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Drums FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions

Here is our Drumming FAQ’s section – the final part of our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning The Drums’ series.  If you have any more questions or suggestions, write to us.  And remember to sign up for 4 Feature Friday

Drums Faq'S

Choosing An Instrument

Should I go for a thick or thin shell?

Without a good shell, your drums won’t sound good at all. When it comes to choosing shells, it’s technically a matter of preference. 

Go for thin shells which are 4 ply, 0.2” (5mm) if you want to go for a solid, rich “wood” sound that is most preferable for live recordings. If you’re going to play in a large, open-air venue, however, go for a thick shell 8-10 ply, 0.4” to 0.5” (10 to 12.5mm)  for extremely efficient sound transfer so you can focus on hyping up your audience with your beats. 

Should I buy a used or brand new drum set?

At its most basic, the debate between used and new drum sets depends on your needs and preference. Brand new drum sets can be expensive, but you have the advantage of extended warranties should the kit break down. Used drum sets, on the other hand, can be quite cheaper but you won’t have a good warranty coverage. That means you’ll have to find the best kit you can so you can be sure that it will last you long enough. 

4-piece or 5-piece?

A lot of drum kits come in 3, 4 and 5-piece sets. Beginner kits are often 3 or 4-piece sets, which include a bass drum, a snare, and a high/rack-mounted and floor tom. The beginner 5-piece kits include all the typical drums, but feature two high toms instead of one. Either setup is good for a beginner as they give a lot of learning room for both basic and advanced drumming techniques. Though it tends to be easier to use a 4-piece kit for the absolute novice, because, simply, there’s less drums to worry about. 

Should I buy extra instruments for my drum kit?

For beginners, it would be best to not to overcomplicate things by adding extra instruments (such as cowbells). They won’t need the extra bells and whistles anyway. When buying for this type of learner, you won’t run out of options because beginner drum kits are customisable according to specific preferences, and even the budget. What you need to look for is a kit that will allow the student to learn and master the basics, without adding extras that will only distract them from the matter at hand. 

Maintenance

What should I use to clean my drum set?

Drums are quite straightforward to clean. All you need is a high-quality, non-abrasive drum polishing wax to wipe it down with. This type of polisher works well with both covered and lacquered finishes. Before you wipe the kit down, however, it is advisable to take it apart bit by bit to make cleaning easier. As for dust management, even a simple feather duster will do you good. Or you can go for a vacuum cleaner for quick and easy dusting. 

When I tighten the snare, nothing happens. What’s wrong with it?

It’s most likely a problem with your snare knob. If you tighten it and nothing seems to happen, maybe you’ve tightened it up to its absolute max. Anything more and you will break the knob. You can correct this by turning the strainer to the “off” position. Then, loosen the strainer knob until the slider (the one that goes up and down) is halfway. Afterwards, loosen the screws on the slider and pull either the strap or the cords to about ⅛ inch (3.2mm). TIghten the screws again, turn the strainer to the “on” position and test. If it still doesn’t fix the problem, you have to take the snare to a technician. 

How do you tune drums?

Drummers are advised to start tuning from one side of a drum, by turning the lug slightly. Move to the other side of the drum and repeat on the opposite lug. Your goal is to make sure that the tightness around the drum stays uniform, and you can hear it if you listen to the tone. Match that tone around the drum to make the drum in tune to itself, which is the best sound you can get. 

Should I clean my cymbals?

A lot of drummers actually believe that cleaning your cymbals is detrimental. They say that the built-up dirt on them adds to the sound and gives it a bit of warmth that you won’t get with squeaky clean cymbals. The truth is, cleaning the cymbals depends on your preference. If you’re a drummer who only cares about sounding awesome and not much about aesthetics, by all means keep them as they are. But clean cymbals do look way better, more so if you’re on stage.

My kit keeps going out of tune. What’s wrong with it?

When tuning your drums, you must always remember how important the break-in period is. It does take time for the drumheads to stabilise after tuning. Breaking in means you only have to play them, but you can expedite the process by pressing on the head with your hands; carefully, of course. You don’t want to actually break the drumhead by doing so. It’s called “break in,” not “breaking.” Once the break-in period is complete, see if the kit stays in tune for a longer period. If not, it’s probably the ambient temperature: remember to never put your kit in extreme temperatures for an extended period of time. 

What do I need to tune my drums?

A drum key and a good ear is all you need. It’s a small tool (thereby easy to lose, so be careful with it) which you use to tighten the tension rods that control the drum’s pitch. Tightening makes the pitch go up, and loosening makes the pitch go down. It’s important to know that tuning your drums depends almost entirely on your ear: using your drum sticks, try to figure out the best setup that matches your personal preferences. 

Technique

How do I stop the snares from rattling when hitting my toms or bass?

You can solve this by muffling the drum. But do it too much, and the drum will sound dead, like if you’re trying to listen to it underwater. Or maybe you can tune your snare higher or lower to minimise its interaction with the others. You can also try loosening the four tension rods adjacent to the snare to preference, until the rattling is eliminated or at least reduced. If it still doesn’t solve the problem, add sound dampening materials such as rugs or drapes. 

Is traditional or matched grip better?

A lot of the best drummers in the world use traditional grip. For most beginner drummers, that’s all they need to hear. A matched grip, however, provides several physical advantages. At the end of the day, it comes down to preference. Nothing stops you from playing with traditional grip, but the best of the best try to use them both interchangeably depending on the music they play. Try to find which fits your playing style best, and you’ll know it when you feel it.

Should I play heel down or up?

Many drummers agree that playing heel up is better, because it gives you a lot of power and speed. It also allows for greater balance between your torso, arms, and legs, which makes it easier to move around and switch on the fly. But again, it’s all about preference. You can be a great heel up player as well as you can be a great heel down one. Try to feel which style fits you best, and you can go from there. 

