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How Often Should You Tune Your Drums?

tuning a drum setKeeping your drums in tune is essential for your sound. Here, Seattle, WA drum teacher Mason L. shares his advice for how often you should be tuning a drum set…

One of the most defining characteristics of your sound as a drummer is the way your drums sound, so it’s important to keep your drums in tune. Tuning a drum set takes some practice to master, but it is a great skill to have whether you’re just starting to drum or you’re touring and performing professionally. Depending on what kind of music you play, how often you play, and how much your drums move, you may need to tune your drums more often or less often than you think.

What kind of music will you be playing?

All drummers know that a drum set sounds different in a punk band than it does in a jazz band or an indie rock band. Whatever genre you’re playing, listen to some similar music and listen to how the drums sound, if you’re not familiar. Drums sound unique in every style, and they should be tuned according to whatever style you’re playing.

Once you’ve listened to some music from the style you’ll be playing, or if you’re already familiar, analyze what you hear. Does the snare sound high or low, resonant or muted? Are the toms low and thumpy or higher and resonant? Does the bass drum have a pitch or not? Knowing the characteristics of the drum sound in the genre you’re playing and tuning your drums accordingly will help you fit in with new bands and will make you look knowledgeable and experienced.

If you’re thinking about tuning your drum set for the first time, do so as soon as possible. If your drums aren’t already in tune, tuning them will make your drums sound the best they possibly can. When the drums sound the way you want them to, you can remember how they should sound when you tune them again in the future.

How often do you play your drums?

The most likely reason drums go out of tune is because they’re played for a long amount of time. Drums don’t usually go out of tune if they’re not used, unless they sit abandoned somewhere for months. If you practice three times a week, it might be smart to pick a day every week or every other week to tune your drums. Professional touring musicians tune their drums often, at least twice a week, so the drums they play can sound their best for every performance. In the drum corps world, drummers sometimes play for 10 or more hours a day, and it’s not uncommon to tune a drum twice in the same day.

The frequency with which you tune your drums also depends on the style you’re playing and the way you want your drums to sound. It’s easier to maintain a lower, less resonant sound than a higher, resonant one. Some jazz drummers, who usually have higher, more resonant drums, obsess over the way their drums sound, tuning them with the same frequency that guitar players or other string players would. But a punk drummer may not ever tune his kit after he acquires it, because the thumpiness and lower pitches stay in tune easier.

Don’t forget to replace your drum heads every so often

You probably need to change a head when you can’t get the tone you want from the drum, when the head is broken, or when it’s riddled with stick indentations. Drum heads, especially bass drum heads, can be a little expensive, but a head change can make your drums sound their best and feel much better than an older head.

Need a refresher on how to tune your drums? Here’s a helpful YouTube tutorial that breaks it down step-by-step.


The tone and pitch of your drums define your sound as a drummer, so it is important to keep them in tune. To sound your best, analyze how often you play your drums, how often you move them, and what style you’ll be playing to figure out how often you should tune them. Sometimes drummers take tuning for granted, but tuning a drum set can be refreshing for your ears and rewarding as an amateur or professional drummer.

Mason

Mason L. teaches drums in Seattle, WA. He received his Bachelor of Music in Percussion Performance from University of North Texas and has been teaching students since 2011. Learn more about Mason here!

 

 

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How to Find (and Purchase) a Quality Used Drum Kit

2620170206_8bdb56da66_o (2)Looking around at used drum kits? Buy with confidence with the following tips from Lancaster, OH drum teacher John S...

 

When you’ve decided that it’s time to buy a drum set, the most important considerations in my opinion are why the kit is being purchased, the kit configuration, and the condition of the drums. You’ll also want to think about the pros and cons of buying used vs. new gear. I’ll now explain these points in more detail. Please note that although this article’s focus is on used gear specifically, much of this advice can be applied to purchasing a new kit as well, if you decide to go that route.

Think About Why You’re Purchasing the Drum Kit

This is important because it will help you determine how much to spend, the kit size, and level of quality. For example, purchasing a general purpose starter kit for a young drummer can be different from buying a kit for a specific professional application. I would recommend four or five drums, a hi-hat, ride cymbal, and crash cymbal for a first drum set for a young or new student.

Consider the Kit Configuration

As far as drum dimensions, here is where I’d start: 14″ diameter snare drum between 5″ to 6.5″ deep; 20″ or 22″ diameter bass drum between 14″ to 16″ deep; 10″, 12″ & 14″ diameter tom toms which would be about 8″, 9″, and 11″ to 14″ deep, respectively. I’d recommend at least two toms and three at the most. If purchasing only two toms I’d recommend 12″ and 14″ diameter drums, which would be about 8″ deep on the small tom and 11″ to 14″ deep for the floor tom.

