When buckets (see Bucket Drumming 101) are used as drums in classes for young children, it brings up an interesting dilemma: How do you best mute these plastic instruments without adversely affecting the sound? We were already employing homemade mute pads, but in the heat of the moment, five to 12 enthusiastic bucketeers produce enough sound to make it hard to play along with music (and to teach). Quiet sticks are available these days (such as the Remo Not So Loud Mallet), but I wanted balanced sticks that could soften the bright crack of the bucket’s rim.
At Home Depot I discovered a material that works well — foam rubber seam-seal pipe insulation — and began a one-year experiment that led to the following stick design.
- Tape Measure
- 6’ Tube Foam Rubber Seam-Seal Pipe Insulation (two or three tubes are needed for a class set of sticks)
- Drum sticks (also known as drumsticks) — These can be partially worn, as long as the non-prepared portion (the handle) is relatively smooth and will not cause splinters. Size 7A to 5A is recommended for young drummers.
- Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape
- Colored Duct Tape (blue used for this project)
- Measure out 7" of pipe insulation and cut with scissors, making sure that the cut edge is as straight to perpendicular as possible.
- Place the stick in the center of the pipe insulation cylinder. One end of the foam material should be flush to the very end of the tip of the stick. In other words, the tip is completely covered with material and is not protruding from the cylinder. IMAGE
- Next, rap the material tightly around the stick. Use scissors to cut off excess insulation, but try not to cut off too much. You’ll notice that one side of the adhesive (and plastic wrapper) has now been cut away. IMAGE
- Pull away the plastic wrapper from the remaining adhesive edge. Enclose the material snuggly around the stick, and use the adhesive to help complete the temporary seal. Determine if you need to cut off any more material. Be judicious with any additional cuts. IMAGE
- Each drum stick model has a slightly different taper (the angled portion from the shoulder/shank to the tip). Observe the taper of your stick(s). Now carefully cut the insulation at an angle to accommodate the taper. The material needs to be as snug as possible throughout the tapered portion. Test it out by pulling the cylinder apart (the adhesive is not permanent) and enclose around the stick again. Carefully cut away more material if necessary. IMAGE
- The foam insulation should now be holding itself in place for the most part with the adhesive, though you may need to squeeze the material to hold the cylindrical shape. As a reinforcement, add a layer of blue tape from the top to the bottom. IMAGE
- Once you’ve taped all the way to the bottom of the stick, use a strip of duct tape to create a stem right at the 7" point. Half of the tape should be attached to the insulation (now covered with blue tape) and half to the bare stick. Press and mold the tape down against the stick. IMAGE
- Add a layer or two of duct tape to the bottom portion of the stem, reinforcing to the bare stick. IMAGE
- Finally, add a layer of duct tape around the original layer of Blue tape. This combination of Blue and duct tape does a great job of protecting the foam insulation without adding very much weight. IMAGE
- When it comes to young people, padded sticks are much safer than regular sticks. Incidental contact with one’s neighbor (instead of one’s drum) and falling (caused by stepping on a rolling stick) become only a minor concern.
- These sticks wear down over time. After a large number of hits, the layers of tape and foam rubber will begin to disintegrate. As the tape wears out, add patches of additional duct tape. However, once the foam rubber diminishes in thickness, you will need to take off all of the material and start over again.