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Drum Clinic: Answers to 20 Commonly Asked Questions

If you’re new to playing and owning drums, you’ll have lots of questions that need answers. Thankfully, we have the information you’re looking for in this quick FAQs guide.

New Percussionist FAQs

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So, you have a drum kit. You are excited to be underway. Maybe you’ve been playing awhile and have the basics or better under your belt.

Over time, your body and your ears grow attuned to the little things: the placement of the snare, the brand of sticks you use, the boominess of your toms and how to dampen them.

Let’s address some of the most commonly asked questions new drummers have early in their careers.

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20 Q&As for New Drummers and Percussionists

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  1. What’s the best size drum kit for a beginner?

A standard five-piece set is the best bet for beginners. This is comprised of: toms, bass, snare, cymbals, and the hi-hat.

So, what the beginner starts with are three toms, the snare, what is called a ride or crash cymbal, the bass or kick-drum, and the sandwich of two cymbals, called a hi-hat. That’s is all you need to get underway.

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  1. What’s the proper way to set up my kit?

There is no one way. Chances are you see set-ups all the time in stores, online, and at concerts. Kick in the center, snare and hi-hat to the left, and so on.

How you set them up more precisely is a function of things like comfort and arm-length, style, and so on. Experiment. How to set them up optimally will find you as you seek it out.

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  1. What kind of drum sticks should I use?

Drumsticks can be made of maple, white oak, hickory, and other solid woods. Tips may be wood, too, or the sticks may have nylon caps.

There are various shapes, too, and thickness of the wood and their tips. Then, sticks have varnish or lacquer. These variables can affect grip, tone, impact and volume depending upon how strong your strike tends to be…

There are a lot of variables at play. Your best bet is to go to a store, try out a few brands that feature various woods, tips, and dimensions. That will help you find what is most suited to your style.

That said, is there a drummer out there who does not have multiple set of sticks to achieve different sounds? Nope, and so, it is likely you will build over time a bag of sticks as your bag of tricks.

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  1. How can I make my snare drum less “ringy?”

There are add-on accessories for controlling “ringy” snares. Pearl offer the OM-1 Tone Control that clips onto the hoop. It has an adjustable pad to reduce or eliminate ring.

There are many donut-shaped mufflers on the market: Rem-Os by Remo, Noble & Cooley Zer-O-Rings, and Evans E-Rings are among them. Some drumheads have built-in muffling: Pinstripes by Remo, Performance II by Acquarian, and Genera Dry by Evans are common solutions.

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  1. How can I get the snares to stop rattling when I hit my bass drum or toms?

You will have to walk the fine line when muffling. Excessive muffling makes the kick sound dead. Tuning your snare drum up and down can minimize the vibration caused by the other drums.

Try playing with the tuning of the tension rods on the side of the snare side and toms adjacent to the snare, and you will often find this reduces the rattling.

Next step? It may be where you are playing. If space permits, move into to a larger room. Or, place rugs on the floor and drape any furniture and even the walls with light blankets.

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  1. How often should I replace the snares on my snare drum?

The life of a snare and the heads on your drums are a function of playing style. When you see a head appears damaged with a lot of divots from the tips of your sticks, or appear stretched, it is time to change them out.

Heads can last for years or a matter of minutes, if you thrash them hard enough. Also, even though the bottom heads are not being struck, they can stretch and need to be replaced periodically. Generally, when your drums start to sound dead, muffled, or bottomed out, change them.

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  1. What is a bearing edge?

The part of the shell that the drumhead touches is called the bearing edge. Many sets feature a 45-degree angled edge on their inner diameter and a 45-degree back cut on the second ply.

That means they’re designed to hold fast while you are primarily striking in a relatively focused point of contact in the center. If you can keep your drumming in that “strike zone,” you will sustain a great balance while playing between resonance and attack.

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  1. Should I get a thin or thick shell?

The beating heart of a drum is its shell. How many plies are layered affects how energy gets transferred from the head to the shell. This is the most central design characteristic that determines your drums’ tonal character and projection.

Thin shells (4 ply, 5mm) make for easy energy-transfer from the head to the shell. Shells vibrate more easily and this yields a rich, woody tone. Thin shells are preferred especially when recording.

