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Drumsticks Through the Ages
Amazingly, the drumsticks we know of today have only been around for 50 or 60 years although their basic features has remained virtually the same through the ages. The exact beginnings of drumsticks have not been pinpointed, but they made their first appearances centuries ago in the form of simple beaters. They were normally used for cultural and entertainment purposes just as they are in the present day. Drums themselves date back to 6000 BC and were thought to be used in rituals and ceremonies, particularly by American Indians of the time.
The basic types of drumstick include brushes, mallets and the wooden sticks we know of today. Brushes are normally used in jazz music, blues music or swing. They produce a softer sound than the hard crash of a wooden drum stick. The bristles are commonly made from wood or metal with a rubber coating and their shaft (middle section) is usually made from aluminium or wood. Metal bristles can be more durable and some brushes have retractable bristles to ensure they are kept in good shape.
Mallets or beaters have a soft tip made of rubber, nylon or acrylic. The tips are wrapped in soft materials such as yarn or latex. Some are not wrapped, but are made of heavy woods. Covered mallets are traditionally used in marching bands. Thick wooden beaters have origins in Native American and Aztec tribes as well as in Africa where they were (and still are) used for cultural purposes as well as entertainment. The shaft of beaters or mallets is usually made from birch of rattan.
Traditional wooden drumsticks are usually used by rock musicians or metal musicians. There are different types of wood and different sizes of sticks depending on what kind of music they want to make. Common woods used to make drumsticks include oak, hickory or maple. Hickory and maple make softer sounds and oak is a thicker, more durable wood that is more suitable for hard rock or metal drumming.
Most professional drummers are very particular about the type of drumstick they use. Drummers may also choose several different types for different styles of playing. Harder woods produce a louder sound which is ideal for large gigs or venues. In addition, drumsticks thicker in circumference can be more durable. A thinner drumstick may be more suitable for smaller venues but not so suitable for constant playing, especially if it is rock music that you will be playing. Nylon tips are the most popular type of tip used as opposed to wood as these are more durable and prevent the wood from splitting.
Origins of the Drumstick
The modern drumsticks we see now are based on the sticks used to beat the old tabor drums which are now known as snare drums. Interestingly, the tabor drum came about in the 1300’s but is still played today in some modern European folk music. The drums were later popular with foot soldiers in the 1400’s as they needed a better method of co-ordination due to their growing numbers. Mallets or wooden sticks were used to beat the tabor to signal formations to other soldiers.
The traditional grip of drumsticks comes from the old military drummers who used to carry a snare drum on a sling over their shoulder, and to avoid the drum banging into their knees as they marched, they would tilt the drum at an angle. This meant that the normal drum grip was awkward to use with their left arm, thus the "traditional" grip came about, which was later acquired by Jazz drummers in the 1940's. The sticks were made completely from wood at this time. The usage of drumsticks to create different sounds evolved and therefore the need to create different sizes, styles and types of drumstick was needed. Jazz has influences which come from African drumming techniques.
Before the 1950’s, drumsticks were primarily made solely from wood. This often caused the tips to splinter and they wore out much quicker. The drummer and woodworker Joe Calato invented the nylon tip in 1958. This prevented the wear and tear seen in sticks made completely from wood and the nylon tipped stick is the most popular drumstick used today.
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