditional Grip

The traditional grip is also known as the orthodox grip and the conventional grip. In the past, it was widely used by military marching bands to play ceremonial and marching music to direct troop movement on the battlefield.

When learning this grip technique, the first thing you need to do is learn to bounce the stick off the drumhead (or practice pad). This makes your drums sound much better. Mastering this skill would be much easier if you practice on a tight top head.

Steps (Right Hand)

  1. Place the bottom third of your drumstick across your palm, from the base of your index finger towards the “meaty” area of your palm that’s near wrist (hypothenar eminence).
  2. Your thumb should be placed on the side of your drumstick, while the rest of your fingers wrapped around it completely. Your hand should be relaxed, not gripping your stick tightly. You just want to balance your stick between your thumb and index finger.

Steps (Left Hand)

  1. Allow your upper arm to relax and hang loosely at your side. Your forearm should be parallel to the floor, while the tip of your drumstick, also called as the bead, should be at least 3 inches above the center of your drum.
  2. Open your left hand, with the palm facing up. Bend your wrist sideways, a little away from your body.
  3. Place one-third of the butt end of your drumstick between your thumb and index finger. The upper parts of your thumb should be resting on the middle joint of your index finger, while your drumstick is placed across your middle finger.
  4. Rest your drumstick on the last two fingers of your left hand (ring finger and pinky finger).
  5. Test and experiment with the fulcrum (the point between your index finger and thumb) by moving your drumstick up and down. The goal is to find best position for your stick to make it bounce the easiest.
  6. Do a bounce test by throwing your drumstick into the head. Once it bounces, catch it using a relaxed traditional grip.

The Matched Grip

The matched grip technique also goes by the name parallel grip. Most teachers would recommend to their students to learn this technique first because it makes it easier to master complex drum patterns (or rudiments). Once you’ve accomplished that, you can apply everything you learned to mastering the traditional grip technique.

What’s great about this technique is both hands hold the drumsticks the same way. That’s one less thing to worry about.

The matched grip technique is further divided into three types: the German grip, the French grip, and the American grip.

  1. German Grip

If you want power, like when you’re playing the bass drum, use the German grip technique. The downside of this technique is you’ll have to sacrifice speed.

Here’s how to do it:

  • On your drum, position your drumstick in a way that you form a 90-degree angle.
  • The palm of your hand should be facing towards the floor.
  • Use your wrist, with a little help from your ring finger and middle finger, to facilitate the movement of your drumsticks and generate a lot of power while playing.
  • The movement of your drumstick(s) is similar to waving goodbye, knocking on a door, or bouncing a ball.
  1. French Grip

If you need speed more than power, the French grip technique is a more appropriate choice. Unlike the German grip, which uses your wrist for control, this technique uses your fingers (to save a lot of energy).

Here’s how to do it:

  • The thumb of your left and right hands should be pointing upwards.
  • Turn your wrists, so they’re facing inward. Your drumsticks should remain parallel to the floor.
  • Lift your drumsticks with your fingers. By doing small movements with your wrist and forearm, you can produce more power.
  1. American Grip

This is the default choice of most drummers who are just starting out. It’s often considered an all-purpose or hybrid grip technique because it combines the benefits of the German and French grip techniques.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Your arms should be in a relaxed position—more relaxed than the German grip technique, which makes your elbows protrude a little.
  • The palms of your hands should be facing inward at a 45- to 60-degree angle.
  • With this technique, you’re going to equally use your arms, wrists, and fingers.

Until now, there’s no fixed consensus regarding the best drum sticks and grip technique for amateur and professional drummers. The right answer will usually depend on your music style, drum kit, playing venue, and other personal preferences. Try a variety of techniques and drumstick styles to determine what’s truly best for your needs.

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