Drum Questions Answered


Drums & Percussion

What are brushes for? The use of brushes in drum set and percussion playing is a dying art. The older "drum masters" could really make the brushes "sing". Brushes are a flared bundle of thin wires that come in "fixed" or "telescopic" versions. The thin wires, when drawn across a coated drumhead, makes a soft "swoosh" sound reminiscent of the sound of an old 78 record playing on a phonograph. The two brushes are moved in patterns that create rhythms. Different patterns create different rhythms. Brushes are also used to create different sounds often in softer playing situations in the place of sticks. Brushes come with Wooden handles in the "fixed" version and in rubber handles in both the "telescopic" and "fixed" versions. Developing good brush technique will not only add depth to your playing, it will also improve your stick "chops" as well. What is a Cymbal? There are many different types of cymbals and as many different kinds of applications! The cymbal is a wonderful "color" or "voice" that can actually set the mood of the music. They can add soft, warm swells that crescendo to wonderful climaxing musical heights. Cymbals, often mistaken for just brass, are made of a combination of multiple alloys. Any one can analyze cymbals to discover the metal alloys used and the content of each, but the combination and process (when and how each are combined) to create each brand are closely guarded century old secrets. The most common metal alloy combinations are nickel combined with copper that is laced with silver. Brass is used in some cymbals, but typically those are less expensive cymbals. Another popular alloy used is bronze. Cymbal types range from those used with the drum set to those used in symphonic and marching applications. Cymbals can be struck with sticks or mallets creating a variety sound possibilities. Concert and symphonic cymbals are generally played in pairs, striking one against the other although these can be struck with sticks or mallets as well. Cymbal types include hi-hats, splashes, crashes, rides, china types, effect (various bells, etc..) as well as suspended cymbals and concert/symphonic and marching crash cymbals.

What is a China Cymbal? A China cymbal is a uniquely shaped cymbal that has a flared edge. This "flange" interrupts the vibration moment of the cymbal and effectively reduces the amount of sustain. The cup of the china cymbal is also more pronounced than on other cymbals. Today's China cymbal evolved from cymbals from the Orient where they are used for everything from funeral marches to New Years celebrations to events of religious significance. Those "authentic" Chinas (which are still available today) are heavier than those that have been developed for Western music. Most Chinas used in drum set application are played inverted (upside down) with the flat-side of the flanged edge facing the drummer. Chinas are offer in 8", 10", 12", 14", 16", 18", 20", 22" and 24" diameters. The China has a sound that is best described as "trashy" and is generally quite loud. They are great for accent punches in the music. A China with rivets is known as a Swish Knocker. Chinas make a wonderful addition to any set-up.

What is a Crash Cymbal? Crash cymbals are generally "thinner" cymbals, that have a very smooth "crash" sound when struck. Crash cymbals can be used to accentuate "hits" or "punches" in the music and you will often hear a crash cymbal resolving a musical phrase. Crash cymbals come in many sizes and weights and are capable of creating a variety of sounds from a quick almost "splash" quality, to a shimmering brilliant long decay. The typical "first" crash for a drummer is the 16" medium crash although they range in size from 13" to 20". The weight of a crash cymbal effects the pitch and the volume of the cymbal. Different manufacturers indicate the "weight" of their cymbals differently, but general a thinner cymbal will be higher in pitch and lower in volume. In addition to striking the cymbal with the stick, Crash cymbals can be rolled on with sticks and mallets. They can also create different sounds by being played on the bell and by lightly striking the edge. There is no limit to the amount of cymbals a drummer can use. Be creative and use your imagination in designing your cymbal set up.

What is a Hi-Hat Cymbal? The hi-hat cymbal is a combination of two cymbals mounted on top of each other (outer edge to outer edge in a "flying saucer" fashion). These hi-hat cymbals are mounted on a foot-actuated stand that has a center pull rod. The bottom cymbal rests on a "cup" that not only supports the cymbal, it allows angle adjustments to be made on the cymbal to provide a variety of sound. The top hi hat cymbal is suspended from a "clutch" that is attached to the center pull-rod. The pull-rod is activated with the foot pedal on the hi-hat stand. This pull-rod opens and closes the two cymbals. Playing the hi hat cymbals while opening and closing the cymbals provides a very broad range of sounds and effects. The hi hat cymbals are a crucial part of the drum set anatomy. Hi-hats are usually a major force in the time-keeping effort of the drummer.

What is a Ride Cymbal? Ride cymbals are generally the largest in diameter and heaviest cymbal in a drummer's set up. Primarily used as a time keeping device, the drummer will play an ostinato pattern to support the syncopated rhythms of the bass drum and snare drum. Most Ride Cymbals have a more pronounced bell which can be used to accent on or off the beat. There are a great variety of sizes and weights to choose from when selecting a ride. Two factors play a significant roll in sound of a cymbal, diameter and weight. Generally a larger diameter will produce a lower pitch and longer sustain while a heavier cymbal tends to have a higher pitch. Ride Cymbals can range in sound from a dry quick decay with very little overtone qualities, to a shimmering brilliant long decay. A good place to start when looking for your first ride cymbal would be a medium weight 20" cymbal. Of course, your ear will make the final decision as to which ride is right for you. Although Drummers will typically have more than one crash cymbal, most will only have one Ride Cymbal.

What is a Splash Cymbal? Appropriately named, splash cymbals add a "splash" of color to your playing. Splash cymbals are smaller diameter, thinner cymbals that render a quick responsive decay. A sound very similar to the "choke" effect created when grabbing a crash cymbal after it is struck. This quick bright attack and short decay is how the Splash acquired its name. The splash can also fall under the effects cymbal category, although typically it is in its own class. Splash cymbals sizes are 6", 8", 10", and 12". Splash cymbals are a great add-on cymbal to the standard cymbal set-up.

What is a 4 Piece Kit? When referring to a drum kit, the word "piece" usually implies the number of drums that make up the kit. For example, a four-piece drum kit would consist of four drums. Most drum kits include additional hardware that is not "counted" in the number of pieces, so you usually get more than you think when you buy a kit. A standard four-piece kit would consist of (1) bass drum, (1) snare drum, (1) mounted tom and (1) floor tom. The size of each can vary so be sure you get the measurements before you make your decision.

What is a 5 Piece Kit? When referring to a drum kit, the word "piece" usually implies the number of drums that make up the kit. For example, a five-piece drum kit would consist of five drums. Most drum kits include additional hardware that is not "counted" in the number of pieces, so you usually get more than you think when you buy a kit. A standard five-piece kit would consist of (1) bass drum, (1) snare drum, (2) mounted toms and (1) floor tom. The size of each can vary so be sure you get the measurements before you make your decision.

What is a Fusion Kit and what makes it different than the standard 5 Piece Kit? When drummers refer to "fusion kits" they are generally speaking of drum kits that include smaller drums than one would considered standard. This term came about due to the fact that many popular drummers playing the "fusion" style of music, were incorporating these smaller drums in their set ups. The determining factor in classifying a kit as "fusion" on the marsmusic.com web site are that the kit includes a 10" and a 12" mounted tom and a 14" suspended floor tom. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but this will start you in the right direction.

What is a 6 Piece Kit? When referring to a drum kit, the word "piece" usually implies the number of drums that make up the kit. For example, a six-piece drum kit would consist of six drums. Most drum kits include additional hardware that is not "counted" in the number of pieces, so you usually get more than you think when you buy a kit. A standard six-piece kit would consist of (1) bass drum, (1) snare drum, (2) mounted toms and (2) floor toms. The size of each can vary so be sure you get the measurements before you make your decision.

What is a BeBop Kit? A Bebop drum set is generally a drum set that is either a 4 Piece or 5 Piece Set-up with Drums that are smaller is size than it's Standard Size Drum Counter-Part. Typically the BeBop kit will have a smaller 18" bass drum with an 8", 10" or 10", 12" mounted toms and a 14" floor or suspended floor tom. The toms may vary in depth, but tend to be on the shallow side. The snare drum may vary from 12", 13" or 14" diameters. These kits are typically used for smaller jazz, stage, or BeBop bands and are preferred for their smaller size. This allows for higher tenor pitches and the set's small size allows it to be more portable and compact for smaller rooms and stages.

What is a Drum Set Add-On? Drum set add-ons are drums that you can add to your existing drum set to expand your current set-up. Drum set add-ons can include extra mounted toms and floor-toms, extra bass drums, and even side snares. Some of the most popular of these is the 8" and 10" add-on toms. Extra bass drums are the next most popular because they allow the drummer to expand his single bass drum set to a double bass drum set. Roto-Toms are another popular add-on because they are a way of adding three (3) toms in an economical and space-saving way. Add-ons are a popular gift request for many drummers.