Medium shells (6 ply, 7.5mm) provide greater stiffness, but they resist the transference of energy. It is a trade-off: you get slightly “cooler” sound than the thin shells but your projection is stronger.

Medium shells are a great, general-purpose choice for practicing and playing gigs in small to medium venues.

Thick shells (8 ply, 10mm and 10 ply, 12.5mm) are the most efficient in broadcasting the drummer’s sound to an audience. This is ideal for large venues and even coliseums or outdoors.

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  1. How should I store my drums?

If you are putting a snare in storage for a long period of time (e.g., weeks and months), back off the tension of the heads. Snares stay in the on position but loosen them a bit. Their wires will stretch, so you do not want them at high tension while in storage.

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  1. Do extreme temperatures affect my drums?

Extreme shifts in the temperature in a short period of time may pose problems to the drum shells. Finishes may also be affected. If humidity or temperature change, moisture changes the cells in the wood.

The shells then expand or contract; they may even warp and crack. Drum manufacturers generally agree that your drums are safe when stored in a room temperature environment, give or take a few degrees.

But if you’re not comfortable in staying in the storage area for a while, your drums won’t either!

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  1. What’s the difference between maple and birch?

Maple shells are characterized by sustains that are long and slow. This gives them a warm, resonant tone. Adding reinforcing hoops to maple gives them strength and more sound definition.

Birchwood often embody opposite tonal properties in contrast to maple. Birch features shorter, faster sustain. This yields a higher pitch and attack in the sound. Installing reinforcing rings on birch would be overkill.

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  1. How do I adjust my pedal?

There are a variety of pedal designs and that impacts your choices and how much you can change a pedal. Most pedals use either a chain, a belt, or a direct drive that attach the footboard to the cam and beater.

Some manufacturers sell different chains that fit their pedals, and you swap them out to get different levels of stiffness and rebound. Generally, to adjust a pedal, you first change the height of the beater to address the power you get with your foot.

Once you’ve played with that, you move into the tension settings. Ball park the spring tension. Attach the pedal to the bass drum. Set the spring to any setting. Put your foot on the pedal as you normally would when you play, whether that is heel up or down. Completely relax.

If the beater presses into the bass drum head, spring tension is too loose. Or, if the pedal doesn’t yield to your foot and it feels like an exercise machine, your spring is too tight. Most find 4” of the beater from the head with your body in a relaxed state is best. Adjust spring tension as necessary to get to about 4”.

Lastly, fine-tune the beater height once more. You’ll find that having played with the tension has affected the height you want.

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  1. How do I adjust my hi-hat?

Look down at the pedal and then start looking up the pole. You should find a drum key. This should enable you to play with the tension in the pedal—which basically affects the chain that rises from the pedal inside the pole to the hi-hat.

This is also called adjusting the tension spring. The tighter the tension on the spring, the more responsive the stand becomes. The lower the tension, the less responsive.

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  1. What should I use to clean my drum shells?

Most any high-quality, non-abrasive furniture wax will work on lacquered and covered finishes. “Trick Cleaner” wipes are product that’s easy to use, too.

  • Prep

While not necessary, it’s recommended you remove hardware from your shells. It makes cleaning faster and more thorough. Removing the hardware reduces risks of scratching the finish from all the grit that accumulates around hardware. Use a “Swiffer” type duster on the shells.

  • Polishing

Using a soft clean cloth (microfiber is ideal), apply the polish or wax, then carefully wipe it off. Turn the cloth frequently. Do NOT use paper towels; these are abrasive.

Polish the hardware before reattaching it. Prevent making new nicks in wood bass drum hoops by positioning the claws in the same place where they had been removed.

  • Crystal Beat

Acrylics may be cleaned with a soft, damp cloth. Acrylic drum collectors say to stay away from glass cleaners (i.e., “Windex”). These do not lubricate when they clean.

Dirt and dust trapped in between the cloth and surface may leave very fine scratches that will diminish a transparent shell’s clarity over time.

