by Mitch Markovich
For those unfamiliar with back-sticking, let’s start with a short explanation. True back sticking is the turning of a stick or mallet until the butt or opposite end makes contact with the playing surface producing a tone of good or excellent quality. This last phrase is very important because there is a less pleasing type of back-sticking that produces a poor or at best fair level of tone quality which is aesthetically and musically inferior. (I call it stick-turning.) Although it has its place, this watered-down version takes little ability and is often passed off as the real thing. Both approaches are useful however, because they both provide a strong visual impact that can generate tremendous audience reaction.
The only prerequisite for back-sticking is that a drummer have stable and well developed grips. This means that most beginning students should not attempt to learn back-sticking until their teacher feels they have developed good and consistent grip habits. This is necessary because back-sticking requires some grip changes and most new students generally let sloppy habits creep into their playing without realizing it.
How Back-Sticking Can Be Used
Back-sticking can be used in almost any drumming situation. Done correctly, it will enhance any solo on snare drum, drum set, timp-tom trios, concert toms, etc. I suppose it could even be used on timpani and keyboard instruments. Once a drummer understands the basic patterns presented later in this article, a simple way to apply the technique would be to back-stick some or all of the accents in a section of music or in a section of a solo. After some experience, unaccented notes can also be back-sticked. Generally, I use back-sticking as a high point in a piece or solo rather than at the beginning or continuously throughout. Back-sticking is also extremely effective when two or more drummers play a unison part as occurs in many of the top corps and marching bands.
How To Get Started
Hold both sticks in your usual grip. Choke up on each stick a little by moving your grip so that it is more toward the center of the stick. Now rotate each hand until the back end of the stick is ready to hit the playing surface. If you are using the matched grip, you should finish with both sticks being held with a type of left hand traditional grip, as shown above.
When you are sure that both hands are moving in the same way, I suggest that you use one hand at a time, and revolve it back and forth between the tip and the butt at a regular tempo and a fairly loud volume. As you do this listen to the tone quality and volume and try to get all notes to sound the same. With practice you will be surprised at how similar the notes become. Play eight notes with each hand and compare your sound from hand to hand. When you feel you have made progress with this pattern, try the patterns below to increase your ability and confidence. Always strive for a consistent, musical sound.
After these patterns are mastered, feel free to make up your own and start to incorporate back-sticking in your playing. One solo that is a real challenge is Three Camps. One of my own solos that incorporates back-sticking is called Tornado (published by Creative Music). Tornado will give you added insight into the possibilities of back-sticking, and as an added benefit can also serve to bring out deficiencies in your musicianship and technique.
For tremendous drumming excitement, few techniques offer the potential of back-sticking. While percussion is primarily known as an audible art, the visual aspects are also very important. To neglect either is not realizing the full potential we have as drummers and percussionists. By employing back-sticking into our playing we raise our performance to a new and higher artistic level.