What is a Junior Kit? A junior kit, is typically a ¾ scale sized drum set that is built with the same features as a full-size drum set. Ideal for the young player, these small sets will get your little drummer on the right track.

What is a Drum Machine? A drum machine is a programmable unit that contains actual or simulated drum sounds. These sounds cover virtually all the sounds of all the percussion instruments and in many cases whimsical sounds like barking dogs and car horns. Most of these machines can be programmed for loop patterns or for complete songs, and most can even be programmed for an entire night's performance. The drum machine also provides "click-track" and metronome features to aid with both practice and performance. Drum machines feature a line out for initiating the start of the machine via a "hit" pad or a foot pedal. Many drum machines feature midi capability, so that the drum machine sounds can be triggered using "triggers" attached to your acoustic drums or by running your electronic drums though the unit. Another great feature of some units is their ability to have the pitch of all the sounds fluctuate so that they can be in tune with the music. One of the greatest developments is the use of the drum machine with many of the new personal computer virtual studio programs. This allows the user to record drum set patches without the set-up, miking, and sound control problems often faced with studio drumming. The greatest thing about drum machines today….you do not need a P.H.D. to operate them. A drum machine is a great addition to any drummers set-up and can help take your playing to the next level!!

What are Drum Microphones? Drum microphones are microphones that are specifically designed and equalized for the broad sound spectrum and high sound pressure levels drums produce. The microphones have specially designed "diaphragms" that can more accurately replicate the sound that each drum produces. Many of these microphones are miniature in size and feature special clamps or clips to allow them to be attached to the drums with ease, saving the need for microphone stands. There are two types of microphones that are generally used on drums, dynamic and condenser. Dynamic mics work well on the snare, tom and bass drum while condensers are more often used as overheads for the cymbals. Budget and sound will most likely dictate which mics are right for you.

What is a Drumhead? The drumhead is the resonant membrane made of either natural skin or synthetic Mylar that provides the playing surface and resonant side for the drum. The batter drumhead is the head that is on the playing side of the drum. The bottom head is referred to as the resonant head (or in the case of the snare drum, the snare side head). There are many different styles of drumheads for as many different percussion instruments. Drumheads come in different diameters to suit the many different sized drums. You will find that there are single-ply (a single sheet of Mylar), double-ply (two sheets of Mylar), oil-filled (oil suspended between the two pieces of Mylar) and stretched natural animal skin. Coated heads offer a texturized surface that works well with brushes and helps to eliminate overtones.

What is a Single-Ply Head? The single-ply drumhead is a drumhead that is a single piece of Mylar (usually .5 or 7.5 or 10 mil.) that is formed and mounted on an aluminum or resin collar-ring. Usually the single-ply head provides a brighter tone with more overtones, unless coated (a light stipple finish that is sprayed onto the playing surface) which provide a more mid-range tone. The single-ply heads thickness ranges from super-thin, to medium weight and are ideal for extra-light to general-purpose use.

What is a Double-Ply Head? A double-ply head consists of a double thickness of Mylar (2 plies of 7 mil or a total of 14mil.) that is formed and mounted on an aluminum or resin collar-ring. The second layer of Mylar adds strength and durability while effectively muting unwanted overtones. The double-ply head is preferred by the drummer that is looking for a sound that is somewhat muted without having to use external or internal muffling devices. The double-ply head is great both in the studio and live. Preferred by pop and rock players, these heavyweight heads can handle a lot of abuse.

What is a Pinstripe drumhead? The Pinstripe drumhead is actually a double-ply head with a specially applied adhesive at the edge, and a pinstripe molded into the Mylar. These heads appear to have oil suspended between the plies, but this is actually an optical illusion created by prismatic refraction of the light passing through the two Mylar layers. The Pinstripe head has a sound that is even more muted than that of the regular double-ply head. This head is most preferred by those looking for that "wet", dark sound from their drums.

Why do most snare drums have a coated head? Also known as the brush coat, this coating (usually white) was first applied to provide the "drag" or roughness needed for the sound created when brushes are used. The coating is sprayed-on to create a slight "Stipple" finish. This coating also helps to eliminate unwanted overtones. Most often found on the snare drum, coated heads will work equally well on all of the drums. Don't be afraid to experiment with your drumhead selection, you may stumble upon a completely new sound!

Some Drumheads are white, some clear, and some black. Is there a difference? There are many factors that determine how a drumhead will sound. Whether or not the manufacturer intended for a black head to sound different from a clear head of the same thickness and diameter, my experience indicates that they do indeed sound different. If you were to compare a clear 10" ambassador and an Ebony 10" ambassador on the same drum, I think the Ebony head has a slightly darker tone with a little less ring. Evans makes a series of "Hydraulic" heads that come in blue, black and clear. Again, each one sounds a little different. Of course coating a drumhead will effect the sound as well. Many drummers will use a head with some color on the resonant side of their drums just for the visual effect. Trial and error is the only truly effective way to determine the head combination that will work best for you.

What is an electronic drum kit? Electronic drum kits are a drum set comprised of electronic drum pads instead of acoustic drums. These drum pads are built to respond like an acoustic drum and usually feature a real or simulated drumhead. Underneath the "head" of the pad is an electronic trigger (or impact sensor). This trigger senses the amount of force applied and reacts dynamically, just like an acoustic drum. The impact "triggers" a computer sound module to play the voice selected for that pad. These "sounds" can range from electronically created effects to "sampled" sounds of actual drums. Today's electronic drum kits offer drummers the ability to compose and play complete compositions right from the drum kit. Their compact size, along with the ability to control the overall volume output makes electronic drums ideal for small venues. Equipped with a built in metronome, play along song tracks and auxiliary inputs for cd players, makes the electronic drum set the ultimate practice kit as well. Welcome to the new Millennium. Welcome to the world of electronic percussion.

Can I combine electronic drums with my acoustic drum set? Absolutely! Integrating electronic drums into your acoustic set-up actually gives you the best of both worlds. You will want to make sure that the interface (sound module) that you choose will allow you "trigger" off of acoustic drums. The Yamaha DTX sound module (available at marsmusic.com) will accommodate acoustic triggers. The great thing about triggering your acoustic drums is that you can assign sounds like congas, vibes, or trumpets to any drum on your kit. Talk about the ultimate snare sound, you can layer five different snare drum sound to trigger off of your existing snare. Look out Journey ballad! Also, you can have access to hundreds of different drum sounds, which can allow you to better emulate cover songs.

What is the difference between an electronic drum pad and a practice pad? Quite a bit! A practice pad is a fairly simple device designed to give you a surface to practice on without making to much noise. Practice pads come in many sizes and materials. Most practice pads, rather that trying to simulate the feel of an acoustic drum are designed to give you either maximum or minimum rebound, allowing you to develop different techniques.

An electronic drum pad is a device used to "trigger" a sound module. Electronic drum pads come in many different shapes and sizes as well. Generally, electronic pads do try to emulate the feel of an acoustic drum. If possible, try to match the manufacturer of your interface (sound module) to that of the pad you would like to add. Some pads have a single trigger while others have multiple triggers. A pad with multiple triggers can allow you to play two different sounds on the same pad (one in the center of the drum and one on the rim). Also cymbal "choke" effects can be achieved by actually grabbing the cymbal. Of course much of this has to do with the interface you are using. Most electronic pads produce no sound at all without an interface.

What is ethnic and hand percussion? If you will pardon the pun, the terms ethnic and hand percussion go "hand in hand". The two terms are interchangeable. Hand percussion of course refers to percussion instruments designed to be struck by the hand. There are many different types of hand percussion instruments including ashinkos, asongas, cowbells, and agogo bells, wood and temple blocks, bodhran, bongos, cabasa, wind chimes, claves, congas, djembe, dumbeks and doumbek, frame drums, guiro, maracas, ocean drums, rain sticks, shakers and special effect items. This is but a small example of the incredible variety of hand percussion instruments available, each with its own unique sound and playing style. Check out the ethnic and world percussion area at marsmusic.com to learn more.

What are congas? Specifically, Conga is the name given to a specific sized hand drum with a head diameter of (11 ¾"), but the term Conga is traditionally associated with a pair of drums consisting of (1) Conga and either (1) Quinto drum or (1) Tumba drum. The Quinto drum is (11") in diameter, the Conga drum is (11 ¾"), and the Tumba-or Tumbadora is (12 ½"). Some companies offer an additional drum known as the ReQuinto (9 ¾"). Congas originated in West Africa, but the version that you see today is based totally on Cuban design. The common height for the Congas are 28"-30" tall. They feature natural animal-skin heads and are played with the hand! Congas can be played while sitting or standing and are designed for both. There are Conga stands and cradles as well as Conga feet and each is designed for different playing positions.

