Before The First Stroke
In this first of a two-part series, I will discuss the parts of the stick. Top to bottom, any drumstick is made up of the same parts: the TIP, the SHOULDER/SHANK, the SHAFT, and the BUTT.
The TIP is the part that normally strikes the surface of the drum or cymbal that is being played. It is sometimes called the* HEAD*, but we don’t want to use the same name for two different components in a drummer’s life; a DRUMHEAD is the membrane stretched over the openings of a drum’s shell. *Incidentally, these drumheads were originally made from animal skins, mostly calf, and were consequently called “SKINS.” Plastic drumheads were invented in the late 1950’s.
The SHOULDER or SHANK is just below the TIP, where the stick begins to increase in diameter (a reverse taper). This part of the drumstick can be used to create more volume as needed, considerably more than the TIP. Also, the use of both the TIP and SHANK allows a drummer to choose between two distinct tone qualities when striking a cymbal or a drum. The SHANK can be used to strike the BELL of a cymbal and for producing a loud RIMSHOT on a drum. Alternating between these two sounds on either cymbals or drums can create interesting, sophisticated patterns.
The SHAFT of a stick is simply the “handle” of the drumstick. There’s not much to say about it other than to mention the importance of where your grip is placed on it, which will be discussed later.
Finally, there’s the BUTT. I purposely go from TIP to BUTT in a thinly veiled attempt at humor to end a rather unfunny topic. In lessons, snickers, grins and laughter usually follow the mention of this part (from boys, mostly). I completely understand. What you’ll notice about this word, though, is that its definitions involve the words “hit” and “strike,” as in “to hit with…” or “to strike against something.” You’ll also notice that the mass of the stick is most concentrated here, similar to the SHANK, so maximum volume is the main goal for using this part of the stick. While it’s true that most drummers who play with their BUTTS (!) are going for maximum volume, there are instances where you might see a drummer holding one stick in this “reverse” position. It’s most likely the hand used for playing CROSS–STICK or RIM KNOCKS in a LATIN or BRAZILIAN groove. We’ll discuss both this technique and this type of groove in a later lesson.
So, now you know the parts of any drumstick. This basic design has been around since the creation of the first drumstick and, much like the wheel, won’t ever change; however, there are variations on this design that result in radically different possibilities of sound. Bundled dowels, bundled broom straw, felt-headed mallets and wire brushes are just a few of the many examples of these variations available to us to create different sounds just by changing the tools in our hands.
In our next blog entry, we will discuss the GRIP: Before the First Stroke Part 2