So, products like Meguiar’s Mirror Glaze or Novus Plastic Clean & Shine are recommended, so you can do scratch-free cleaning of acrylics.

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  1. How do I clean my hardware?

To clean the lugs, stands, and counter-hoops, most any household appliance cleaner works fine. Avoid product containing ammonia.

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  1. Can I change my single pedal to a double?

You may be able to upgrade to a double pedal. But the final answer depends on your current pedal. One way to upgrade is to buy the manufacturer’s kit—most offer them. These retrofit to the current peddle and connect to universal rod. Your existing pedal then becomes the slave pedal of the upgraded double unit. Consult at a store or with the manufacturer first.

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  1. How Do I Tune My Drums?

There are a series of important steps you need to follow when tuning your drums. For some of these steps, you may want to use a drum key to help get your drums into the perfect pitch.

Start by turning your tension rods in order to remove the wrinkles from the head. Do this in a diagonal pattern, ½ turn at a time until all the wrinkles are gone.

Next, place your palm on the middle of your drum head and press firmly. This will help to seat the head. Then, retighten the drum head and seat it again. Test out the sound of your drum.

If the pitch has remained the same then you can move on to the next step. Set your drum on a well-cleaned surface with the side you intend to tune face up.

Use the drum key to tap the drum at each tension rod and take note on which rods sound high and which sound low. Loosen the rods 1/8th turn at a time for the rods that sound high, and tighten the rods 1/8th turn at a time for those that sound too low.

Seat the head again and continue this process until the entirety of the drum head is the same pitch, then tighten or loosen the rods to set the entire drum to the pitch you want it.

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  1. How Do I Get My Drum Heads To Stay In Tune?

Any instrument is going to fall out of tune from time to time, but there are a number of things you can do to help limit how often or how badly this happens. Some circumstances can have more of an effect on the tuning of your instrument than others.

One of the most important things you can do is check the tuning of your drums regularly. Before each use, or at least before playing for many other people it’s a good idea to make sure the drums are sounding decent. If not, make any small adjustments you may need in order to get it back into tune.

The more often you check the tuning, the less effort you’ll have to put into tuning the drum heads at a given time. It’s also important to keep in mind that the environment can greatly affect your drums.

Make sure to keep them away from any drastic temperature or humidity changes, because they can have a large effect in the wood of your drums and cause them to fall out of tune.

You can generally expect that any temperature you are comfortable in, they will be as well. If you travel with your drums or store them anywhere, it’s a good idea to use cases or soft bags to help protect them.

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  1. How Often Should I Change My Drum Heads?

This can greatly depend on the kind of drum and drum head you are using, so there is really no one-size-fits-all answer. Some drum heads need to be replaced as little as every two or three months and others can last a year or more.

Because of that, it’s always a great idea to know exactly where in that range your specific drum heads fall into

You can usually find that information out while purchasing the drum heads or through the brand website. If you over-use your drums they can risk falling greatly out of tune or breaking entirely, so it’s good to make sure you replace them before it gets that far.

Generally speaking, many people wait until they notice certain types of wearing on their drum heads before changing them. The longer you have your drums, the easier it will be to tell when it’s a good time to replace them.

Some things to look for can be noticeable dents, the coating on the drum head being very worn down, or extensive marking from use. It’s also wise to keep in mind that the more you use your drums, the more often they may need to be replaced.

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  1. How Can I Make My Drum Heads Less “Boomy”?

There are a multitude of ways you can muffle your drums, and they range from free if you have the materials around to mildly costly if you’re looking to purchase or replace special drum heads. It all depends on what you want and how much you want to spend.

The least expensive option would be to place a blanket or pillow inside the bass drum. This will help to muffle the sound and is completely free if you have a pillow or blanket around that you don’t need to use often.

There are also a few different kinds of items you can purchase specifically made for muffling your drums. The first are special pads and rings that you can use with your drums.

One example of this would be the Evans EQ Pad, which is available to put in your drum to muffle it. You also have the option of purchasing drum heads that have built-in muffling or muffling rings.

These can be a little more expensive, but are made specifically to muffle your drum and can sometimes be the better choice for professional settings. It all depends on what you feel works best and fits easily within your budget.

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