What is the anatomy of the Conga? The typical Conga starts with the shell. The Shell is usually wooden, but there are fiberglass models as well. At the top of the shell is the head (or skin as it is sometimes called). The rim or crown holds the head in place and is used to tune the drum. The rim may be a chrome or raw metal ring. Lugs or tension-hooks hold the Rim to the drum, they are also the devices used to apply tension to tune the drum. The lugs pass through a tension plate that is attached to the side of the drum. Below the opening in the tension plate is a tension-nut that is attached to the lug or tension-hook. The tension-nut is what is actually tightened applying reverse pressure against the tension-plate and provides the tuning for the head. There is usually a stand mounting bracket, which holds the drum to a stand. There will usually be a logo badge on the drum that identifies the manufacturer. Finally, there is usually a rubber base ring at the bottom of the drum for those that like to play seated.

How is the Wooden Conga Made? Typically wooden congas are produced using North American Oak or Thailand Plantation Grown Siam Oak. The tree is harvested and allowed to dry (or Cure). The tree is then sliced into identical wooden slats called staves. These are allowed to further cure. The staves are precision cut on custom machines that cut compound miter joints and then are glued and placed in shaping molds. This process is much like the process used to manufacture barrels. Most manufacturers use steel pins between the staves to bolster reinforcement and strength to the shell. Once the glued forms are dry, they are removed from the molds and allowed to cure even more. After they have cured, the raw forms are turned and shaped into the smooth surface that makes the Conga shell. Multiple coats of a finish are applied to the shell inside and out. The inside finish is to prevent moisture absorption and the outside is buffed to a beautiful finish!

How do I tune Congas? Let's first establish that tuning is very much a matter of opinion. Your goal should be to achieve maximum tonal resonance for each drum. Using your ears to guide you, start with the lugs completely loosened to the point that the drum is incapable of producing a tone when struck. Finger-tighten all of the lugs, using lug oil on the lug if needed. Once all of the lugs are finger tight, identify a starting lug. Start with that lug and tighten ½ turn with the wrench. Moving clockwise tighten around the drum with those ½ turns until the specific pitch desired for that drum is achieved. Remember these basic pitch parameters: Quinto/smallest drum = highest pitch, Conga/medium drum = middle range pitch and Tumba/largest drum = lowest pitch. When tuning to pitches, start with middle C and tune your Conga (middle drum) to C. Tune the other drums to a 4-step interval (intervals of a 4th) up or down depending on the drum. An easy way to remember this is to sing the Wedding March, "Here comes the bride." Make "here" the Tumba tone and "comes" the Conga tone. This interval is a 4th.

What are Bongos? The Bongos originated in West Africa, but the shape and instrument that we know today is strictly an evolution of the West African that developed in Cuba. Bongos are traditionally played in pairs and were originally designed to be played supported between the knees. Most modern percussionists play standing, so Bongo stands are a popular accessory. The smaller Bongo is called the "Macho" meaning male and is usually a 7 ¼" drum. The larger Bongo is called the "Hembra" meaning female and is usually a 8 5/8" drum. There are some manufacturers that produce a slightly larger 9" drum for those seeking a deeper voice and there is also a smaller drum produced as well.

What is the anatomy of the Bongo? Start with the shell. Most Bongos have wooden shells, but some are produced with fiberglass. At the top of the shell is the head or skin, then the rim or crown which holds the head. The rim may be a chrome or raw metal ring. Lugs or tension-hooks hold the rim to the drum, which are also the devices tensioned to tune the drum. The lugs pass through a bottom edge ring at the base of the drum. The ring at the bottom of the drum is usually a cast piece with holes in it. Below the opening in the bottom edge ring is a tension-nut that is attached to the lug or tension-hook. The tension-nut is what is actually tightened applying reverse pressure against the bottom edge ring and provides the tuning for the head. Instead of a stand mounting bracket, the Bongos are usually attached using a tension strap or a bolt passed through the piece of wood that attaches the two Bongos, which is known as the bridge. The hold the Bongos to a Bongo stand. There will usually be a logo badge on the Drum that identifies the manufacturer.

What are percussion accessories? Percussion accessories are any percussion item that is used to accessorize your percussion set-up. Percussion accessory items may include, but not be limited to: cases and bags, claws-clamps-mounts and brackets, Conga and Bongo parts, replacement heads, percussion stands and percussion tables.

What is drum hardware? Drum hardware is any device that is used to support, hold, suspend, or in any some cases, makes playable a percussion instrument. Drum hardware can include: tripod-based cymbal, tom, snare, hi-hat or multi-percussion stands, as well as, racks, percussion tables, mounts, cymbal and tom arms, bass drum pedals, and cradles.

What is a snare basket? A snare basket is the three-arm (usually collapsible) basket that supports the snare drum on top of the stand. This basket is usually designed to tighten up to the base of the snare drum's bottom rim. Usually this allows the basket to accept different sized snare drums easily. There are specially designed baskets that have a different shape to compensate for the use of a smaller sized snare drum.

What are drum accessories? Drum accessories are any drum items that are used to accessorize your drum set. These items may include but not be limited to: books, videos, polish, snare cord, cases, bags, stick depots, floor mats, cymbal springs, drum gloves, decals, clutches, arms, cymbal stackers, drum keys, floor tom legs, multi-clamps, pedal straps, springs, hinges, snare wires, tension rods, swivel nuts, tom arms, cymbal felts, washers, sleeves, wing nuts, bass drum beaters, metronomes, muffling devices, practice pads, special holders and tuners.

What is a Mallet? A mallet, much like the drum stick, is a tool for playing a drum or percussion instrument. The distinguishing difference is that a mallet has a "head" on the end of it. The handles on mallets can range from drum stick shaped to a thin piece of rattan or fiberglass. For every percussion instrument, there are many choice of mallets to play that instrument. Mallet "heads" can range from lambs wool fleece to hard phenolic balls. Most instruments have a range of mallets that are designed to provide anything from a soft, light-attack sound to a hard, heavy attack sound.

What are the different kinds of mallets? There are so many mallet categories. Here Goes: Percussion KeyBoard Mallets: These aremallets that are specifically designed for use with the percussion keyboard mallet instruments. They are: Orchestra bell mallets: These mallets are made specifically for use on orchestra bells. They range from hard brass to hard phenolic plastic headed. The handle material may be fiberglass, birch, or rattan. Chime mallets: These mallets are designed for use specifically with chimes. They are usually made of a wooden handle with a rawhide hammerhead. Vibraphone mallets: There are many different mallets for use on the Vibraphone. Since the Vibraphone is made of metal bars and has a vibrato generator, the mallets are designed to provide nice attack, but to bring out the ultimate resonance feature of the bars. The head types range from cord wound to yarn wound and may be round or mushroom in shape. The handle material may be fiberglass (usually for marching), birch or rattan handles. Vibe mallets are typically shorter than other keyboard mallets to allow for more speed. Xylophone mallets: The Xylophone has dense rosewood bars and typically is called on to produce a rich-woody sound. You will find many different mallet types available for the Xylophone. For softer sounds, Marimba mallets can be used as a crossover mallet. For more mellow tones there are soft, medium-soft, medium, and hard rubber heads. For a more "brittle" or "dancing bones" sound, there are rosewood heads. The shapes of the heads are usually round or oval. The handle material may be fiberglass (usually for marching), birch, or rattan. Marimba mallets: The Marimba is a beautiful instrument that is called on in different musical styles for different sounds. The bars are usually rosewood and require that you use the correct mallets on them. You will usually find softer and "rounder" tones are the typical assignment for the Marimba. The mallet heads can be extra-soft-core, soft-core, medium-core and hard-core-yarn, as well as, extra-soft, soft, medium, and hard rubber. The head can be round, oval and can range in size from small to extra-large (for big bass tones). The handle material may be fiberglass (usually for marching), birch or rattan.