For cymbals, I’d recommend 13″ or 14″ diameter hi-hats (medium weight top cymbal and heavy weight bottom cymbal), 20″ diameter ride cymbal (medium or medium-heavy weight), and a 17″ or 18″ diameter crash (thin or medium-thin weight). I think these sizes and weights are the best for general purpose playing.

Another consideration when buying cymbals is the profile, or arch, of the cymbal. Look at the cymbal from the side and see how curved or flat it is. I generally prefer warmer lower pitched cymbals so I look for flatter profiles. Higher profiles (more arch) will produce higher pitches. The weight of a cymbal affects the pitch too. Thinner cymbals have lower pitches.

Look at the Drum Condition

As you search for quality used gear, make sure that everything is in good condition. I always take all of the drum heads off and inspect the drum shells to make sure they are not warped and to verify that the bearing edges (the area where the drumhead makes contact with the shell) are in good condition (smooth and even rather than dented or nicked, for example). Another thing to look for on the bearing edges of wood shells is ply separation. Minor ply separation is probably not going to be a serious problem and can most likely be fixed with wood glue and clamps.

I also make sure that nothing has been exposed to smoke, excessive sunlight (signs of fading on the finish, for example) or moisture. Check to ensure that the drums are free of excessive rust or corrosion (minor issues can usually be taken care of with some appropriate cleaners, such as chrome polish, and lubricants) and make sure tension rods (screws that hold drum heads and hoops in place) and drum hoops (fits around the drum head and attaches to the drums with the tension rods) aren’t bent or warped. I like to lay the hoops on a thick glass surface and make sure the hoops don’t wobble back and forth very much. If they do, it can be impossible to properly tune a kit with bad hoops.

Check cymbals to make sure they aren’t cracked. Interestingly, sometimes cracked cymbals can have really desirable and complex sound qualities that you might want on certain occasions. Generally, however, you should avoid cracked cymbals. Additionally, I always play all of the cymbals together (hi-hat, ride, crash, etc.) to make sure they all sound good with each other (pleasing and complementary pitches and tones that work well as a collection of sounds).

Personally, I don’t mind if used cymbals are a little dark and dirty, as long as it’s from normal use and age. If the grime is bothersome you can clean the cymbals by checking for cleaning products made by that specific cymbal company (use only Zildjian products for Zildjian cymbals, for example). Make sure to read all of the directions on the cleaning bottle. Finally, make sure your purchase is returnable in case you discover a problem after you’ve had a chance to thoroughly inspect, test, and play everything at home.

Some Pros and Cons of Used vs. New Gear

Finally, consider the pros and cons of buying new versus used drum kits.

Used Gear -Pros

  • Great quality at cheaper price.
  • Could buy vintage, collectible, or otherwise out-of-production gear. Note: for collectible gear make sure your purchase contains everything that was originally sold together (no missing pieces or later additions, for example, otherwise the collectible value won’t be as high).

Used Gear – Cons

  • Manufacturing standards may not be quite as good as today’s new gear.
  • Some repairs may be desired/necessary (possible ply separation on wood shells, corrosion to clean, damaged or missing parts, etc.).
  • Replacement parts may be hard to find if out-of-production.

New Gear – Pros

  • Today’s manufacturing standards are probably better due to technological advancements and computers (which may mean being able to buy lower-end gear today that sounds as good as middle of the road or even high-end gear in the past).
  • More cymbal sound options (sizes, weights, and lathing, for example), drum sound (more shell composition and bearing-edge options, for example), and finishing options now than in the past.

New Gear – Cons

  • May be price prohibitive to buy brand new high-end gear.

Final Thoughts

When buying used drum kits and cymbals, you might have to make a series of separate purchases. Even with used drum kits, be aware that cymbals, hardware, bags, or cases, for example, may not all be included in one purchase price. If you are also looking for a drum instructor I’d be happy to be of assistance. Have fun shopping!

JohnS

John S. teaches drums and music recording in Lancaster, OH. He has been playing the drums for more than 30 years and has been teaching students since 2010. Learn more about John here!

 

 

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5 Questions to Ask Before Buying an Electronic Drum Set

8183713552_043ea38776_kFinding the best electronic drum set for you may take some research and savvy shopping. Here are some helpful tips from Rosedale, MD teacher Theresa D...

