A Conversation About 'Pitch Pairing' Drum Sticks

Drum sticks. Not a lot has changed over the years. They are still basically a lathed piece of wood with a taper and a tip on one end. Not really controversial in any way. But sticks are very essential to drummers, as they are direct extensions of our hands. The right stick can make all the difference in a performance.

This leads me up to a recent Facebook question and discussion about pairing and pitch matching sticks. I remember as a youth buying a new pair of sticks in a sealed plastic bag. Basically, what you bought was what you got. There was nothing done at the factory other than taking 2 sticks of the same size/designation, and putting them in the bag. I noticed back then that sometimes one stick would be heavier than the other. Or that one would be slightly warped. That was just the way things were, so you learned to live with it and got on to drumming.

Today's drumsticks: nice and neat

Today, sticks are usually in a cardboard sleeve, so you can take them out, inspect them, and even try them on a pad before buying. This is obviously a vast improvement over the old days. And sticks are also factory matched to pitch and weight, so not only do your sticks feel the same, when you tap them, they sound the same. This is great, but not the end all, be all that some people seem to think it is. You can still buy 2 pairs of sticks that will differ in both weight and pitch—that's just the nature of wood. 

You gotta keep 'em separated… 

That leads us to a few important performance aspects.

  • If you play snare drum in the symphony, you really do want a pair of sticks matched in pitch so that your press rolls sound smooth as silk. Or if you are playing Ravel's 'Bolero,' you want the snare drum pattern to sound even, with each note the same.
  • When you are practicing on a pad, you are by yourself and can hear every inflection and nuance. Ideally, a matched pair of sticks will give you the same, consistent sound from each hand.
  • But what, if like the majority of drummers out there, you play drum set? The mechanics here are completely different: one hand mainly plays on the cymbals, while the other hand mainly plays on the snare drum. If you have 2 different pitched sticks, no one will really be able to hear it. Also, within the context of a band, the sound difference between 2 sticks will easily be lost within the din of the other musicians playing. This is especially true in a heavily amplified band.
  • What about the drummer, who like me, buys 12 pairs of sticks and puts them in a stick bag, grabbing whatever 2 sticks to play with? I do know some guys who keep their sticks all separated and only use them as factory matched pairs, but really? Most pros don't have the time to worry about that.
  • There are also stories of certain legendary jazz drummers using 2 different types of sticks, because to them, playing the cymbals was very different than playing the snare drum.

Now this is not to denigrate the idea of pitch matching sticks. I actually think it's a good thing. It's especially nice when a pair of sticks weighs/feels the same in your hands. I like that sort of evenness. But when I play a gig, I bring a bag full of sticks, mallets, etc, and don't have the time to sort through things to find a perfectly matched pair of anything! I just grab something and get on with the music.

The moral of the story is: advertising slogans and selling points are great, just don't let them get in the way of creating the music.

~ MB

Deconstruct Yourself™


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