TIPS FOR PUPILS
There are so many varying types of drum sticks available to buy. The different sizes, tips, colours, makes, woods etc etc can be a daunting choice - so which ones should you choose?
At £8/9 a pop (or a bang!) it could be expensive to work your way through all of these. Obviously you can try out sticks in the music or drum shop (ask for a used pair to play with on the drum-kits as the shop owners can't sell dented sticks), but my rule of thumb is to go for a '7A' or something similar. I personally buy sticks made by 'Vater'. The code refers to the length and thickness - this size stick isn't too fat, thin, long or short. Just normal!
The other drum sticks I like for performing jazz and quieter styles is the 'Vic Firth AJ6' (American Jazz). The tip on this stick is tiny but the shaft still thick and beautifully weighted. Cymbals especially sound fantastic and have a real 'ping' to them. You can still play with power but without too much sound coming back from the kit.
Tuning my very first drum-kit was something that really frustrated me. I thought there was a definitive way the kit should be tuned and couldn't work out why it didn't sound like the drums on my favorite music tracks.
A live acoustic kit will never sound like the 'records' (CD"s, tracks etc) because the audio is processed and manipulated to make it sound really clean and polished. That's a whole different story! There is also no definitive way to tune a kit. Over time and with experimentation, you will find a sound you like. There are plenty of videos on youtube about this but here is a basic guide:-
Your goal when tuning a drum is to try and achieve one clear note when striking the middle of the drum. Any overtones (other frequencies apart from the main note) or 'buzzing' means that all lugs aren't in tune with each other.
Rest the drum on you knee to start so that you are dampening the bottom head or the side opposite the one you are working on. You only want to hear the sound the top head is making at first.</li>
Slacken all of the lugs with the drum key and then tighten then with you fingers only.
Push down in the middle of the drumhead to 'seat' the head. This will ensure the head is sitting flat on the rim of the drum. Keep doing this throughout the tuning process.
Start tightening the first chosen lug with the drum key by turning it clockwise one quarter of a turn.
Now move to the opposite lug at the other side of the drum, and tighten that a quarter of a turn.
Next tighten the lug that is next to the first lug you tuned (the next lug clockwise of where you started) and then the opposite lug to that.
Depending on the size and quality of the drum you may have 6,8 or more tuning lugs per drum.
Eventually you will end up back at the lug you started with.
Don't forget to keep applying pressure in the middle of the drum periodically.
Once the drum starts to have a note to it and ring when you strike the middle, its time to make sure that each lug is in tune with the rest by tapping 3cm away from the lug to obtain the note on that area of the drum. This can be done with the end of the drum key. I usually tune all other lugs to the one I started to tune with. This lug I usually have at about 7clock (as you look at the drum) and I'll hold it with my left hand to remember which one it is. If you don't decide a lug to tune the others to, you'll go round in circles and never achieve an even pitch.
Once the lugs are in tune lift the drum off you knee and see how it sounds letting both heads ring.
It's up to you to decide what pitch you'd like. Obviously of you're tuning the high tom, it must end up higher in pitch that the middle tom.
There are many different theories about wether the bottom head should be lower, higher or the same pitch as the top head. I think you'd be there all day trying to get them exactly the same. I usually have my top head tuned so that it is comfortable to play on (so there is still movement in the head when you push in the middle with the fingers) and then adjust the overall pitch with the bottom head. 9 time out of 10 the bottom head is higher than the top.
If it sounds good to you in the end then that's great. Good Job!
Snare Drums - Tuning for snare drums is similar but when tuning the resonant head (the snare side) you have to lift up the snares with your left hand so that they aren't rattling against the head and tune as before with the key in your right hand. Be careful of this head as it's much thinner that other heads. Try not to dent it. I was surprised how much tension my drum teacher put into the top and bottom head when he was showing me do don't be afraid to tighten this drum up a bit more.
Bass Drums (also see below) - tuning bass drums is also different from toms. The front batter head of a pop kick drum I usually like with virtually no tension in at all. Just finger tight with a small 'nip' of the key on each lug to stop them coming undone. I then experiment with the front head tension to achieve the sound I'm looking for. My 'Jazz' bass drum, I tune more like a tom so it has a note with a 'ring'.
