From Frank Mayer:
Discuss stickings for straight quarter notes with occasional eigths or sixteenths, and also flams.

OK, first of all, there are many ways to stick different figures, passages, measures, phrases, etc. They will all give you a different feel when you are playing and, usually, different sound qualities.

There are, however, a couple of sticking "systems" that are commonly used. By choosing one or the other--or often a combination of both--you can find a good sticking to start with for any passage. Then when you listen to the passage in context (sometimes it sounds different in the practice room than with the ensemble), you can modify it.

the following discussion refers to the music above

The first system shown above is the right- (left-) hand lead system. The basic idea is that everything that looks the same is sticked the same, and strong beats (or subdivisions) generally start with the same hand (which tends to make things that look the same be sticked the same). This system allows for a great simplification in deciding which hand plays which notes. It also tends to make similar looking music be similar in sounding (Play the above passages and see if they sound different. Because the hands are of naturally different strengths, they often produce slightly different sound characteristics.). It can also be helpful for playing fast and/or complicated passages in a manner that favors the stronger hand for most players and allows for more consistency.

The second system shown above is the alternating, or hand-to-hand, system. The basic idea is that each note is played by the hand other than the one that played the note before it. In other words...Right, then Left, then Right, then Left, etc., regardless of the rhythms involved. Often this is the system that most beginners learn because it somewhat develops both hands. It is also the system upon which most rudimental-style playing is based. In the rudimental style, the hands needed to alternate in order to go along with the feet that were marching (and also alternating).

There are advantages to both systems and a lot of the decision making process about which to use involves the context. For most band and orchestral contexts, the performer is more interested in consistency of sound and the right-hand lead system is most useful. For some marches (or other rudimental-style pieces) and passages in which the composer wants a rudimental style, the hand-to-hand method of sticking is great. You can also change the sound of a passage greatly by which sticking you use. If you are comfortable in both systems, you can pick the most appropriate sticking pattern for the music--the one you or the conductor thinks sounds the best.

I find that in any given piece I use some of each type of system, but I tend to favor the right-hand lead system because of the consistency it gives me. I think a good understanding of both the right-hand lead system and the hand-to-hand (or alternating, or rudimental--it doesn't matter which term you use) is essential for the percussionist. Ask your teacher(s) to help you learn and understand them both. There will be more follow-up articles here, too.