Drum heads are often considered the most important thing in a drum set, especially since the characteristic sound that drums can produce comes from striking this membrane with drumsticks or your hand.
Traditionally, drum heads are made from the hides of animals that have been hunted down, with their meats eaten for food and their bones made into tools and what not. Animal hides didn’t just serve as clothing before, but it also served as an implement for music making.
Hides have since become a thing of the past as they have now been replaced by more newer synthetic material that is more resilient and eco-friendlier. Although there are still some drum kits and traditional folk instruments that have animal hides for drum heads, these are mostly collection pieces and souvenir items. Kevlar, Aramid, and Mylar are the most common synthetic materials used for making drum sets for today’s modern drummer.
Taking Care of Drum Heads
Drum heads, being part of a drum kit as a whole, should be maintained at a regular basis to prolong its lifespan and continue providing a dependable surface for ages. The task may seem daunting at first with all the screws and bolts, but like anything, it get’s easier as you repeat the process over and over.
Here are a few to-do things when it comes to taking good care of your kit.
Wipe down the drums
After each use, wipe down all surfaces of each piece in the kit before moving to the interiors and everything underneath. Yes it’s work, but it will protect your investment.
De-Tune them for storage
If you are not going to use your drums for a long period, then loosen the tuning bolts to preserve the elasticity of the skin. A skin under tension sitting in storage will become brittle, plus the compression can warp the shell.
Keep them in the right environment
Keep your drum set away from direct sunlight and other possible sources of heat like radiators, stoves or heaters. Like any instrument, protection from severe conditions and natural elements will help it last.
Replace the heads
The drum heads need to be replaced on a regular basis, especially when it gives out the telltale signs that it needs to be. Changing the heads can also rejuvenate the tone of your kit too.
When to Replace Drum Heads
Changing the skins or drum heads is really a matter of preference, but a sure sign that you need to replace it is when you feel, or rather hear them producing a less resonating sound as usual.
This means that the flexibility of the material used for the drum head has reached its maturity and will likely keep producing that low-quality sound no matter how many times you tune it.
Professionals who often use their drums would have the heads replaced every month, depending on how much abuse their drums get. Famous drummers would change the drum heads of their kits before they record new songs so that they sound consistent from recording to recording.
Imagine how many skins Neil Peart of Rush would have to change every time they make a studio album. Whew!
How to Replace Drum Heads
Much like cleaning a drum kit, the task of replacing drum heads with new ones is a little difficult at first, and it may take time before you can consider yourself proficient enough to do it unaided. Nevertheless, the steps on how to replace drum heads are as follows:
Step 1: Buy new drum heads.
Of course, the first step is to purchase new drum skins to replace your old ones. It would be advisable to replace everything all at once if you can but consider your budget and consider how much flexibility is left with each piece of drum you have.
Step 2: Loosen the rods.
With the use of a tuning peg, loosen the threaded drum rods and remove them, as well as any washers, claws and anything else attached to the existing drum head.
Step 3: Remove the hoop.
Gently remove the hoop from the drum and lift the old drum head once you have removed everything using the tuning peg.
Step 4: Put on the new skin.
Get your new drum head ready and center it on the drum shell before placing the hoop back on top of it.
Step 5: Wax on, wax off.
Apply some oil or paraffin wax on the parts that you have removed to protect them from rust and to make them easier to adjust.
Step 6: Put everything back together.
Replace the pegs and other attachments to their respective places, and slightly tighten the rods using the tuning peg.
Step 7: Push it down.
With the palm of your hand, push the skin down until you hear some cracking or popping, which is normal. Do this for about five times. This will signify that the skin is set and ready to be tuned. Tighten the rods again, and this time tighten it fully.
How to Tune A Drum Set
Once you are done replacing the drum heads of your drums, it is now time to tune it. The process is not that challenging, but you have to know what kind of tone or sound you are looking for to ascertain that you have the right tone.
Most drummers would start off by practicing with other drum kits until they get it right. Newer drummers would use media sites to compare the tuning of their drums with. Videos and tutorials are available as to how you can perfectly tune your drums.
Here are the basics of drum tuning:
Step 1: Tighten the rods.
With the use of a tuning peg, tighten one rod and then move on to the next peg by crossing the surface diagonally. Do the same step with each peg until you have completely gone around the drum and tightened each peg.
Step 2: Test the tone.
With your hands, tap the drums and test if the tone suits your liking. Use another drum kit or other sources to compare the tones.
Step 3: Tap around.
Give the drum a tap around the hoop to test its sound. This would also test how tight the rods are; adjust them as needed.
Step 4: Repeat as needed.
Repeat the previous steps with every drum that you need to replace the drum head with. Keep in mind these steps can also be used when de-tuning and re-tuning your drums.
Knowing the basics of replacing drum heads, tuning your drums, and general maintenance for your kit will go a long way as you progress as a musician. Over time, you’ll build up experience for all the above mentioned processes to the point where they become second nature. That same experience will also build confidence and help define your overall abilities.