Getting A Good Drum Sound
Posted in Learn | Last Updated on October 4, 2018
Getting a good sound on the drums is easier/simpler than most drummers would like to believe. There are lots of guides on buying drums, and on tuning your skins, with the goal of achieving a desirable drum sound, but I’m here to tell you that all you need is your ears and some technique to achieve a good sound on any drum kit.
Where To Strike?
Much of your drum sound comes from your aim. If you can strike the drum in the same place, in the same way, over and over, you will most likely produce a consistent sound.
There are several ways to strike a drum. You can hit right in the center to minimize overtones and create a fat, warm sound. You can strike the drum near the edge to create a ring and bring out the overtones. You can perform a rimshot, which is where you strike the rim and the skin at the same time, producing a loud crack/pop sound from the drum. You can even vary the amount of stick you perform the rimshot with; meaning if you only use the first 3 inches if your stick to hit the rimshot, the sound will be much higher in pitch, almost as if you were playing on a much smaller drum!
All of these methods take practice, which is what I mean what I say we need technique. Once you can perform a rimshot on one drum, you can do it on any drum, but you just need to spend the time to learn how to feels to hit the rim and the skin simultaneously. It’s a matter of trial and error and developing muscle memory.
Knowing how hard to play the instrument is a big factor in drum sound. Just like learning where to strike, learning how hard to strike is another thing that takes practice, and experience to be able to do consistently.
Tuning affects drum sound much more than drum choice, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it can be. I’m sure there are entire books written on drum tuning. There are at least 100 different videos and/or articles that I know of that outline the subject in great detail. I’m not putting these down; these methods work very well, but you just don’t need to be perfect to get a very good, workable drum sound. It’s easier than that.
First of all, know your situation. Live sound is much more forgiving than studio sound. When you’re in the studio, take time to tune things, experiment, listen back and adjust. Use google and youtube if you must learn about various tuning methods for different styles, and make sure your kit sounds the way you like it to sound when it’s under the microscope of the studio.
When you’re playing live, which is much more often, you might not be using your drums, or you might not have time to tune, or might just might not feel like it! I’m here to tell you then you can get awesome live drum sound (and even studio sound) with very quick, very simple tuning.
- For rock, I tune my toms and kick way down, almost to the point of wrinkling. I still want it to have a pitch, but I want it to be very low, thuddy and punchy.
- For jazz, I tune my toms and kick way up, almost to the point of choking up, but not quite. I want them to be high pitched so they’re quieter, and are out of the range of the other acoustic instruments.
- For example my snare drum is unique. I generally tune it pretty high. Not choked, but high enough to get a good crack sound. It should be noted that I tune all drum by feel when I do it quickly. I tighten the lugs so they feel as if they’re at the same tension to my fingers. For rock, pop, funk and anything else with a backbeat, I like to put some sort of muffling on my snares, like moon gel or even a wallet. For jazz, I like to leave my snare wide open. It’s as simple as that. The rest of my sound comes from technique.
It should also be noted that you can get pretty much any drum sound from coated, single ply drum heads.
Balancing your kit’s volume is the final piece of the drum sound puzzle. It’s your job to make sure the hi-hat is balanced the snare drum, is balanced with the bass drum, is balanced with the toms, etc. How loud you play each drum in relation to the others is of huge importance.
As an example, many beginners tend to play the hi-hats very loudly (probably because it’s their strong hand) and play the backbeat on the snare drum quietly (just tapping it). If you listen to professional recordings or see great bands play live, you’ll notice that the backbeat is always higher in volume, and the hi-hats are softer. Thus, we should instead be aiming to accentuate the snare drum on the backbeat (play it harder, maybe with a rimshot), and play the hi-hats much softer than we may think they should be played.
Or as another example, when playing fills, the snare drum is such a bright instrument that it can overpower the toms and bass drum in the mix. If we want to achieve a balanced fill sound, we should try to ease up on the snare when playing a fill, and really accent the toms and bass drum to bring them all to the same level.
These are just my suggestions of drum sounds, based on what I’ve been using over the years. There are no rules! But no matter what, you need to develop your ear and work on creating those sounds consistently with practice. That’s the simple recipe for good drum sound.