 

Are you a beginning drummer, a drummer that is looking for something different, or a composer looking to add some beats tracks to a song? Well, buying an electronic drum set may be the answer that you are looking for — but there are many different drums to choose from. Here are some tips for buying the best electronic drum set for you.

What are you going to use the drum set for?

It is important to know what connections you are going to need. If you are planning to connect the drums to a computer, you are going to need a USB connection and/or an interface. Keep in mind that there are many different interfaces with multiple inputs, including microphones, ¼-inch connections, and USB. If you are using it for quiet practice time at home, you are going to need a ¼-inch adaptor for your headphones. You should always include a speaker or monitor for external sound. Most drum sets do not include a speaker or any sort.

There are full sets for the performer or you can get the smaller, more portable beat machines if you’re going to use it for composition or have very little space in your home. These can be a great tool for writing music or composing on the computer, as there are with loops and prerecorded beat patterns built into the memory of the machine. Most beat machines include a USB connection but many still need an external speaker for sound.

What features do you want?

Looking at the module or brains of the drum set can offer you insight as to if it is the best electronic drum set for you. Keep in mind that you can upgrade your module in the future for some models.

  • Sounds – All electronic drums include different sounds, but what kinds of sounds are you looking for? Some sets include classic drum sounds while others offer a variety of sound effects. Some drums allow you to input your own sounds and assign them to each piece of the set. Know what kinds of sounds you would like to use now and possible sounds you may need in the future. After all, you want to grow into your instrument and not out of it. In some models, you can even change the pitch of each drum and truly customize your sound.
  • Add-on possibilities – Not all sets have the capabilities of adding pieces like an addition tom or an extra cymbal. Find out which sets offer extra pieces (usually sold as a special order). Usually the lower-end drum sets do not offer that feature and you may need to upgrade to a mid-priced set or even higher. If you are not sure if the set you are looking at has the capability to add additional drums or cymbals, check to see if there any additional imports that are not plugged in or if it has extra cables with a ¼-inch plug at the end that is not plugged into a drum head or cymbal.
  • Programmed beats or songs – Many drum sets have beat patterns and songs programmed into the module. You can use these patterns for learning different styles of playing or just to spice up your drum practice. Some modules also have a built-in metronome, which is great for practicing and keeping a steady tempo. After all, you are the heartbeat of the music — too fast or too slow can cause major issues for you and others that you are playing with.

What comes with the drum set?

Does it come with a stool, pedals, headphones, cables, cable ties, adaptors, and a speaker? Nothing is worse than getting a new toy for your birthday and not having the batteries to make it work. Check to make sure you have everything that you need to make it work right out of the box.

Almost as important as the drums is the sound. There are many speakers available that the drum set will work with, but I recommend finding one specifically for drums. You can also use a general speaker or PA. Guitar amps will have effects built in, as well as a clean sound, but even that will not give you the quality of sound you may be looking for in the lower or higher ranges of the drums.

When should you buy an electronic drum set?

There are always sales, and music instruments are no exception. The best times to buy are holidays or right before the holidays. Shop around and compare prices. Many stores match prices with other stores and online prices (if from an online store). Keep in mind that the cost of shipping may be added to a price match in an actual store.

Which electronic drum set is right for you?

Always remember to play it before you buy it! Every set feels different when you play it. There are different materials that the heads are made of. If you want a more acoustic head feel, go for the mesh heads. If you want to play with a more heavy hand, then try the solid rubber head. It will allow you to play harder without worrying about breaking the actual head. Be careful about construction if you are a heavy hitter. Most brackets that hold the arms of the armature are made of a plastic. Too much stress on the arm or supports can result in damage to your set.

Also, try out the cymbals. Many cymbals don’t have the same reaction that traditional cymbals do (they are not as loose or flexible). Another thing to look for is the ability to choke a cymbal. Some cymbals allow a player to choke the cymbal while others do not. Most of the lower-priced sets do not have that ability but can be upgraded. I do know that there are some manufactures that produce a brass cymbal set with pickups built into them and can replace the cymbals that originally came with a set.

Not every drum set is created equal. But you don’t need every drum set to get what you want, just the right one for the job that you want to use it for. Keep in mind that you can change, upgrade, or add to your drum set or drum machine to customize your sound and playing experience.

TheresaD

Theresa D. teaches piano, guitar, percussion, and more in Rosedale, MD. She has been teaching for the past 18 years. Learn more about Theresa here!

 

 

 

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