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When one is new to drumming or even experienced but have some new drums, sometimes things do not sound quite right. Moreover, sometimes things sound just plain wrong. Whether its a buzzing snare drum or toms that rattle themselves to sleep at night, there are several reasons why the drums could sound bad.
5 Reasons Drums Sound Bad
- Drum Toms Tuning Should Be A Different Pitch than Snare
- Cheap Drum Heads Sound Bad
- Cheap Cymbals Sound Bad
- The Drumset is Ringing Badly for a Few Reasons
- Playing the Drums Without Dynamics Sounds Bad
Here is a compilation of the top 5 real reasons drums sound bad. Not only that, but we have the best tips and tricks to combat these pesky sound destroyers. So, dig in, and let us get down to business with making the drums sound better than before.
Drum Toms Tuning Should Be A Different Pitch than Snare
Having toms tuned close to or at the same pitch as the snare drum can cause a conflict between the two drums. This conflict is a battle between harmonics and frequencies.
Think of this as an opera singer who shatters a wine glass with their voice. The frequencies which the vocalist uses cause the wine glass to vibrate. When the frequency is such that the wine glass vibrates at different rates from one side of the glass to another, the destructive frequency causes the energy to vibrate the glass to make the glass shatter.
Applying the same concept to drums is recommended. For example, if the snare or tom pitch is similar to the other, the frequency similarity will cause vibration within the other drum. Furthermore, if the frequencies are close enough, it can muddy the drums’ sound by causing excessive vibration noise.
Make sure a pattern for tuning the kit that involves using different pitches for each drum. It is essential when trying to eliminate the buzz in the snare that can be caused by the toms.
One can also try rotating the snare. If the snare wires are running perpendicular to the toms, then technically, the end of the wires closest to the toms is closer to these other drums than the wires would be if running parallel to the toms. It may not seem like much, but it can help.
Also, making sure the snare is tuned correctly can help reduce excessive buzz. We have included the fix below in the drum tuning tips for this as well.
Cheap Drum Heads Sound Bad
Sometimes one can see a sale on a cheap drum and think that one could use that size or set, so one purchases them. We have all done this. The impulse buy. However, a cheap head is a cheap head.
Poor quality heads are going to sound often wrong. The drum itself might be decent enough quality, but with a poor quality head attached, there is little one can do to improve the sound by any substantial measure.
Replace the heads. The cost of decent heads is minimal for the difference in the quality of sound one will achieve by replacing them.
Some common head manufacturers that make some decent drum heads are Remo, Evans, and Aquarian. All these brands have reasonably priced heads that can produce some very respectable sounds.
If one is new to drumming and just picks up a starter kit, the heads are likely garbage. Most of the cheap starter kits come with no good heads. It is worth buying new heads, especially the tops.
Cheap Cymbals Sound Bad
Similar to drum heads, cymbals that are garbage are best when left for the trash. Cymbals and heads are two components; one wants to have quality over quantity. Furthermore, a decent cymbal will sound like night versus a day compared with a cheap ‘budget’ cymbal.
Four major cymbal manufacturers dominate the market. These are Sabian, Zildjian, Paiste, and Meinl Percussion. Most drummers have heard of at least two manufacturers, depending on where one lives and local availability.
When purchasing cymbals, it is best to do one’s homework first. Sure, looking for a good deal is always ideal, but not at the expense of good sound. A weak sounding cymbal will wind up acting like a paperweight, and money wasted.
When it comes to cymbals, one gets what one pays for ninety-nine percent of the time. Watching sales on good brands is a good idea, but one should not hold one’s breath. Usually, only cheap, poor quality cymbals are the cheap ones.
The Drumset is Ringing
There are several reasons why a drumset is ringing. Here are some common issues which cause drumset ringing.
● Drums have improperly tuned top to bottom heads
● Drumset has no dampening rug
● Drum placement is incorrect, causing excessive vibration
● Cheap drum tuner springs
● Old drum mounts were installed directly to the drum shell
Let us take a look at these ringing issues and their solutions.