Percussion Instrument Mallets: These are Mallets that are Specifically designed for use with all the various Percussion Instruments used today. They Are: Multi-percussion mallets: These mallets are for cross-over work especially when you are covering multiple percussion parts. That may range from work in the percussion ensemble, concert/symphonic, or drum corps pit work. These are usually regular medium sized drumsticks with a medium-felt head on the butt end of the stick. They can be used to cover suspended cymbal rolls, tenor-tom work, or even timpani work. Suspended cymbal mallets: There are mallets that are specifically made for suspended cymbal use. These mallets are usually a birch wooden shaft with a yarn wound head with densities ranging from soft, medium and hard. Some percussionist use keyboard mallets for this purpose as well, usually a medium-weight Marimba mallet. There are also mallets with small round wood heads for bright cymbal rolls. Gong mallets: Gong mallets include many different sizes because there are many different size gongs. Most gong mallets are fleece covered felt or rubber cores. Typically the larger round mallets are for large Gongs, Tam-Tams, and Nipple Gongs. The small Gongs, Gamelons, and Tuned Gongs use a fleeced covered mallet with a core in the shape of a "hockey-puck". There are some companies that offer a Gong mallet that resembles a large cord or yarn wound keyboard mallet. The handle shaft material is usually maple. Remember to softly prime a Gong before striking it! Timpani mallets: Timpani mallets are designed specifically for use with the Timpani. Typically, Timpani mallets should avoid being used on other instruments. Timpani mallets include wood heads for hard, loud attacks, hard-small-tight felt heads for staccato use, medium felt for general purpose use, soft medium for softer general use, and large fluffy-soft felt for very large legato notes. The handle material can be rock maple, hickory, or bamboo. These mallets usually come in plastic pouches, in which they should be stored for extra protection. Avoid handling the ends of felt Timpani mallets as the oil on your hands can cause damage over time. Never allow the felt to get wet. Synthetic felt models are available for marching applications. Bass drum mallets: Bass drum mallets are mallets that are specifically designed for use with the bass drum. They range from large and medium sized fleece covered mallets for larger concert bass drums. Usually a larger fleece covered or soft felt mallet for singular use and medium fleece covered of soft felt mallets for rolls for parts where more notes or faster tempos are in effect. There are bass drum mallets that feature a head on both ends of the mallet for bass drum rolls. There are even specialty bass drum mallet lines that include multiple density heads for soft, general, and hard impact use. There are also two complete types of marching bass drum mallets. The hard felt mallets come in graduated sizes to coincide with the graduated bass drum sizes used as well as graduated sizes in a "fluffies" or "puffies" which are extra soft fleece heads. The handle materials for bass drum mallets can be maple, hickory, or treated dense wood composite and aluminum. Make sure you are buying the correct bass drum mallet for the correct application. Marching Multi-Tenor mallets: Marching Multi-Tenor mallets are designed specifically for field use on Multi-Tenors. The heads on these mallets can be wood, acrylic, hard felt, extra-soft felt ("fluffies) or rubber. They can be round heads or cylindrical heads (called "cookies"). The handle material can be maple, fiberglass, synthetic dense wood, or aluminum. You may find multi-tenor players with several different mallets in their "quill", all for different dynamics or musical effects.

What is a snare drum? Snare drums come in types and varieties. In general terms a snare drum is a drum that is typically shallower than the toms and has a precision cut "snare-bed" in the bottom bearing edge. Snare drums come in wood shell and metal shell drums. The drum has a special device on the side called the "throw-off" which allows the user to actuate the snare sound, thus allowing the drum to switch between that of the tom sound and snare sound. The snare is a grouping of spiral wires that are stretched across the bottom head and the throw-off allows the tension of the snares to be adjusted for a "tighter" or "looser" snare sound. The snare drum is the drum that is generally used to provide the "back-beat" of the music. Snare drums usually become the drummer's "babies" and the drummer will have several of them, many times customizing the drum.

What is a metal shell snare drum? Metal snare drums are available in many different kinds of metal. Usually a steel Shell is the most popular of the metal shells. Other popular metal shell choices are brass and copper. Steel is the most powerful and cutting of these, with brass and copper providing a warmer, darker sound. Metal shells will, however, be brighter sounding than their wood counter-part. Metal shells are "rolled" from a single sheet of metal with a "hidden" seam. There are some custom manufactured metal snare drums that are lathed from a solid piece of metal. In metal shell snare drums, the snare bed is "pressed" into the bearing edge.

What is a wood shell snare drum? Wood shell snare drums are available in many different kinds of woods and many different numbers of plies. The most popular wood choice is maple. Maple provides a much stronger "cracking" sound and a more pronounced projection. Another popular wood choice is birch. Birch provides a warmer more mellow sound, usually preferred for studio application. Most wood snare drums are fabricated from wood plies, some are "solid-shell" drums, which is a drum shell "bent" from a solid piece of wood. The snare bed is routed in the bottom of the drums bearing edge to allow the snare to vibrate or "float" to provide vibration of the snare wires.


Drumset - A collection of different percussion instruments including but not limited to bass drum, operated with a foot pedal, snare drum, cymbals, and toms. It is generally meant to be played by one person, although at times can be played by more than one.

I'm looking to get into playing drumset. What should I buy?


Q: What should I look for when buying my first drumset?

A:New beginner sets these days are generally decent if you are in the $800+ range, drums only. Used sets go for varying money depending on the condition and general quality, if the seller knows what he has. Always check bearing edges, shell roundness, head seating, shell damage, and hardware damage such as pitting or rust completely before buying, especially on used drums. There are many books available to educate you about older and vintage drums. RMMP is always a good source for the current best buys on quality beginner sets.

Q: What if I can't afford a drumset? Will a practice pad or just a snare drum be OK to start?

A: Using one drum to build coordination with your hands at first is a good idea. If you already can play a simple beat on a friend’s drumset, this may not be satisfying, and for not much more than the cost of a student snare kit, you can buy a fairly decent used drumset if you look. Eventually you will have to make the decision to buy a drumset.

Q: Who are some major makers of drumsets? How much does their equipment cost? How can I get in touch with a particular manufacturer?

A: Companies that make their own drums include two categories; assembly line mass produced drums and custom hand made drum companies. Major manufacturers at this writing include Ludwig, Slingerland, Pearl, Yamaha, Tama, Premier, Sonor, and Gretsch. There are many more, and for the most part the former are mass producers to a great degree, and most make student quality drums.

Handmade drums include Spaun, Kenner, Fibes, J&J, and Baltimore Drum companies. At this writing there are probably hundreds of independent makers of drums. Retail cost of a drumset including hardware and four drums ranges from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Most all these companies have some form of contact available over the web. Use a search engine to find them such as http://www.lycos.com.

Standard drum diameters of a five piece set are 22" bass drum, 12" and 13" mounted, or rack toms, and a 16" floor tom. A jazz kit would be 20-10-12-14.

Snares Snares are the main part of any drum kit, as they tend to be the most recognizable sound of a kit. Think of Kenny Aronoff’s snare sound for a very famous example. Snare drums are available in a very wide variety of sizes and are made from a very wide variety of materials. One drum company recently made a snare out of cymbal metal! A snare is identified by the raspy sound it makes, caused by a bed of wires stretched across the bottom of the drum. The bottom head is usually very thin, to bring out this raspy quality. The wires can be turned on or off via a lever of varying mechanics, resulting is a tom like sound when turned off. Sizes of snares range from diameters of 6" to 16" and depths from 2" to 12". Standard sizes these days are generally 13 or 14 inches in diameter, and 3 to 8 inches in depth. You may also encounter 5.5 and 6.5 inch deep snare drums. Piccolo snares are 3 or 4 inches deep, and 13 or 14 inches across. Snare shells are made from all types of wood. Metal shell snares are made from alloys like steel, carbon fiber, and brass, bronze, copper, and aluminum. It usually takes many years of experience and searching to find your sound. Good luck!

Q: Why does my snare drum rattle or buzz when I hit my toms, or from the bass guitar?

A: This type of rattle is called sympathetic vibration. It is caused when the snares (metal strands on bottom) vibrate or resonate in harmony with the same frequencies produced by the toms or bass guitar, or similar sound source. It can be reduced by changing the tension on the toms, snare or both, and by dampening either. It never goes away entirely, and can be heard on many professional recordings. It is a character of your drums, since they are acoustic instruments, and should be regarded as such. This rattle is generally not noticeable in a live sound situation, such as a concert or show. It the snare rattles when you strike the snare drum, please reference the Tuning section of this FAQ.

Toms Toms are the smaller drums of the drumset, generally mounted on the bass drum. Floor toms are set on the floor by using small legs to support them. Toms can also be hung from a heavy cymbal or floor stand. The range in sizes from 6" to 20", with specialty drums as large as 22". A Tama Gong Bass is a good example of a specialty large tom. The depths of toms also vary. A 12" diameter tom is traditionally 8" deep, but can be shallower or deeper depending on how they are ordered. Deeper shells sound, well, deeper and more powerful, and are generally the choice for louder players. Many sets come standard with deep shells. Single headed toms are called melodic or concert toms. Melodic toms have a pronounced attack, a shorter sound, and seem louder than double headed drums. They were very popular in the seventies. Double headed toms are the most popular now, and were the toms of choice during the 40's-late 60's. They are also more difficult to tension, or tune.

Bass drums - for purposes of the FAQ, the largest of drumset items will be call the bass drum. Bass is pronounced like base. It is commonly referred to as 'kick drum' or simply 'kick', especially in the rec.pro.audio arena, so as not to confuse it with bass guitar during mixing, recording, etc. They are usually played using a pedal, and are set on their side on the floor. Set bass drums range in size from 16" to as big as you can deal with in terms of loudness, transportation and cost. Depths range from 14" to again, as deep as you can handle and afford. Traditional bass drum sizes are 14X22", 14X20", and 14X18". Power bass drum depth is usually around 16". Please refer to the muffling section on how to achieve sounds from a bass drum.

