Let’s be honest:
Getting your head around the different drum stick sizes is a bit of a mission. This goes for novice and experienced drummers alike.
I’ve been bashing the drums for a good 5+ years now, and I still find myself a little confused and overwhelmed when it’s time to pick up some new sticks.
The goal of this article is to give you (and me) a resource to relieve that overwhelming feeling, so you can learn now what the different drum stick sizes are, and then refer back to this before you head back to the music store each time you need new sticks.
The 4 types of drumstick
Okay so let’s start nice and simple.
There are 4 kinds of drum sticks you’ll find:
- Regular (typically just called sticks)
Let’s quickly review.
Brushes are a special kind of stick mainly used in jazz drumming.
Brushes basically have a tonne of little fibers (metal or nylon), that give a soft swishing sound characteristic of jazz drumming.
Mallets have a very large head, which is covered in felt. They are kind of like the beater heads on your typical bass drum pedal.
Mallets give you a very muffled sound. These are typically used for orchestral and marching band drumming.
Rods are like halfway between regular drum sticks and brushes.
They are essentially a bunch of little wooden rods taped together, so they rattle together a little when you play them.
Regular old drum sticks
We all know what standard drum sticks look like.
These bad boys are by far the most common kind of drum stick used, employed in a variety of styles from pop to rock, jazz to metal.
If you’re sitting down in front of a kit, then you’re going to use a regular set of sticks 99% of the time.
These sticks are usually made of wood (we’ll look at the different kinds of wood soon), though there are a few other options:
- Carbon fiber
- Aluminum with polyurethane (plastic) veneer
As we move into our discussion on the different drum stick sizes, we’re pretty much just going to be talking about regular drum sticks.
4 aspects to consider when choosing drumsticks
Okay. So when sizing up which pair of drumsticks is going to work best for you, there are 4 main aspects to consider:
- Length of the stick
- The type of tip it has
- The taper of the drumstick tip
- The type of wood the stick is made from
1. Drumstick Lengths
Drumsticks vary in length, typically falling between 15 inches and 17.5 inches long, with the average stick measuring 16 inches.
So, what does this all mean?
The length of your stick affects two things: reach and leverage.
The first is pretty straightforward. A longer stick means you can reach a little bit further. It’s not much, given the difference between the longest and shortest sticks is around 2 inches, but it’s very noticeable on the kit.
Leverage does depend quite a bit on how you hold the stick, that is, how the fulcrum is positioned. In any case, though, the general rule is that a longer stick means more leverage, so a smaller movement has more impact at the tip.
So, is longer better?
For some yes, and for others no.
Many players prefer shorter sticks as they have a faster response and they feel more ‘connected’ to the kit with each hit.
2. Drumstick Tips
There are two aspects to consider when determining what kind of drumstick tip you want to go with:
- The shape
- The material
Let’s get the latter out of the way first.
Drumstick Tip Material
There are two materials for drumstick tips: wood, and nylon.
Wood tips are pretty easy to get your head around. The stick is manufactured from a single piece of wood.
Nylon tips are a little different. Here’s what they look like:
So, what’s the difference?
In shorter, nylon tips give you a brighter sound with more attack. Wood tips give you a more balanced, natural, full, and warm sound.
Drumstick Tip Shapes
Equally important to the sound and feel you get from your drumstick is the shape of the tip.
And yes, there are a bunch of these (just to make things even more complicated when you’re at the music store).
Here’s what you need to know:
- Oval tip: the ‘standard tip’ with the largest spectrum of available sounds
- Teardrop tip: warm sound, focused low-end
- Round/ball tip: bright with a lot of attack and crispness
- Acorn tip: fuller and fatter
- Barrel tip: loud, punchy, and aggressive
3. Drumstick Taper
Take a look at any drum stick, and you’ll see that the thickness of the wood tapers off toward the tip.
Different drumsticks have different lengths of tapers, which affect how the stick feels and responds.
Let’s review the three styles of drumstick taper and their effect on playability:
- Long taper – more flex, faster response, less power, and durability
- Short taper – slower, feels ‘front-heavy’, more power, more durable
- Medium taper – the goldilocks fit, right in the middle
4. Drumstick Wood
Lastly, you need to consider the type of wood your drumstick is manufactured from (if it’s made of wood at all).
