“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted…” wait a minute — that sounds just like what Henry Hill would say, right?

Anyway, as far back as I can remember, I did not want to be a gangster, but I always wanted to understand the principle of things and events surrounding me. “Because it is this way” or “because I say so” was not cutting it for me. I wanted to know and understand why things are and why they function the way they do. So yes, I was the annoying kid always asking “…but why?”

When I first tried to play cross-stick it was a disaster. I watched many drummers do it successfully and I even asked some of them how to do it. “It is so simple, even a baby could do it. Flip the stick and place it on the snare drum so the tip is one inch away from the rim. Then you just lift it up and throw it against the drum.”

I was pretty much told the same thing from everyone I asked, with only slight differences in their choice of words. Not only that I couldn’t get that right rich, wooden sound I couldn’t get any decent sound out of it. At first I thought that maybe I am not slamming the stick down at the drum hard enough. Three drumsticks later I realized that it is most likely not because of that.

So I asked myself, “What’s behind the cross-stick playing that I am not seeing and missing?”

I started experimenting a bit to figure it out.

  • Lifting the stick off the drumhead made it sound weaker and softer therefore the drumhead is playing a crucial role when it comes to loud cross-stick sound. It acts as a membrane amplifying the stick vibration (after hiding the rim) through the drum.
  • The way I held the drumstick made a big difference too. Holding it looser made it resonate a lot more than when I wrapped my fingers around it and grabbed it tighter.
  • Experimenting with the placement of the stick across the drum I noticed that the “sweet spot” where the drumstick sounds the best varies from drum to drum. The ideal position for one particular drum might actually be that the tip of the stick is an inch away from the hoop but at the same time that configuration could be completely dead spot for another one.
  • Playing with the butt of my stick over the lug (tension rod) versus between the lugs made a small but noticeable difference in sound as well.

After finding out what actually contributes to that wooden, rich and loud cross-stick sound, I realized that it is indeed very simple but nowhere even close to what I was told before.

I hope this helped you understand the cross-stick sound and technique a little bit better. And please, next time you are not 100% sure about something ask “why?” and demand answers so you can fully understand it. It will help you grow and progress much faster not only as a drummer. You owe it to yourself.