Orchestral by Dan Radin The orchestral percussion section can be called upon to play anything and everything to produce the sound in the composer's mind. It's not uncommon to see outlandish instruments such as "Starter Pistol", or "Pots and Pans" notated in parts. Essentially, the classical percussionist adds color and texture to the group.


Xylophone - commonly a 3 ½ octave instrument. Bars made of Rosewood (superior sound quality) or Kelon (stands up to wet weather and high volumes). Produces a dry, clean note. Played with plastic or rubber mallets.

Marimba - similar to a Xylophone, but more resonant, larger range (up to and including 5 octaves), and graduated bars. Has longer resonators, (tubes under the bars), than the Xylophone. Played with yarn or cord, rubber mallets.

Vibraphone - same design as a xylophone, with 3 ½ octaves, but with brass bars. As brass is far livelier than Rosewood, they have a felt damper running along each bar from below. The felt can be engaged or disengage, as on a piano, with a pedal. Often has a motor, which turns rotating discs in the resonators for a vibrato effect. More commonly found in jazz than classical music. Played with yarn, cord, or rubber mallets. The same instrument without the motor/disc assembly is called a Metallaphone.

Bells - smaller 2 ½ octave instrument. Has thin steel or aluminum bars, which produce a clear, bright sound. Often referred to as "Glockenspiel", the German name for the instrument. Played with plastic or brass mallets.

Tubular Chimes - tall (6') tubes, capped at one end, made of metal, held in a stand lengthwise, upright. 2 ½ octaves is the standard. As on the vibraphone, it has a damper pedal system. Played with rawhide or plastic mallets that look like hammers.

Timpani (kettledrums) - played in groups of 2-5 individual timpano, Sizes vary, but the common ones are 20", 23", 26", 29", and 32". Copper or less commonly fiberglass bowls with a head stretched across the top. A pedal system is implemented for tuning each drum. Timpani are tuned to actual notes in the bass scale. Some have tuning gauges so that the player can estimate the interval between notes pedaled. The pedal pulls down on the counterhoop, thus increasing the tension on the head, and raising the pitch. Often played on a stool, but on occasion, standing. Calf heads are preferred for warmth of tone, but synthetic is most common. Played with felt mallets in varying designs and hardness, as well as wooden mallets.

Snares - classical and orchestral snare drums do not differ drastically from their drumset counterparts. The major differences are in the features. Shells can be made of a wide variety of materials, depending the sound required. Those include woods (maple, birch, mahogany), and metals (brass, bronze, stainless steel, copper). Sizes vary drastically, from 3" to 12" in depth, and 10" through 17" in head diameter. Die cast hoops are common. They produce a drier sound, and assist in keeping even tunings. Snares are usually combinations of stainless steel cable (coated with plastic), gut, and curly wire (as on drumset snare drums). The different snare materials help to fine tune the resonance and control that attack. Some manufacturers offer systems with multiple types of snares combined for one drum. Heads are generally thin, and minimally dampened where necessary. Played mostly with wooden sticks, wire brushes or are also commonly played with bunches of twigs, called a Rute.

Bass drum - much like the drumset counterpart, the concert bass drum consists of a large wooden shell, with two heads stretched across the openings. The best bass drums are suspended by a stand with rubber straps, which allows the drum to tilt to accommodate the player, and isolates the shell for maximum resonance. Common sizes are around 36", but can be purchased between 28" and 40". Most orchestras use calfskin heads on their bass drums. The drum is played with felt or wooden mallets.


a.. Suspended - thin to medium weight cymbals, usually with a dark tone. Played on a stand, either as on the drumset, or suspended from a strap on a gooseneck stand. Sizes vary from 15" to 20". Played with soft mallets, wooden sticks, brushes, coins, and at times bowed with a bass bow.

Hand Cymbals - paired cymbals, held in the hands with straps. The cymbals are played in a "clashing" fashion to produce a ringing, sustaining sound. Thin cymbals are generally referred to as "French", mediums as "Viennese", and heavier cymbals as "Germanic". Sizes range from 13" to 24", with 18" Viennese as the most commonly used. Many effects other than the crash can be produce, depending on the desired sound. A choke is produced by clashing the cymbals together, then immediately dampening them to your breast.

Gongs, Tam Tams - the dark, sonorous sound of the gong can be heard in many orchestral works. Actually, what you may think of as a gong, is in actually a tam tam. A true gong is a smaller sized instrument, with a raised nipple in the center with a fixed pitch. Tam Tams are typically larger, and do not produce a musical pitch. Gongs can range around the 14" to 20" sizes, and tam tams are usually from 30" to 50". Different cultures, such a the different parts of Asia, produce different sounding cymbals, sounds, and effects. More can be learned about this topic at http://www.paiste.com , http://www.sabian.com , and http://www.zildjian.com .

Finger Cymbals - small, thick, 3" pairs of cymbals which are played against each others edges to produce a bright, cutting sound.

Crotales - sets of pitched cymbal-like instruments set up in keyboard fashion. Each 4" crotale is like a thick cymbal with a raised nipple on the bottom.

Triangle - a fittingly triangular instrument with an open corner. Made of metal, they can very radically in size and thickness. Played with brass and steel beaters in varying thickness.

Tambourine - 10" and 12" shallow wooden shells with cutouts for metal (chromium 25, nickel, silver, brass, bronze, copper) jingles to be inserted with pins. A head (goat or calfskin) is stretched across the top. It is played using many different techniques. Check out http://www.groverpro.com/techtalk.htm for more information.

Concert Toms - single headed drums played in sets of 2 to 8 or more. Sizes range from 6" to 18", and shells are made of wood. Played with wooden sticks, felt or yarn mallets, or other implements.

Other common items - percussionists carry a wide variety of equipment. A list of the most common follows. Castanets, woodblock, temple blocks, ratchets, whistles, ribbon crashers, cowbells, timbales, congas, bongos, claves, windchimes, and handbells.

C. Cymbals

Q: What’s the best cymbal cleaner?

A: Over a long period of time the two most widely recommended cleaners are Groove Juice, a spray on, scrub, rinse off cleaner, and Wright’s Copper Cream, requiring a bit more elbow grease. Both work very well, but there are many other cleaners and compounds available at your local music store and at your grocer as well.




Snare drum




Isolation systems

E. Implements


2. Mallets



IV. Drumheads




Tuning See http://people.mn.mediaone.net/sjmills/drum-tuning.html .




Double headed

Bass drum


b. Drumset


E. Muffling/achieving sounds by Lyle Caldwell

This is one of the areas where tempers flare. People tend to fall into various well-defended camps on this issue, so in the interest of fairness, the writer will try to provide the arguments on each side of the issue.

First, what is drum muffling? In short, drum muffling is affixing some material or substance to the shell or head of a drum, with the result being a change in the drum's duration, timbre, and/or volume. Common examples range from pillows in bass drums to duct tape on toms. We'll describe the various methods later in detail. At this point I'd like to suggest that rather than calling it "muffling," we should call it "Drum Treatment," as true muffling is only one of the objectives at hand.

Should I treat my drums?

Here's the problem area. We'll first explain the situations where Treatment is a commonly suggested remedy, before subdividing into the "Yes" and "Hell No" groups. This writer is firmly in the "Maybe, It Depends" camp.

The toms ring out too long. This can be problematic in a situation where the drums are being recorded or amplified with microphones. More on this later.

The snare rings out, or is "boingy" or metallic. This can also be a problem, mic'd or unmic'd. There is also the school of thought holds that what might sound bad to the drummer sounds great from the audience's perspective. Again, this will be addressed in more detail later.

The bass drum rings out, or is too boomy, or is in anyway unsatisfactory. Even drummers who believe that toms and snares should be unTreated often use some form of Treatment on the bass drum. Once again, stay tuned for more on this.

While less common, often drummers Treat their cymbals as well, to change the sound, decay, and even pitch of their drums. This can range from tape to rivets. This too will be addressed in more depth later.

Drums are too loud. This is especially obvious to the neighbors of apartment-dwelling drummers. This can be separate from the aesthetic debate as to Drum Treatment, as it is often unarguably necessary, but there are situations where it may not be a good idea. And yes, we'll get to this one, too.

Drum Tuning Before going any further, let me first reiterate how important it is to have well maintained and tuned drums. Please refer to the Tuning section of the FAQ for an in-depth discussion of this subject. Let me just say for now that Treatment is often used to disguise bad tuning or old heads, and unless it is truly your only option, this should be avoided. Make sure the drum is well tuned (to your liking) before any Treatment is added. One reason is that it can be impossible to tune a Treated drum, but the most compelling reason is that no one cares to polish a turd. It's a waste of time.

