Update – 2008-09-14
With six month of play under my belt, I now have a much better feel for sticks in general. My advice still holds…if you are not using mesh pads on an electronic kit, you'll want to pick up some Anti-Vibe sticks at a minimum, and experiment with other types of sticks as needed. The sticks should always be nylon-tipped.
Experimentation will always be necessary. What I would suggest now, however, is that you adjust the size/weight of the stick you buy depending on your build and general preference. Again, I have a fairly slight build … and after several months switched to lighter sticks on a lark and noticed an immediate improvement in my scores and stick control.
For the first few months, I was using Anti-Vibe 5A's … which are made of hickory. The heavier sticks literally started to hurt my wrists. Currently, I use Vic Firth SD4N's, which are made of maple (a lighter and more flexible wood) and have 7A-like dimensions. It was actually pretty hard to find maple stick with a nylon tip in the proper dimensions, so I thought I would mention it. I'm pretty happy with these, and my wrists are also thanking me.
Rock Band drums come with a pair of real drum sticks. The question is, is it better to use something other than the bundled sticks?
The short answer is yes.
Selecting drum sticks – newcomer vs experienced drummer
First of all, the drum sticks with the Rock Band kit are selected on the basis of low cost and lightness/weight. The bundled sticks are light so that the average player is less likely to destroy the kit with the sticks. But they do the job.
If you're a real drummer, selecting drum sticks may be a serious issue for you. On the other hand, if you're new to the whole idea of drumming in general, it probably doesn't matter what kind of sticks you get to start with. There's no way to know what you'll end up preferring, and sticks are honestly just not that expensive. So just pick a pair and come back to choosing sticks once you're a few weeks into it and have some context. Either use the ones that came with the kit or fiddle with different pairs at your local Guitar Center and pick something that feels good to you.
Anti-Vibe drum sticks
However, the exception here, especially for Rock Band, is that you must get a pair of Zildjian Anti-Vibe drum sticks. These sticks contain a shock absorbing core that deadens the vibration from traveling up the stick into your hands. In songs like Reptilia or Blitzkreig Bop with extended and quick beats, your hand can really feel like it's taking a beating.
I cannot recommend Anti-Vibe sticks enough if you are playing on a standard Rock Band kit or rubber drum pads like the PD-8…the impact of hitting harder surfaces is exactly where the Anti-Vibe technology shines. Anti-Vibe matters less if you're lucky enough to be hitting mesh pads, but in general the vast majority of Rock Band drummers would do well to have a pair. They're only 10 bucks, so it's worth having them around.
I purchased a couple of pairs from Woodwind and Brasswind – Zildjian Anti Vibe Drum Sticks.
When you're ordering, if you're confused by the different options, just get the 5A nylon tipped versions.
What do those numbers and letters next to the drum sticks I'm looking at mean?
Heavier or lighter drum sticks?
Heavier drum sticks are a matter of some controversy. I would recommend playing around with some if you feel it matches your playing style, but otherwise, it seems like there are just as many potential cons as there are pros. Some feel that strengthening your hands too much can actually lower your speed (it has to do with the type of muscles that get built with repetitive motions as opposed to heavy lifting). Metal drumsticks in particular may transfer an undesirable amount of vibration back into your hands as well as destroy drums more quickly…especially the Rock Band drums. Until you know enough to make your own informed decision on the topic, wood sticks with nylon tips are probably the way to go.
Wood, aluminum, other?
Aluminum is heavy … and we've already covered that topic.
Tips (not advice, the actual tips on the ends of the sticks)
Nylon tips have a "brighter" sound with acoustic kits, but on e-drums this makes no difference. Nylon tips should last longer, but heavy hitters seem to have problems with the tips flying off. I really don't think you should be hitting your e-drums that hard, tho. Also, if you chip wood tips, they can slowly tear up or wear down mesh head drums. So, in summary, I would recommend nylon tips.
I hope this article has been useful. Basically, I would sum it up as this. Buy a couple of pairs of Zildjian Anti-Vibe drum sticks (5A nylon tip). If you know enough to prefer another set of sticks, you probably don't need any advice from me on this front anyway.