I lift weights. Will this affect my playing?

Lifting weights and generally any form of exercise will help your drumming a lot. The most obvious benefit of physical exercise is endurance, and we all know that drumming can be a very endurance-heavy instrument. There are times when you’ll need significant power and speed to keep up with a rather lengthy song, which is where the exercise comes into play. But if you have an upcoming performance, don’t lift too much one to two days prior, as you will be sore and you’ll barely be able to move. 

How should I hold percussion mallets?

If you’re not only playing drums but also other percussion instruments such as the xylophone, you’d have to be familiar with the mallet and how to hold it properly. For those of you who don’t know, holding the mallet the right way is easy: use your thumb and index finger to hold the mallet’s shaft in the middle, and do not clutch it too hard. Relax. You will need the dexterity a relaxed grip affords. If you’re holding it too tight, you won’t be able to move your hands and arms as smoothly as you want. 

How should I set up my drums for better recordings?

Your foremost goal should be the room where you’re playing in. Check if it has enough soundproofing. If the room has good soundproofing, then the drums will sound good once you record. Once this is done, your next agenda is to check for any extra sounds in the kit. Eliminate any rattles and clanking as much as you can, while also tuning the drum to the best of your hearing ability. 

Should I learn from a teacher or learn on my own with instructional videos?

It’s always preferable to have a teacher. Formal lessons not only teach you the basics, but they make you master them before you can even hope of moving on the more advanced techniques. Plus, a good teacher will provide accurate, bias-free feedback that will help elevate your drumming even further. Self-learning the drums is still fine, as there are loads of great drummers out there who learned on their own. At the end of the day, you go with which learning style fits you the most. 

What is the accent drum technique?

Great drummers can play with an “accent.” Meaning, they can incorporate a lot of dynamics into how they hit the notes. They can go high, low, loud, soft, and everything else in between whenever they play. A good example of an accent is when a drummer opens up a hi-hat, strikes it, then closes it again to create a different rhythm. A certain level of musicianship and mastery is required to improvise like this, which can be gained by constant practise and focussing on your technique.

What is drum notation?

Drummers can use sheet music, just like other musicians. In drum notation, the sheet contains symbols that represent different parts of the drum kit (i.e. hi-hat, snare, toms, bass) which a skilled drummer can follow and play along with. Beginners are advised to learn reading from a drum notation so they can work on muscle memory and coordination, which will help them keep time and tempo. 

About the Author

General Acoustic Drums FAQs

What are acoustic drum triggers?

Acoustic drum triggers work just like microphones, as they reinforce and amplify the sound of an acoustic drum kit. Take this situation: if you have a simple 4-piece acoustic drum set and you’re an advanced player who would want extra sounds, you can use a trigger to add more tones to your overall sound. You can mount a trigger to any drum you have, such as your snare or your tom, where they can pick up the vibration from your hits and send it to another module or instrument to “add a little more sauce.” 

Where do cymbals come from?

The word “cymbals” itself comes from the Latin word cymbalum, which also comes from the old Greek kumbalon that means “cup.” Cymbals originated from several parts of Asia, and were the oldest known percussion instruments ever found; all of them used for mostly religious ceremonies. As for the modern cymbals that we know today, their precursors were first played by the Ancient Chinese as far back as 3000 BC. Cymbals eventually roamed the world through migration and trade, reaching Europe and other parts of the West by the Middle Ages. 

What drum sets are good for children?

There are so-called junior drum kits that can be configured and reconfigured as a child grows along with their drum skills. These kits can last a young one to age 12, where they would likely require something more standard-sized, as long as they can easily reach all the drums and the pedals. There are also a lot of drum kits for children that look and perform like scaled-down versions of the full-sized ones, which can make learning drums for them all the more exciting. 

What’s the difference between a shell pack and a complete drum set?

Buying a drum set for your child will give you two main options: buy everything as a set, or buy the individual drums and their hardware separately. The latter will take up a lot of your time (obviously) but you’ll likely end up with way better hardware than if you bought everything all at once. You can go for this option if you want to start your child off with something that’s technically standard, but also affords them the freedom to play around when they need to. 

What makes drum notation different from drum tabs?

Drum tabs are a more simplified version of drum notations. Instead of using the common symbols in a notation, the tabs use vertical and horizontal lines to represent rhythm and patterns. Tabs are good for people who are still learning the basics, because it will give them a good stepping stone to learning how to read notations. Some drummers say that tabs are all they need, others say that drum notations are always the way to go. Learning drum tab can certainly be considered to be optional.

How should I hit the drums?

How you grip your sticks will determine how you will hit the drum. For instance, you can use a tight or loose grip, or traditional/matched grip. Make sure to hold your sticks comfortably without any tension, so you retain a good amount of dexterity. You also don’t need to hit the drums really hard to play louder (something that beginners tend to do), because the natural amplification will do that for you. Drums are really loud by nature, anyway. 

Electronic Drums

Electronic Drums Faq'S

Choosing An Instrument

Should you buy new or used electronic drums?

The best reason to buy brand new e-drums is simple: certainty. With a brand new kit, you’re absolutely sure that it works because, well, it’s brand new! You can use it out of the box and frankly, you will have the advantage of shop warranties. But while electronic drums tend to be less expensive than acoustic ones, they can still be expensive for the average buyer. 

This is where used e-drums come into play. If you know where and how to look for an item, you can get a really good kit for considerably less than what you would have paid for it brand new. Research is your key to doing this, so do as much of that as you can! 

What should I look for in a e-drum kit?

You should always, always look for two things: feel and tone. Never take a deal unless you’ve