Here are the main woods used:
- Hickory – midweight, reasonably durable
- Maple – lightweight, faster
- Oak – heavyweight, slow, durable
- Aluminum – very durable, are coated with polyurethane, deliver extra rebound
How to read drum stick sizes
Okay, now you’ve got a good feel for the different ways drumsticks are manufactured, and what each of the drum stick sizes might refer to.
Let’s check out the different sizes then!
How drum stick sizes are named
The name of a drum stick size is comprised of a number and a letter, such as the most typical stick, the 5A.
Let’s check out what these mean.
Drum stick numbers
The numbers used for drum sticks refer to the length of the stick.
You’ll be forgiven for assuming that the distribution of numbers has anything to do with some form of scale, though.
It would make sense if 1 was the shortest, 9 was the longest, and everything else fell in between, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case…
Here’s how it plays out:
- Number 1 – 16.75” to 17.25″ long
- Number 2 – 16.00″ to 16.50″ long
- Number 3 – 15.50″ to 17.00″ long
- Number 4 – doesn’t exist (what?)
- Number 5 – 16” (finally, some form of standard)
- Number 6 – doesn’t exist either (spoke too soon)
- Number 7 – 15.00″ to 15.75″ long
- Number 8 – 16.00″ to 16.50″ long
- Number 9 – 16.00″ to 16.50″ long
Oh and also, all of these numbers refer to “usual” lengths. So, it’s possible to find lengths outside of these ranges…
There is some form of scale, though, with the generally accepted rule that the higher numbers mean lighter sticks.
Of all 7 options, the most commonly used lengths are 5, 7, and 2, 5 being the middle ground and most common stick weight and length.
Things aren’t getting any easier on the letters side of things. Sorry.
Here’s what they mean:
- B sticks are “band” models
- S sticks are “street” models (for marching bands)
- D sticks are “dance models” (whatever that means)
- A sticks are “orchestra” models (you know, A for Orchestra)
You’re unlikely to come across many S or D sticks, with the majority of drum sticks these days being A and B models.
The best way to think about it is like this: B sticks are a thicker version of A sticks, such that a 5B is thicker than a 5A (because band drummers hit harder than orchestra drummers, I guess).
The 7 most common drum stick sizes
Got your head around all of that?
All good if not, it’s not the most straightforward naming convention. With this in mind, you might simply find it easier to memorize what some of the most common drum stick sizes are, and what they mean.
This is the gold standard of the drumstick.
It’s in the middle of things as far as length and weight go, and used by drummers from rock bands to jazz trios.
The 3A is thicker than the 5A, as well as longer. Think of it as an XL 5A.
Probably the second most commonly used stick, the 5B is the same length as the 5A (generally), but a fair bit thicker. They are thicker even than the 5A.
The 7A is another commonly used drum stick size, particularly in jazz or softer drumming applications.
That’s because it’s a thinner and more lightweight stick than the 5A, so it’s perfect for light hitters.
On the other end of the spectrum to the 7A is the 2B.
2Bs are generally the same length as 5As, but they are a whole lot thicker.
These guys are great for metal and hardcore drummers who like to hit hard and play a tonne of rim shots.
The 8D is exactly the same as the thing and lightweight 7A, but with a bit of extra length.
Of all sticks, the 1A is the longest out there, measuring up to 17.25″ in length.
Which drum stick size to choose based on application
Before we wrap up, let’s quickly cover some common drumming applications, and the stick size you’ll find most suitable for each.
|Application||Drum stick size|
|A bit of extra length||3A|
|Jazz drumming on bigger kits||8D|
|Metal and hard rock||2B|
|Hard hitters with close setups||5B|
|Practicing and developing speed||2B|
So, only one thing left to go and do now:
Go out and buy a bunch of sticks so you can learn for yourself how the different drum stick sizes feel and play.
And remember, if you ever find yourself lost and dizzied by all those numbers and letters, just grab a set of 5As!