There are many more technique for tuning but this should get you started.
I'd definitely recommend using some kind of dampening in the bass drum like a pillow or a small duvet. To put this inside the bass drum (unless is has a front mic hole) you will need to undo either the front or back tuning lugs. This is sometimes better with the drum flat on the floor so that the lugs screw back in more easily. Once back in the normal upright position, the pillow or deadening device should touch both heads to stop the drum ringing as much.
There is also a product called 'moon-gel' which is like a slab of jelly that sticks temporarily to the drum heads. This helps take the overtones out of the drum's note. This can be used on the snare, toms and I've even used it on cymbals. Moon gel gives a cleaner tone or note and makes accurate tuning slightly less important.
Tip - You'll find that if you have a really deadened drum kit and then try to practise with a band, your kit won't 'cut through' as well as if it is allowed to ring and resonate. Again experimentation is the key here.
How to make an iTunes playlist - by Tim Brickel
This is a very useful technique for practice and listening to the music you want and in the exact order.
Choosing a drum-kit can also be a difficult task. My best suggestion would always be to visit your local drum store (my local store is The Northern Drum Centre) to get advice and help to choose your weapon!
Why not buy online? Of course you can buy kits online but it makes any 'comebacks' with such a huge item very difficult if anything goes wrong. I have also been asked in the past why the drum-kit they bought from www.verycheapdrumkits.com has started to fall apart after 2 days and they are being difficult about fixing it or refunding. I'm a firm believe in the saying 'Buy Cheap - Buy Twice'! A good starter drum kit will cost between £350 and £400 and should last for years.
Electronic Drum Kits
Electronic drum-kits are also another excellent choice for practicing. They are generally smaller (the bass drum for example is just a small pad rather than a huge drum) and almost silent - great if you have neighbours. Electronic kits can be connected to speakers or headphones for quieter practice and have many different sounds, play-alongs, a 'line in' for ipod and a metronome. These kits as with acoustic sets vary greatly in price from hundreds to a several thousand pounds. Roland or Yamaha are leaders in this field. 'Roland V Drums' having the advantage of 'mesh' heads for a more realistic 'feel' but the Yamaha DTX range is a good starting point for most young drummers.
I have always been good at looking after my hearing when playing the drums or percussion. Lets not beat around the bush - DRUMS (and cymbals) ARE LOUD!!!!! The high end frequencies can be very damaging. As soon as you experience 'ringing' in your ears, you have done some irreparable damage, even if this ringing goes away!........
The cheap 'builders ear defenders' (above) are fine to use...
...or the small yellow/orange foam ear plugs.
Anything that limits the sound entering your ear is a good start. If you want real comfort and a very 'even' attenuation of frequencies then I can't tell you how good moulded ear plugs are.
I have both the normal ear plugs versions with 25DB reduction filters as well as the 'in ear' moulded earphones. For both of these you will need to see a specialist that can take impressions of the inside of your ears. I use Gerry at '<a title="Hearing Resolutions" href="http://www.hearing.co.uk/hearing-resolutions/" target="_blank">Hearing Resolutions</a>' who supplies these 'volume attenuators' all over the UK. These ear plugs can also be fitted with reduction filters of -15DB or -9DB.
Moulded ear plugs take some getting used to but I find that they really 'clean up' the sound of a band, making it easier to hear individual instruments more clearly. Incidentally, I also use these ear plugs for teaching the drum-kit and watching loud concerts.
Another thing I've always been good at it is protecting my drums. When I was younger and with the help of my dad, I used to make my own wooden hardware cases (one I still have for 'bit's). I got hold of some old Le Blond drum cases for the drums and wheeled them around with a 'Tough Truck' trolley.
After gigging with a band which used a van for equipment I would now always recommend hard cases. The soft cases I used just didn't protect my drums enough in that harsh environment, despite all the literature saying they would. 'Hardcase' make awesome cases that lock and stack together and are guaranteed for a very long time - 25 years or life.
I have fixed rubber wheels to my bass drum and hardware cases with anti-rattle bolts and plywood for extra stiffening. The rest of the drums stack on top of the bass drum in size order, meaning I can walk into any flat-floored venue with the whole kit in two trips.