Drums are Improperly Tuned
Tuning is one of the most common reasons why drums ring. When a top and bottom head tuning is improper, the vibrating frequencies can conflict and cause vibrations. It can be thought of in similar terms to an echo. If the top head’s frequency is in tune with the bottom head, then the vibration will move from one head to the other in a ‘back and forth’ exchange of vibrations, just like an echo.
Tune the drums properly with the recommended difference in pitch between the top head and bottom head. Many drummers use a perfect fifth difference in pitch to solve this dilemma, but it will depend on one’s particular drums and preferred drum tuning.
Drums Have No Dampening Rug
Sometimes when a new drummer sets up their kit for the first time, they do not realize that the rug is more than just stopping the drums from wandering away. If a drum kit is on a hard floor and the drums are angled wrong, then the echo from the drum sound can reflect sound off the floor and cause the drums to vibrate or ring.
The other issue is the actual drum mounts and stands vibrating with the floor and causing excessive ringing as the vibrations reflect off the floor and back up through the drum mounts. It can be excessive if the drum mounts are not suspended, like in much older or cheap starter drumkits.
Get a drum rug and set up the drums on the rug. It prevents vibration of the mounts and stands with the floor and eliminates most of the echo caused by sound bouncing up off the floor.
Drum Placement is Incorrect
It is surprising, but it happens. Sometimes when setting up a new kit, it can have drums or drum stands or mounts touching each other where they should not. Even the slightest touch of a drum to another drum can cause some severe vibrations issues when the drum is stricken.
Another issue with drum placement is when a drum is mounted directly parallel with a solid surface underneath, like a hard floor with no rug.
When drums are angled incorrectly, they can cause a reflective vibration, which can again act as an echo off a hard surface and cause the drum or other drums in the kit to vibrate and ring out.
Make sure all drums mounting sits so that none are touching each other or other drums mounts. Make sure that each drum is mounted on at least a slight angle to the floor beneath. If a drum mounting is parallel to the floor, ensure it has a drum rug under to prevent floor reflection.
Drum Tuners are Cheap
With really cheap drums, the tuners themselves can have small springs inside that can rattle and ring. It can happen if the tuner is not set up correctly or merely cheaply constructed or even broken internally.
Inspect all the drum tuning mechanisms. Remove the heads to inspect the head itself and hoop and, in doing so, inspect the tension rods and drum tuning assemblies. If internal springs are loose or broken, replacement may be necessary. The tension rods should be secure within the assembly and should not wiggle and vibrate when under tension. If too much tension is required to stop the tuner assembly from vibrating when the drum has tuned to the ideal pitch, then the tuner assembly may require replacement altogether.
Drum Mounts are Fixed and Not Suspended
Back in the old days of drum manufacture, the drum mounts were often installed directly onto the drum body. This practice causes excessive ring and vibration through the drum mount and interference between the drum mount rod and the sound of the drum.
New intermediate to high-end drums has suspended mounts for solving this issue of the past. However, some ‘cheap’ starter drums manufactured with this old method of mounting still occur.
Try to back off the mount rods as much as possible to stop them from entering the drum interior. If the mounts have holes for the drum rods that allow the rod to extend directly into the inner drum cavity itself, it should be mounted to keep the rod outside of the drums’ inner cavity.
One can even pick up new suspended drum mounts and modify the existing drums. However, this may not be worth the effort.
The best solution is to do one’s research before picking up old or cheap new drums. Sometimes it is worth spending a little extra to avoid many headaches down the road.
Still Cannot Get The Ring Out of Drums?
If one has gone through the list and fixed everything one could, and there is still a ring, then maybe it is time to get some external help.
There are a few anti-ringing drum products on the market that can help when nothing else has worked.
Drum Dampening. Adding a product such as a dampener ring, drum weight, or a product called Moongel are things one can add to a drum to make the ringing stop. Just keep in mind that these can affect the drums attack, and too much dampening will muddy up the sound, so do not overdo it.
Playing the Drums Without Dynamics
What are drum dynamics? Playing the drums dynamically is the control of how hard one is striking the drums.
