Cross-sticks are one of the most used drumming techniques there is. Every drummer learns how to play a cross-stick quite early on in their playing journey, and it’s a technique that commonly gets used in every style of music.
In this guide, I’ll explain what a cross-stick is and why it’s so important, and I’ll give a detailed breakdown of how to play the technique. I’ll also give a few short exercises to work on your cross-stick playing technique.
Once you work through them, you should be able to comfortably play a good cross-stick stroke whenever you need to.
- What is a Cross Stick on the Drums?
- When Should You Use Cross Sticks on the Drums?
- Should Every Drummer Know How to Play the Cross Stick Technique?
- Ultimate Cross Stick Technique Guide
- Cross Stick Drumming Exercises
What is a Cross Stick on the Drums?
A cross-stick is when you hold the butt end of your drumstick on the drumhead while striking the rim at the same time.
You do it by holding your stick across the drum, which is why it’s called a cross-stick.
Another popular name for this technique is a rim click, but most drummers refer to it as a cross-stick.
There is often a bit of confusion with some musicians referring to this technique as a rimshot, but a rimshot is a different technique where you strike the rim and drumhead at the same time very hard.
While rimshots are loud, cross-sticks are always a lot softer. Cross-sticks can be played on any drum, but they’re mainly played on the snare drum.
When Should You Use Cross Sticks on the Drums?
Since cross-stick strokes are softer than normal open strokes, you should use cross-sticks whenever you want to play quieter grooves or fills.
A good example of how this works is when a drummer plays a groove using cross-sticks in a verse, and then they play open strokes on the snare in the chorus to get a bit louder.
They may go back to playing cross-sticks in the next verse to bring the energy of the song down a bit.
Cross-sticks are also used in some musical styles that thrive off of the sound you get. Latin music is a good example. The short sound of a cross-stick stroke is a better option for playing in a groove compared to the more open and resonant sound of a normal snare drum stroke.
Latin drummers will often play cross-sticks quite loudly, meaning they’re not always meant for soft beats and fills.
Should Every Drummer Know How to Play the Cross Stick Technique?
Yes, knowing how to play a cross-stick is a vital skill that every drummer should learn. It’s also better to learn this technique as early as possible, as it’s one that commonly gets used in every musical style.
You could argue that most drummers use cross-stick strokes in almost every gig they play.
There just always seem to be points in songs where a cross-stick sounds better than a loud snare drum stroke.
Some styles involve more cross-sticks than others, though. A drummer playing gentle music in a restaurant will play way more cross-stick strokes than a punk drummer smashing it at a festival.
Ultimate Cross Stick Technique Guide
Playing a cross-stick on the snare drum is actually very easy to do. However, there are certain ways of playing cross-sticks that lead to slightly different tones. So, here’s everything you need to know.
The first thing to focus on when playing a cross-stick is your stick position. You need to lay your drumstick down on the snare drum and point the tip of the stick toward your middle tom or ride cymbal.
You then need to find the sweet spot of where the cross-stick sounds the best.
If your drum stick sits too far back, you’ll get quite a weak sound from only the taper of the stick hitting the rim.
If the stick sits too far forward, the sound will be quite muffled from only having the end larger part of the stick hitting the rim.
You need to find the perfect middle ground between those two things, leading to a nice “woody” sound.
Some drummers like to turn their sticks over so that the butt end of the stick is facing the mid tom. When you do this, you get a more powerful cross-stick sound.
Once your stick is in position, you need to raise the front part and strike down to create the cross-stick sound. As you do this, you need to keep the back part of the stick resting against the drum head.
If you lift the whole stick, you won’t have as much control.
You then need to decide how high you want to lift your stick. There aren’t any rules for height here, but just know that the higher you lift the stick, the louder the sound will be when you strike the rim again.
The final thing to focus on is rebound. You can either leave the stick pressed against the rim once you play a cross-stick, or you can let it bounce off the rim.
If you let it bounce off, you’ll get slightly more resonance from your snare drum. This means that the cross-stick sound will ring for a bit longer.
If you dig your stick in, the sound will get choked, leading to a much tighter tone.
Both techniques have their place, so you should use a combination of both. You should let the stick bounce if you want to play consecutive cross-stick notes, though.
Cross Stick Drumming Exercises
Here are a few exercises to work on playing the cross-stick technique. In the sheet music, a cross stick is always marked by an “x.”
The first few are quite easy, allowing you to really focus on the fundamental movements. The last few are a bit trickier to play, but they’ll help with speed and finesse.
This first exercise is a common basic drum beat, but you’re going to substitute every normal snare note with a cross-stick.
Just focus on getting as consistent as you can with every cross-stick. It makes it easier if you leave your hand in the cross-stick position while playing.
This next exercise is a good one to work on your cross-stick dynamics. It’s a follow-up from the previous groove, but you’re going to add an extra cross-stick note before each backbeat.
That extra note is going to be played as softly as possible, while the cross-sticks on the backbeats should be loud and powerful.
Now, you’re going to play cross-stick notes on a few of the offbeat counts in the bar. These cross-sticks will be played on their own, and this groove will train you to separate your hands while playing the cross-stick technique.
In this exercise, you’re going to play two quick cross-stick notes in a row. This isn’t easy, so it may take longer to get a grip on than the previous exercises.
This will work on your cross-stick playing speed, allowing you to play faster cross-stick grooves in the future.
This final exercise is full of cross-stick strokes. You’re filling in notes in the groove as you would with ghost notes, but they’ll all be played as cross-sticks.
This is just to get your hand as comfortable as possible with playing cross-sticks in a groove.
The best sign of being able to play cross-sticks well is when you can get the same tone with every stroke. Keeping the sounds consistent can be tricky at first. But you’ll find your muscle memory kicking in after a long while of using the technique.
Work through the exercises I listed, but also try to create your own to refine the technique. The more you play it, the better you’ll get at playing it!