Let the Debate Begin! First, let's take a look at the reasons why you may want to Treat your drums. At any rate, you should be familiar with the various ways and reasons to Treat your drums, as you never know what playing environment you may find yourself in.

The Pros of Treatment

First, it can be a very valid aesthetic decision to Treat your drums. With Treatment, you can customize the sound, tone, pitch, and decay of your drums to your taste. That said, the drum head affects this decision process no end. A coated Evans G1 sounds very different from a Remo Pinstripe, so each head needs different approaches to Treatment. Refer to the section on Drum Heads in the FAQ for more information on this. Even if common problems with ringing, decay, overtones, etc. can be addressed by tuning and head selection, Treatment can also give you sounds unavailable with tuning alone.

Let's take a look at common ways to Treat drums. Tape It's not pretty, but if you're playing a gig and the sound person says your rack tom is booming out too much, duct tape (or electrical tape, or gaffer's tape) can be your best friend. In general, it is best to use more than one small piece of tape rather than one large one. This way you can gradually adjust the sound of each drum, rather than a hit-or-miss approach. The objective is to tape the drum so that the playing surface is unaffected by the tape. For a snare or tom with a diameter of 14" or less, often two small strips of tape (say, 3" long) are often all that is needed.

Try placing them directly opposite each other, but out of the way of the playing surface. Their distance from the rim of the drum affects the tonality and decay of the drum, and is therefore a very personal choice, but about 1" from the rim is a good starting point. It is also possible to tape the resonant head of a drum, but less tape is usually used, unless you just want a "thud" (which you may).


With experimentation in mind, here is a good tip when using tape: Say you want a 3" piece of tape on the drum head. Cut a 7" piece of tape, and fold it in the following manner: _/\_/\_ (forgive the art)

so that each section is 1" long. When it's folded and applied to the drum, you should have a 3" section of tape with two flat "handles" sticking up, like this:


Now if you change your mind about the tape placement, it's easy to grasp by the "handles" and move it around, without having to pry the edge of the tape off the drum head.


Next, let's look at O Rings (also called Zero rings, etc.). These are doughnut-shaped rings of mylar that come in various sizes to fit a wide variety of drums, and are available from many manufacturers. They can be very effective in reducing the ring from drums, and can give a snare an often desirable "dry" sound, with more pronounced low end. The only real difference is thickness and width, each of which affects the drum differently. They are quite inexpensive, so you can try a few to see which (if any) work for you. Most salespeople will be glad to show you different ones in the store. You can also make your own out of old drumheads. Just cut out the center and the outside hoop of a used head and there you go. A little experimentation with width is all you need.


This is an old standby, which is most commonly used on bass drums and, to a lesser extent, floor toms. Treatment with felt differs from other methods in that you apply the felt before you put on the drum head. With a bass drum, typically you would lay the drum down so that the side you are Treating is facing up. Lay two felt strips (thickness and width are up to you, but thin and narrow should suffice) across the opening, evenly spaced out, say running from 10 o'clock to 8 o'clock and from 2 o'clock to 4 o'clock. Now, while keeping the felts evenly tensioned (rather tight) across the opening, put the head and hoop on the bass drum, and tighten the lugs until they are all finger-tight. You may need to ask a friend to help you. Among those who advocate drum Treatment, there are two schools of thought on felts. Many feel that, while it works, there are better and easier ways to Treat a bass drum. Others feel that with the right head, this is the best way to go. As felt is inexpensive, give it a shot. You very well may love it.

Adjustable Pads

I used this term to differentiate between these adjustable mutes (typically felt) and the pads often used in bass drums (such as those made by DW and Evans). Adjustable pads are often found on older drum kits, and have their advocates today. These are devices where a mechanism on the outside of the drum adjusts a felt mute on the inside of the drum, often touching the bottom of the batter head by various adjustable amounts. These are also found on bass drums, typically on the resonant head. These pads offer ease of adjustment, even while playing, and can work wonderfully. You should be aware, however, that older adjustable pads that have not been well-maintained may rattle and ring sympathetically. As always, care and diligence can prevent this.

Pillows and Pads

This can be the custom pads mentioned above or an old pillow stuffed in the bass drum. Foam rubber and towels are often used, too. This approach deadens the bass drum and changes the perceived pitch of the drum as well. The amount and effect depend on the method and application, of course. To dangerously generalize, it is often advisable to only lightly touch the batter and resonant head, just to control the decay of the bass drum, unless you are after a very dead sounding bass drum (which you may be). Also very broadly, the area of the batter head where the Treatment contacts the head can vary the amount of low end and attack of a bass drum. It is a good idea to try a towel or a pillow to see if you like this sound (which depends of course on drum size and material, head choice and tuning, beater choice, and, sadly, the drummer). If you find that this sound appeals to you, then look into the products made for this purpose. But you may prefer the sound of an old pillow.

A word of caution: don't decide on Treatment based on what you hear while playing. Have a friend play your kit while you listen from various distances. This is always good advice while weighing Treatment options, but is especially important when it comes to bass drum Treatment. Control Drum Heads This includes double ply heads, "control ring" heads, "hydraulic" heads, and good old Pinstripes. While this is addressed in the Drum Head section of the FAQ, please bear in mind that these are Drum Treatments, albeit in disguise. If you like a slight bit of muffling as Treatment in your bass drum, a "control ring" head may give you the desired result without additional treatment. So if you go from a single ply coated batter head with a pillow to a clear "control ring" batter head, you may no longer need the pillow. Experiment as much as you can, and trust your ears, not an advertisement.

While bass drums are the most common recipients of "control" drum heads, they are also available for toms and snares. A Hole in Your Head Openings (or ports) in a bass drum resonant head are also forms of Treatment. Even if they are intended only for convenience in mic'ing, they do have a decided effect on the sound of the bass drum. A closed bass drum (no opening in the head) tends to have more resonance and sustain. It can have more low end, and particularly a low of low midrange frequencies, which can be an obstacle on stage or in the studio, as the bass drum can fight with the electric bass for room in the mix, even though it may sound phenomenal by itself. For that reason (as well as mic'ing convenience), very often a bass drum will have an opening of some sort. This is less common with smaller bass drums, such as an 18" diameter drum as is commonly used in Jazz. The closed bass drum sound is part of this style, and the smaller drums typically don't fight with the bass instrument as much.

In general, the smaller the opening, the more resonance the drum will have. An opening in the center of the drum may commonly have less low end and more beater attack than an off-center opening. This is a matter of personal choice, and you should listen to both before choosing. The trend in recent years among manufacturers is to put a small (typically 4"-6") off-center opening in their resonant heads. Ten years ago, pre-cut openings were typically larger and more centered. Today there is also a resurgence in closed heads. Again, a matter of personal preference.

Be aware that most drum stores will cut a head to your choice of size and placement. You can also do this yourself. Tip: get a coffee can or other metal can of an appropriate size, and heat it up over a stove (please take all necessary precautions so as not to burn yourself). When the can is hot, you can press it against the drum head and a hole the size of the can will quickly be seared into the head. Remove the can quickly and the hole should be smooth. You can purchase reinforcement rings to prevent the edge of the opening from being damaged if you choose, though this is often unnecessary.

Other Approaches There are many other valid ways to Treat your drums, often with whatever you have handy. Without attempting to list them all, here are two well-known sounds and how they were achieved: Ringo Starr's distinctive late '60s sound with The Beatles, on recordings Sgt. Pepper and Strawberry Fields Forever, was achieved (in part) by draping tea-towels on the snare and toms. For those that don't know, a tea-towel is about the same size and thickness as a dishtowel. Al Jackson Jr's snare sound on all the classic Stax and Al Green records was often achieved by placing his wallet on the snare. Tip: if you drop a few cotton balls in toms, they can cut the ring just the right amount without affecting the visual or playability of the toms. When the batter head is struck, the cotton balls lift off the resonant head briefly, then softly and naturally fall back and prevent the resonant head from ringing.

Cymbal Treatment This can range from rivets (a semipermanent change) to electrical tape. This affects the timbre, sustain, and pitch of cymbals. You can dry out a washy ride, shorten a crash, darken high hats, whatever. This one is really up to you. Tip: for a rivet sound on a budget, or when you don't want to modify a ride, get a length of fan and light chain (the little metal balls in a row) from a hardware store and drape a suitable length around the wingnut, so that it hangs down on the ride itself. It works pretty well.

The Cons of Treatment Ok, all of you who have been ranting and raving over the stuff and nonsense above, here's your turn. This section will address the common reasons not to treat your drums.