There are six basic levels of dynamics:
- Pianissimo – playing very soft (ppp)
- Mezzo-piano – playing medium-soft (pp)
- Piano – playing soft (p)
- Forte – playing loud (f)
- Mezzo-forte – playing medium loud (ff)
- Fortissimo – playing very loud (fff)
These levels are often noted in drum sheet music to let the musician know how hard to strike each particular drum beat.
When a drummer is playing with a lack of dynamic control, then there can often be excessive ringing within the kit.
When one plays fortissimo and then tries to switch to a pianissimo section, the ringing can sometimes carry on into the pianissimo section of music. This sort of overlap of sound vibration can cause the ringing in the kit to be apparent due to a sudden change in dynamic.
Most accomplished drummers will use a technique known as transitional dynamics. The drum beats struck at a point where there is a significant shift in the dynamics of a piece of music transition through stages of dynamics, rather than abruptly altered dynamically. For example, a drummer might change the dynamic tone over three particular drum strikes rather than between two. It allows the first beat, a potential fortissimo, to have a bridge or transitional beat. Perhaps a forte or piano, before the next section which could be a pianissimo dynamic.
Try to practice changing dynamics to accomplish smooth dynamic changes within the drumming. It will help enhance the drumming ability and allow for better control of one’s drumming and a reduction in ringing caused by technique.
3 Basic Drum Tuning Tips
- Check The Head(s)
- Clear The Heads
- Tune The Snare Properly
Check The Head(s)
If one has picked an older kit and some of the drums sound like garbage, if tuning has not worked, then remove the head and inspect it.
When one removes the head, look for the head being concave, or having multiple pits or dents, then it is time to replace it.
The inspection also applies to the drum hoops. When one removes the head, take a good look at the drum hoops as well. If there is distortion in the hoop, replacement may be necessary.
Clear The Heads
The method commonly called ‘clearing the drumhead’ is a method used to check the tune of the drumhead quickly. The method includes tapping the drum head around the perimeter, close to each tuning assembly location. The concept is that the sounds around the perimeter should remain consistent.
If one area is not consistent in its sound with the rest of the head, then it is likely that the closest tuning assembly requires adjustment.
Tune The Snare Properly
When one has a snare drum, remember that the drum is a dual head drum. It means that if the top head vibrates, the vibration will transfer through the enclosed air and strike the bottom head, vibrating along with the snare wires.
If the top and bottom heads tuning is to the same pitch, there will be conflicting harmonics that will make the snare sound bad, have an excessive buzz, or even have a muddy sound as the harmonics cancel each other out.
A suggested tuning trick is to tune the bottom skin a perfect fifth higher than the top skin. This tuning trick gives the snare a great sound and reduces the conflicting harmonics.
- Rob Toulson, Charles Cuny Crigny, Philip Robinson, Phillip Richardson, “The perception and importance of drum tuning in live performance and music production” Anglia Ruskin University, Research Gate, Accessed June 30, 2020., https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rob_Toulson/publication/228350364_The_perception_and_importance_of_drum_tuning_in_live_performance_and_music_production/links/5a2e55e2a6fdccfbbf89b9a0/The-perception-and-importance-of-drum-tuning-in-live-performance-and-music-production.pdf, Accessed June 30, 2020.
- Phillip Richardson, Dr. Rob Toulson, “Fine Tuning Percussion – A New Educational Approach” Anglia Ruskin University, Accessed June 30, 2020., http://robtoulson.rt60.co.uk/rt_docs/PRandRT_ARP2010_DrumTuningEducation.pdf
- Matt Seymour, “Engineer’s Guide To Tuning and Damping Drums” Sound on Sound, Accessed June 30, 2020., https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/engineers-guide-tuning-and-damping-drums
- Nick D’Virgilio, “8 Easy Ways to Control Snare Buzz” Sweetwater, Accessed June 30, 2020., https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/control-snare-drum-buzz/
- Rob Toulson, “The Resonant Tuning Factor: A New Measure for Quantifying the Setup and Tuning of Cylindrical Drums” Audio Engineering Society, Accessed June 30, 2020., http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=19325