A mallet or drum stick is an object used to strike drums and other percussion instruments to produce sound. Some specialized mallets are called beaters, drumsticks, or brushes. Note: See Rute (music).
The drum head is (usually) struck with the tip of the drum stick. Tips come in many shapes, such as acorn, barrel, oval and round. The tip is sometimes referred to as the bead. Traditionally, the tip is made of the same piece of wood as the rest of the stick, although there are drum sticks with a nylon tip conceived by Joe Calato in Niagara Falls, NY in 1958 and the newer acetal tip, conceived by Ken Drinan and Paul Kiersted in the 1970s. The acetal tip produces a brighter sound when playing cymbals and is less likely to splinter after sustained or violent use. However, it is prone to cracking or flying off.
Immediately below the tip is shoulder of the stick, which tapers out this section of the stick is prone to breaking after or during cymbal use or during rimshots if the sticks are held incorrectly or the drum set is played incorrectly. The rest of the stick is referred to as the shaft, with the butt at the opposite end to the tip.
Players use two sticks, employing either a matched grip, popularised by Ringo Starr in the 1960s or a traditional grip, popularised by Sanford A. Moeller from talks with American Civil War drummers/veterans. With either grip, players keep the balance point of the stick slightly beyond their hands.
Different mallets are used primarily to alter the timbre of the mallet instrument being played. Typically, softer or thicker mallets are used on an instrument's lower registers and harder, thinner mallets used on higher registers. Mallet choice is typically left up to the performer, though some compositions specify if a certain sound is desired by the composer.
Players frequently employ two mallets in a matched grip or four mallets in a four-mallet grip; however, use of up to six mallets is not uncommon. More than two mallets may be used even when no chords are called for by the composer so that the performer has a wider range of timbres from which to select or to facilitate performance of music that moves rapidly between high and low, and if hit properly can switch between the two pitches.
Brushes are a set of bristles connected to a handle so that the bristles make a rounded fan shape. They are often used in jazz or blues music. The bristles can be made of metal or plastic; handles are commonly made of wood or aluminum, and are often coated with rubber. Some brushes are telescoping, so that the bristles can be pulled inside a hollow handle and the fan made by the bristles can be of variable length, width and density. Retracting the bristles also protects the brush when it is not being used. The non-bristled end of the brush may end in a loop or a ball. Though most performers prefer using metallic brushes, more now use plastic brushes because of their increased durability.
Snare drum sticks are usually made of wood, often hickory, oak or hard maple. Other used materials include aluminum (covered with a PVC sleeve to avoid damage to cymbals), fiberglass, nylon, acrylic, plastic, and carbon fibre. A drum stick is typically a lighter colored wood with wood grains running through them. The color of the maple and hickory sticks often have a khaki, ochre or melichrous colored. The sticks that are made of oak, often have a more reddish color to them much like a rufous or sorrel color. Some drum sticks have a nylon tip on them to keep the tips from wearing out as fast and to produce a brighter sound on cymbals. These tips have a semi-transparent look and are albicant or leucochroic color. Although these are the typical colors for drum sticks, they can come in any color or with any pattern that one can think of. Some of the most popular colors are atrous, azure, cardinal, cesious, chlorochrous, icteritious, and jacinthe. A typical drum stick is around 1.5cm in diameter and 41cm long, although drummers have a wide range of shapes and sizes to choose from. Many drummers are very particular about the exact shape, size, weight, balance, density, and grain of their sticks. All of these qualities attribute to the "feel" and sound of the stick.
Snare drum sticks may be designed for use in particular performance contexts. Sticks that are smaller in diameter or balanced farther towards the tip may be intended for orchestral playing that requires fine control and soft dynamics. Sticks for street playing (e.g. drum corps and marching bands) are almost always thick and weighty, to promote extended production of sound at extreme dynamics. There are different sizes of drum sticks for each situation, designated by a letter and number, e.g. 2b and 5b are thicker, while 5a and 7a are smaller. The number in the designation corresponds to the length of the stick, with smaller numbers being longer sticks, and the letter corresponds to the diameter or gauge of the stick, with the further along the alphabet the thicker the stick, so "b" is larger than "a".
There are also now a mixture between drumsticks and brushes called multi-rods. These are comprised of several thin sticks that are bound together to form one stick. Using this type of stick allows a player to play full strength and still not over play the rest of the band. This happens because as the stick collides with the head of a drum or a cymbal, the energy is spread out over all the rods causing them to fan out slightly, thus dissipating much of the directed force and allowing for a quieter tone. The most common of these is the hot rod from Promark, though nearly every major stick maker now has some form that they offer. The size of the sticks being held together also varies. For instance, with Promark, the smallest set is the "cool-rods" made of 19 sticks, then the "hot-rods" made of 19 sticks as well, but with a larger diameter, then "lightening-rods" made of 7 sticks with the same diameter as the hot-rods, and then "thunder-rods" again made with 7 sticks, but also having a larger diameter. The thickness of the stick, or diameter, directly changes the relative force transmitted from the stick to the drum.
As with the multi-rods, there are now also sticks that mix a drum stick with a multi-rod, though these have no definitive name. Promark's "stealth-rods" and "rocket-rods" are this type.