What's Wrong with Natural Drums? Not much. Ask Jim Keltner or Kenny Aronoff, who prefer the sound of unTreated (though incredibly well-tuned) drums. This is an especially cherished view in certain Jazz circles, as well. Many who hold this view believe that anyone who likes Treated drums has never played a really great set of drums with really great tuning. We're not going to touch that one. Instead, let's just say that natural, resonant drums do have a particular sound that is appropriate for many styles, and that might include you, no matter what style of music you play.

How Should One Approach Un-Treated Drums? At this point, it is important to note that unTreated drums will sound awful if they are not tuned well with heads in good condition. It is also important to remember that what the drummer hears is not necessarily what the audience hears. The tom ring and snare "boing" that sound horrible (or at least distracting) to the drummer may sound great (or inaudible) in the full context of the music from the audience's perspective. A dry, controlled snare that sounds good by itself may be weak and ineffective in the mix, while an open unTreated snare may add the perfect amount of character to the song.

Also remember that the audience doesn't hear a snare, a bass drum, a 17" crash cymbal, and a 15" high hat. The audience hears a drum kit as a whole, and the various drum sounds interact with each other, hopefully in a complementary way. Think of each drum being a voice in a choir. You don't hear a choir as a lot of individuals (not a good choir, anyway), but rather as a cohesive whole. With that approach, it is not only important to make sure each drum sounds good by itself, but also that the drums sound good together. While unTreated drums can make this a difficult goal to achieve, proponents of open drums claim that if this goal is reached without Treatment, it is the ultimate in expression and tone.

When Do Un-Treated Drums Sound Best? To a lot of people, all of the time. But let's be pragmatic for a moment. While moving your kit from gig to gig, with little if any soundcheck, some form of treatment may be necessary to ensure a consistent sound from night to night. Even if you would usually prefer an open (unTreated) sound, it might be best to Treat your drums when opening up for another band, without a reliable soundcheck.

The Studio The studio is a good place to let your open drums shine. The time it takes to tune an open kit can pay off in spades in the studio. The extra attention to detail really makes a difference. Just as many drummers will use coated single ply heads for studio and double ply clear heads for live, the studio is the time to get it right. This is assuming that you are the one responsible for the recorded drum sound. If you aren't the one paying for the session, you may have to play whatever drum sound the artist or producer demands. That said, if you know how to get a great open sound out of a kit, this sound can get you future jobs. Even if you aren't an unTreated drum fanatic, it is a good tool to have at your disposal.

Big Gigs When you have the time to get it right live, do so. If you can get a distinctive, natural sound live, that immediately separates you from the standard Treated drums people are used to hearing live. If the music calls for it, and you can do it, this is your time for you and your drums to shine.

Do I Have To Be A Fanatic? Not at all. Many drummers choose to blend the two approaches. For live shows, Billy Cobham has been playing a kit with open toms, an O ring on the snare, and ported resonant bass drum heads with pads in the bass drums. And no one complains much about his sound. For his recent acoustic albums, Cobham has played more open kits. And that's a wonderful sound, too.

This section of the FAQ isn't designed to prove one way or the other is the "right" way. Hopefully, though, the reader will come away from this section with a better understanding of the methods and reasoning behind each approach, and will be better able to apply these techniques in his or her future musical endeavors.

Turn It Down!

This last section is devoted to reducing the volume of the drum kit. For some reason, people seem to think drums are loud and annoying. Until the glorious revolution, it seems the landlords are still in control, so we need to be able to work around the volume "problem." Seriously, drums are exceedingly loud. Please see the Hearing Protection section of the FAQ for more information. There are many solutions available, from putting a towel over each drum (it helps a lot) to rubber practice pads to electronic drums that can be played through headphones.

Rudimentary Practice For rudimentary practice, a phone book and a pair of sticks may be all you need. There are also many different types of "real" practice pads available that offers different playing surface, feels, and volumes. You can even glue a mousepad to a piece of plywood for an inexpensive, functional practice pad. Many instructors advocate playing on a pillow, which, due to the lack of bounce-back, helps build strength and speed. The pillow is also almost silent.

Full Kit Over the years, there have been many models of practice kits available. These are typically rubber or rubber-covered wood pads arranged in a kit-like configuration (many of which are adjustable to fit the drummer's needs). You can also purchase rubber pads for your drums (available in many sizes) that fit over your acoustic drums and cymbals that reduce the volume immensely. They also affect the playing feel, which can be problematic for your wrists. Consult a teacher or doctor, but they're usually safe. Again, you can cut neoprene sheets to fit your drums if you want to save money.

Electronic kits are another option, though comparatively expensive. See the Electronics section of the FAQ for more detail. The two leading fully-electronic kits at the time of this writing are the dDrum and Roland kits. Both offer very realistic playing surfaces and sounds, at the acoustic level of a set of phone books, complete with cymbals and high hats. They are also as expensive as the best brands of acoustic drums, so this is not an option for very many of us. The near future should see the price of comparable kits drop to more affordable levels, so keep an eye out for this.

Room Treatment This is another way to approach drums without annoying your neighbors. Be aware that as this approach gets more successful, it gets more expensive. You can hang sleeping bags or mattresses on the walls, which can cut down the midrange and high frequencies a good bit, but does almost nothing to stop the bass (which is the biggest problem for your neighbors). Bass frequencies can couple to the walls and floors of the room, so that the room (and the whole house) can actually amplify the bass from the drum kit. You can build floating rooms with double-studded walls, and that can work excellently, but that is very cost prohibitive and beyond the scope of this FAQ. To truly build an isolation chamber can easily cost more than an electronic kit, so unless you have the budget, it really isn't very feasible.

V. Endorsements by Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz

Q: What is an endorsement?

A: For the purposes of this FAQ, an endorsement is defined as the expressed or implied recommendation, by a popular and/or well-respected drummer, of a particular manufacturer's product, product line, or service(s).

Q: What is its purpose?

A: Endorsements are designed to increase product or brand-name awareness, and ultimately, sales, through the use of a familiar spokesperson.

Q: Is the drummer the endorser or the endorsee?

These terms are often used interchangeably; the drummer is the endorser (since it is the drummer who "endorses" the manufacturer's product). The manufacturer would therefore be considered the endorsee, however, it's a seldom-used reference.

Q: Who can get an endorsement agreement?

A: Any drummer who has good exposure to the manufacturer's target buyers, either personally or through artist affiliation, is a candidate for an endorsement agreement.

Q: What are the benefits to the endorser?

A: In exchange for their endorsement, the drummer can expect a minimum "consideration" in the form of discounts on the product endorsed (and possibly on other products from the manufacturer). Based on the level of exposure the drummer can provide, the agreement may include free product, however there is generally a limit to the amount and frequency of such consideration. Other agreements may include exchanging old product for new, and in some instances, product is simply loaned as necessary.

High-profile drummers may be compensated in addition to product consideration. The specific product may also govern the consideration. That is, a drummer is more likely to get free sticks from a stick manufacturer, than to get free drums from a drum manufacturer. The amount and type of consideration is usually proportionate to the marketing value of the endorser to the manufacturer. Another valuable benefit is the "support" offered by the manufacturer. An endorser will enjoy better pricing, and usually faster service than at almost any retail store. This is especially important for the traveling drummer, where the product may be unavailable in local stores.

The drummer may also have their name and/or photo used in the manufacturer's product literature and advertising campaigns. Occasionally, the drummer may be involved with R&D (research and development) regarding the manufacturer's products.

Q: What is the benefit to the manufacturer?

A: The promise of increased sales. It should be no surprise that the manufacturer is in business to sell their products or services and, like any other business, generating revenue is a prime objective

Q: What does the manufacturer expect from the endorser?

A: Since the manufacturer seeks exposure via the endorser, the endorser is expected to be seen using, and/or pictured with, the product. Sometimes clinics are arranged so that the endorser can help spread the word on a more personal level. For endorsers who do recordings, a 'thank you' or mention in the liner notes is customary. Traveling endorsers may be asked to accommodate manufacturer employees or representatives at performances. The endorser may be asked for R&D (research and development) input on the manufacturer's products. And of course, the endorser is generally expected to say nice things about the product and manufacturer.

Q: Does a manufacturer ever approach a drummer with an endorsement offer??

A: Yes. If the manufacturer determines that the drummer will benefit the marketing strategy, they will seek an endorsement.

Q: Can an unknown drummer get an endorsement?

A: Sometimes a manufacturer will sign a drummer who they believe has the potential for exposure. Some manufacturers have special programs aimed at non-professionals, an example of which is the Pro-Mark Sticks "Not Yet Famous Drummers" promotion from the early '90s. The marketing angle is the same either way - the manufacturer wants the up-and-coming drummers to get where they're going, while using the product.

Q: Is there a difference between endorsement and sponsorship?

A: These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they definitely have different meanings. Sponsorship usually means the financial backing and/or additional promotion of the endorsing drummer, in connection with the promotion of the product. Full-time clinicians fall into that category, as do child prodigy drummers who are seen on TV behind drums & cymbals with the manufacturers' logos. An endorsement differs in that it is generally not approached by the manufacturer quite as aggressively as a sponsorship.

Q: How does one approach a manufacturer?

A: A letter or phone call to the artist relations person at the company will get the ball rolling. They will probably require a promo package, and then determine if the drummer can offer the kind of exposure that will help promote their product. Rejection letters are common, as are "B level" endorsements which may offer only a moderate discount on product. The choice is the manufacturer's when it comes to how they handle their marketing, and it's just not possible for them to enter into agreements with every drummer who asks.

Q: Are endorsements forever?

A: Sometimes the specifications or quality of a product change and it no longer meets the drummer's needs, or, the drummer discovers a preferable brand. Barring satisfactory resolution with the manufacturer, these are among the valid reasons to discontinue endorsing a particular product or brand. The manufacturer also has the right to terminate the agreement if the endorser violates the terms of the endorsement agreement, or if it is determined that the endorser no longer possesses suitable promotional value.

BERMUDA'S RECOMMENDATIONS: Seek to endorse only those products that you would use anyway. That sounds obvious, but there are drummers who will take whatever they can grab, whether they like or intend to even use the product. Your credibility as a spokesperson is important, especially as you seek out additional products and manufacturers. Reputations and relationships possess tremendous value, and nobody will tolerate an endorsement-hopping "drum whore". In certain broadcast or performance situations, it is not always possible to use the endorsed product. When that happens, you should certainly not be seen using the competitor's product! Mask the competitor's name so it is not visible. In the studio, it is common to use various brands of cymbals and snares. Avoid being pictured with a non-endorsed brand, and don't make the mistake of thanking non-endorsed competing manufacturers in the liner notes! Endorsement agreements are almost always exclusive, and your credibility and contract could both be lost. The relationship between you and the manufacturer is as important on a personal level, as well as being a business arrangement. Never whine about how you're not pictured in the latest ad, don't make excessive product requests or other demands, and respect the people who are accommodating you. In this business, it's the nice guys who finish first.

Industry Gatherings

NAMM http://www.namm.com by Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz

Q: What is NAMM?

A: NAMM is the National Association of Music Merchants, whose mission is to "strengthen and unify the music products industry and increase the number of active music makers." In addition to many functions within the music industry, they hold a twice-yearly trade show known officially as the NAMM International Music Market, and simply called the NAMM Show. Music product manufacturers and distributors exhibit their merchandise to wholesale buyers with the intent of writing sales.

Q: When and where is NAMM?

A: Currently, NAMM's "Winter Market" is held in January at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the "Summer Session" is held in July in Nashville at the Nashville Convention Center. These venues do change periodically.

Q: Who can attend?

A: Retail music store buyers, music product manufacturers/distributors, manufacturer representatives of the music products industry, their employees and guests, NARAS (the Grammy organization) members, and NAMM employees, guests and invited media personnel.

Q: Who's who at the show?

A: Everyone attending or exhibiting at NAMM wears a badge with their name and company affiliation on it. The color and status named on the badge quickly identifies the person wearing it. The most common are: Exhibitor - red, Buyer - blue, Visitor - Yellow, and Media - white/clear. Note that lending of badges occurs frequently, and people often have somebody else's name on the badge they are wearing.

Q: How can I get a badge?

A: According to NAMM's literature, the Shows "are closed to the public." However, if you endorse an exhibiting company, know someone in that company, or know anyone else who is attending, you can try requesting a badge. And, if you can show employment by music-related company that's a member of NAMM, you can fill out a form at the Show and purchase a badge for $25. If you're employed by a music-related company that's not a NAMM member, the registration fees are: retail - $100, manufacturer - $150, "other" (such as the music media) - $150. Proof of your affiliation is always required.

Q: What can I expect if I get in?

A: You'll see a lot of new products, new finishes, new literature, and some celebrities. However, the NAMM Show is not a giant music store. Some exhibitors sell their products right out of their booth, some don't, and samples are usually reserved for Buyers. You may score a good deal on a large item, but you might have to wait until the last day of the show to pick it up, so they can continue displaying it during the show. The L.A. Show is huge, so wear comfortable shoes. If you plan to have a snack at one of the concession stands, figure about $10 for a sandwich, chips, and drink. Parking is $6 per day.


If you do get a badge and attend the show, act accordingly. Remember that it's a trade show - not a consumer show like PASIC - and Exhibitors expect to write business with the attending Buyers. Legitimate Buyers would never bang on drums and crank up amps for their personal pleasure, so avoid being conspicuous that way. If you've borrowed a badge from someone, don't do anything that would embarrass or cause a problem for the person and company whose names appears on the badge. If a complaint is lodged with NAMM against the owner of the badge - and that DOES happen when an attendee is disruptive - the flow of badges slows down, and it's even tougher for the "nice guys" to come back again.

The type of badge you wear may govern the treatment you receive from the Exhibitors. Wearing an Exhibitor badge in a rival manufacturer's booth may earn you a question or two about who you are, and Visitor and Media badges are kind of neutral; the Exhibitors are there primarily to see Buyers, and may not always be overly-friendly to fellow Exhibitors or guests. By the same token, if you are seeking products to endorse, you will probably be asked to submit your information by mail following the end of the Show. Exhibitors rarely talk about artist discounts and freebies, when they're trying to meet with Buyers and generate solid sales. Going to the NAMM Show should be considered a treat. Enjoy yourself and please respect the business being conducted there.


Q: What is PASIC or the Percussive Arts Society?

A: The Percussive Arts Society (PAS) is a not-for-profit service organization. Its purpose is educational, promoting drums and percussion through a viable network of performers, teachers, students, enthusiasts and sustaining members. PAS accomplishes its goals through publications, a worldwide network of chapters, the World Percussion Network (WPN), the Percussive Arts Society International Headquarters/ Museum and the annual Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC«). See http://www.pas.org/ for more information.

Microphones by Gordy Gale.

For those of you who may not know me, I am a drummer, and a live sound engineer. One of my current sound clients is the group Niacin with Dennis Chambers, for whom I am the road manager/soundman, and assistant recording and mastering engineer (naturally, as I am the most familiar with their material). I have toured all over the world and both played and mixed in many clubs, theaters, high schools, sheds (outdoor amphitheaters), and concert halls. You can see both my drumming and soundman resumes at http://www.gordygale.com.

First off, let's talk mic selection. This remains a very subjective area, and every engineer (and drummer) has his or her preferences. Here is a list of commonly used mics and their applications, not in any particular order.


AKG D-112E, or the earlier D-12E. Electrovoice RE-20, Beyer M-88, Sennheiser MD-421U, Shure Beta-52, Shure SM-91(regular or beta versions), Audio Technica AT-4060.


Shure SM-57, or SM-56 (same as 57 but has tilt mount), Audio Technica AT-4053, Audix D-3, AKG D-1000E.


Sennheiser MD-421U, Shure SM 98 (or 98-A), AKG 408, Ramsa S-5, Audio Technica AT-4053.


Shure SM-81, AKG 451, or 460, Audio Technica AT-4051.

Now let's talk placement. These would be starting places but actual placement would depend on how it SOUNDS, now how it looks. And you also have to take into account the comfort for the drummer (as big mics can be intimidating to relaxed playing), and what kind of kit set up present, and what kind of stands you are using.

Kick - If there is a hole cut into the front bass drum head, then the mic is inserted about 2" inside the hole and aimed just off center to the beater. If there is no front head, then place the mic inside the drum about 1 foot in front of the strike head again aimed just off center. Personally, I have had good luck with an AKG D-112E, or EV RE-20 at the hole and a Shure SM-57 placed inside mixing the two mics together.

Snare - For live sound, I generally don't mic the bottom of the snare so let's talk about top snare placement. With a Shure SM-57, I place it over the snare, next to the mounted tom, almost flat across the drum head, angled down slightly, with the capsule about 1 inch over the head. Any more, and it will get damaged by a stick hit.

Toms - Similar to snare micing, only with more of an angle perpendicular to the floor (or head). Even if I have concert toms, I do not mic from the bottom or inside, as there can be problems picking up all of the audio from floor monitors.

Overheads - Up over the cymbals, left and right (I use two), on stage right between the ride cymbal and 1st crash aimed a little towards the other cymbals upstage. On stage left, over the 1st crash, aimed a little towards the other cymbals upstage.

Hi-Hat - Over the hat almost perpendicular to the floor but aimed upstage a bit. See the website on Gordy Gale’s notes on equalizing for live sound.

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